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Tim Fulton 00:12
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. We are a weekly Columbus centric podcast focusing on the civics, lifestyle, entertainment, and people of our city. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. This week in the land surrounding the North Market, there are bodies according to one expert. Anytime you stick a shovel in the ground out there, you’re gonna find somebody as developers prepared to erect the 31 storey merchant building. Columbus underground reporter Jesse Buffet has been covering the removal of remains from what was once the North graveyard, a site that predates Columbus. Today we discuss what’s happening at the site, the work that should have been done 150 years ago, and the opportunity that Columbus has to look back at its history. You can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com. Also, the confluence cast is on Patreon. Find out how to support this podcast on our website, the confluence cast.com Or at patreon.com/confluence. The confluence cast is sponsored this week by the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission or more pcy. featuring stories about local and regional partners that envision and embrace innovative directions and economic prosperity, transportation, sustainability, and an inclusive Central Ohio. More proceeds transformative programming, innovative services and public policy initiatives are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, please visit more si.org. Enjoy the interview. Sitting down here virtually with Jessie butts, a freelance features reporter for Columbus underground. Jessie recently did a story about the excavation of grave sites surrounding the North Market on the occasion of its upcoming development of the new high rise that’s going up the expansion of the North Market. We have known for years that there was a graveyard at one point in that location. I think what Jessie has uncovered is sort of the extent of what is there and what has already happened up to this point. So Jesse, you could take it away and tell us tell us what you found.
Jesse Bethea 02:38
Sure. Like you said, I think that everybody was aware once it was announced that they were going to build this high rise on the north, what is now the North Market parking lot that one of the first orders of business was going to be removing the remains that are still under the parking lot from when it was the North graveyard. What I learned is that last summer, around May, June, July, the archeological firm Rohan and Associates which has been hired by the city and by Rockbridge, the company that’s building the merchant building, began excavating around the North Market, not in the parking lot itself, but excavating the streets surrounding it. And from that excavation, they recovered at least 40 graves, but that doesn’t mean that they found 40 people in those graves. Okay. And that’s an important distinction. I think one way of thinking about this is to compare it to similar excavation that occurred in 2001. Also at North Market, but that was a surprise, okay, in in sort of studying it. The the 2001 excavations happened because it was a there was a sewer line that was going in, and a backhoe was digging a trench, and some arm bones started falling into that trench. And so then the crew realized, well, we need to get some archaeologists out here to handle this. Okay, so that was a surprise. This time, it’s not a surprise Rockbridge the city and Lahontan associates, all of them have been prepared to remove these graves before construction begins, which they’re required to do under the National Historic Preservation Act.
Tim Fulton 04:23
And before we get too far down the path of what has happened over the course of the last year, year and a half, can you talk to us about the history of the graveyard who did it initially service? And what’s the progression there? Up until development started happening on that site?
Jesse Bethea 04:40
Sure. Yeah. So the interesting thing about the North graveyard to me is that it actually technically predates Columbus. It started in 1813. That’s when the land was first donated. And Columbus was not incorporated until 1816. So basically, as long as there’s been a Columbus people have been buried there in that bought, and it started, you know, just sort of like barely an acre of land, which is pretty much exactly the location that the North Market is on right now. And then over time, it expanded to be almost 11 acres. And we sort of think about North graveyard now at least, it seems to me that we think of it as that’s the land that the North Market is on right now. And that’s true, but it’s actually much bigger than that. It’s also encompassing land that has the Hilton, and you know, the agave and rye and a bunch of other, you know, buildings that we see all the time. All of that was in North graveyard, it was it was enormous. Okay, it’s estimated that it’s possible that almost 1000 people were buried there. So it was it was the main graveyard for the city for like 30 years. Okay. So eventually what happened was, there were a couple of different pressures occurring at the same time, one of them was just strictly development, this was a very open plot of land. And a lot of people wanted to use it for various different purposes, especially the railroads, because the Union Depot was right across high street from the graveyard where the convention center is today. And so the railroads wanted to be able to run rail lines through the cemetery to get to Union Depot. The other thing that was happening was this sort of national movement called the rural cemetery movement. And the idea behind that was that graveyards should not be in the middle of cities, they should be out in the country, they should be more like public parks, they should be places that you want to go and have a picnic with the family. And in for that reason, the Greenlawn Cemetery Association was started, and they created green Lawn Cemetery across the South River. So after that happened, you have a lot of editorials in like the Ohio State Journal and some other newspapers of the time, saying, Well, now that we have green lawn, we really shouldn’t be using the North graveyard anymore, because it’s, it’s in the middle of the city. It’s unsanitary, It’s unsightly. There were some editorials that were saying, like, it’s bad for our reputation. You know, the people come here, and they, they get off the train right across from a cemetery. And that’s not you know, what we want to advertise about Columbus. And this was about the late 1860s. Then in the early 1870s 1872, a railroad company bought the southernmost portion of the cemetery so that they could run their rail line across high street to to Union Station. In order to do that. They had to remove the graves that were there in that southern section of the cemetery. I think in like two months, they exhumed 391 graves, so that’s a lot in a very short amount of time. Yeah. And so it’s likely that they missed, you know, a few people, a few hearts of people. And also, one thing to keep in mind is that when they were doing this, the newspapers were running ads from the city engineer saying, like, if you have relatives buried here, come and tell us where they are, so that we can move them the green lawn, but as Crystal Horrocks from the State Historic Preservation Office told me, you know, that she referred to that as come get your dead add, yeah, like, you know, come get your dead. But if you couldn’t read, or if you didn’t live in Columbus anymore, or you just didn’t read the Columbus Dispatch, then you didn’t know that your loved ones were about to be moved. You couldn’t come and show the city officials were your child’s grave was or whatever.
Tim Fulton 08:21
And do we have an understanding that were these unmarked graves is was it just numbered plots?
Jesse Bethea 08:27
A lot of it. So there were tombstones, but a lot of them had been sort of knocked over or fallen apart. That’s one of the reasons that a lot of people in the city at the time kind of thought of it as being an eyesore, because it wasn’t looking great. And a lot of them had been vandalized, there had been grave robbing going on, bandits would sort of hide behind tombstones and go out and rob people on High Street that that would happen occasionally. It was not a great part of town, like it was kind of it was an eyesore. And so because of that, and also there was a section that was devoted to people who couldn’t afford to be buried and they were buried at the expense of this of the city. And they probably also if they had markers, they probably didn’t have very well kept ones. And so it was there was a lot of the sexton had to be brought out of retirement, because by this time that nobody was allowed to be buried there anymore. They stopped burials and in the 1860s Okay, because it was so overcrowded, so they brought the sextant out of retirement to go around and pointed depressions in the ground to say, I think I buried someone there. I think I buried someone over there to one. So that was sort of how they had to
Tim Fulton 09:35
do it. And when you say Sexton what do you what is that
Jesse Bethea 09:38
the sexton was a city position he was appointed by the city to sort of manage the the graveyard he was sort of overseeing it. He could hire deputies as well provide security you know upkeep but and also bury people well, you learn something new every day. Okay, right. Yeah, he he was paid like, it would be like like $1.50 for an adult and $1, for a child or something to that effect, it was, you know, it wasn’t certainly not much to our mind. But back in the 1800s, that was, that could be a little too much money for people. And
Tim Fulton 10:12
we’re not going to get into how that might incentivize his work. So,
Jesse Bethea 10:16
exactly. Yes. There’s, there’s certainly ways that, that it might have, though,
Tim Fulton 10:21
talk us through how you came to be interested in this story.
Jesse Bethea 10:25
I’d always known since I moved to Columbus about 10 years ago, like you sort of hear about this that Oh, right. There’s, there’s, you know, steel graves under north market. And the reason is because they were all supposed to move moved in the 1800s. And they weren’t, and they’re just sort of there. But my thought was always, well, it’s probably not that many, it’s maybe like one or two, you know, and then of course, when they announced that they were going to build the merchant building, everyone acknowledged, well, they’re gonna have to clear out the graves from under underneath the parking lot, you know, so, but I kind of put it out on my mind and thought, Okay, well, well, they’ll get to it eventually, or there’ll be an announcement about it. But there really was no announcement. And then this fall, I started hearing that the work had already started that they had begun digging up the streets around North Market. And then I started hearing that they, the first number I heard was 2020 individuals had been dug up. And that was way more than I expected. Right. And then it turned out to be even more than that. And so then I started looking into it and contacting Luhan, and Associates. And I finally got to interview Justin Zink, who is the archaeologist leading the project, and he told me that they actually excavated 40 graves, but the thing is 40 graves doesn’t mean that 40 people were in those graves, he actually predicts that he has more than 40 individuals that he’s excavated,
Tim Fulton 11:47
these are literally just the plots, the individual plots that he dug up.
Jesse Bethea 11:51
Right, what they’re looking for, when they when they start excavating is something called a grave stain. Okay? A grave stain is sort of like the outline of a coffin, because a coffin is organic material, and it decomposes along with the flesh and fluids of the person that’s buried in it. All of that organic material stains the ground sort of black, you know, so you can dig up the street after you’ve removed the concrete and the overburden and all that. And then they start to see these rectangles of darker soil than the soil around it. And that tells them okay, somebody at some point was buried there. Okay? The thing is, just because you can say, Okay, someone was buried there, it doesn’t mean they’re still buried there. Because again, a lot of these people were were exhumed in the 1870s, and 80s. So they have to check in each and every one, some of those graves are completely empty. Some of them have sort of a jumble of bones. And that would indicate that these are graves that were exhumed back in the 19th century, but they didn’t do a very good job. And they left a bunch of those people behind, or there’s bones from the grave next to it, that were accidentally dumped in that grave. And that’s why it’s hard to determine how many individuals have actually been recovered from the 40. Graves is probably more than 40.
Tim Fulton 13:09
So is this a situation where it’s not necessarily that there was a cover up of these bodies being exhumed? It just really wasn’t talked about widely. Hence, it didn’t really make the news?
Jesse Bethea 13:22
No, and I’m sure there’s a bit of not wanting to sensationalize any of it. Yeah. And also wanting to have some propriety about it. Because these are, these are human beings, then there’s these are human remains that are being removed. And the archaeologists are very aware and concerned with the ethics of what they’re doing. And making sure that the people they’re exuding are being respected. One thing Justin Zinke, told me when I talked to him is he tells his crew, the last time anybody saw these people, they were being put in the ground by their loved ones, you’re the first person to see them, since their loved ones, put them in the ground. So make sure you have some respect about that. If you go out there right now, there’s, there’s fencing up, there’s privacy fencing, they have big tents up over the shafts where they’re digging, and that that is to maintain, you know, people’s the privacy of the people who are
Tim Fulton 14:17
buried there. And so this is happening right now. Yes.
Jesse Bethea 14:21
So the excavations that happened in the summer, were only occurring around the edges of North Market along the streets, and that was that was a city project. And that’s that’s also a distinction is that the city has to put in some some utilities stuff, to prepare the infrastructure for Rockbridge to begin their construction right. Now, what’s happened is they have started moving into the parking lot. The North Market parking lot was closed in June. And pretty much immediately after that, they began tearing up the concrete and the overburden. And now the archaeologists are out there, marking the those grave stains and are beginning their excavations and and seeing what’s inside?
Tim Fulton 15:01
And have they is anybody willing to talk to you at this point about like, here’s what we found up to this point. Here’s the progress that we’re making. Here’s how much more we think we may find. I wouldn’t say
Jesse Bethea 15:13
they’re unwilling. Okay. I haven’t been able to talk to him about that yet. Okay, I hope to
Tim Fulton 15:18
Okay. Well, that’ll be a follow up. So do you have a sense then of what’s to come about that location? How long this may take? Or how much they may find? Or is that literally a question for them?
Jesse Bethea 15:33
It is, and it’s also only people can only make estimations about it. You know, I’ve never worked on an archeological dig before, but I imagine they are as meticulous as possible, especially again, after centuries of people digging up these graves and leaving pieces behind. I don’t think they want to leave any pieces behind I think their goal is to, to make sure that they get all of it or as much of it as possible, and get as many of these people to Greenlawn, with their friends and family as possible. So I think they’re going to take the time they need to do that. As for what they’re going to find, that’s also difficult to predict extrapolating from what was found in 2001. There are certain artifacts they might discover, but they’re not going to be, you know, close, it pretty much deteriorated, coffins have deteriorated. I think in 2001, they found a number of buttons. And some of that can be used to sort of date when people were putting the grounds buttons that were not made before this date, or that were stopped being made after such a date, you know, that that can kind of help place them in time. But all of that will be will not the artifacts, but the bones have to undergo osteological analysis that will be conducted by Dr. Cheryl Johnston, who also worked on the 2001 excavations, I look forward to interviewing her as well, at some point. But once those bones have been analyzed, they will be taken to Greenlawn, where there is a specific burial plot ready for them. That’s actually been ready since the 1800s. It was purchased by the county back then for this purpose, okay. And then they will be they’ll be buried there. I talked to Randy Rogers of the Greenlawn Cemetery Association. And he said that anytime there’s digging or excavations that North Market, his organization is sort of ready and waiting for reinterment of these bones. So
Tim Fulton 17:27
okay, as you’ve been researching this story, you’re both looking at, first of all, how these folks got here in the first place, why they were assigned to move to Greenlawn. And the success or lack of success, frankly, with that process, that we are still dealing with that today. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve discovered in that history in that in that background research?
Jesse Bethea 17:55
Sure. Well, I think that, one thing to remember is that when these initial examinations were happening back in the 1870s, and 80s, we didn’t really have archeology, the way we understand it now. So there wasn’t a professional team of archaeologists out there, the way there is now making sure that everything is recovered and everything is being treated with respect, it was really a sort of industrial process, they they shoveled bones into shoe boxes, and got them over to green lawn as fast as possible, because they had to clear the land in order to sell it for for properties and also for the railroads. And so once they were done doing that, in the 1870s, it sort of got the ball rolling, and everybody was sort of an agreement that like well, we should go ahead and just clear the rest of it, we should just remove all of these graves and move them the green lawn. And that process was finished in 1881. But pretty much immediately after that, starting in 1885, whenever there was a construction crew digging around North Market, they would dig up bones that happened in 1885. It happened in 1892. It happened in 1906, they would put telephone lines down and they would dig up a skull. And then again and you know, all the way up to 2001. And so again, every time anyone stuck a shovel in the ground out there, they’ve ended up finding somebody. It’s a sort of bittersweet moment that now the city will be able to finally attempt to exhume all of the bodies and bring them to Greenlawn. Like they should have been done 150 years ago. I don’t want to say that, that that’s it. I don’t want to say that. This that they’re going to get all of them because I when I was talking to Randy Rogers from the Greenlawn Cemetery Association, I sort of asked him how he felt about this being the end of it the end of the North graveyard. And he said he really doesn’t think it’s going to be the end. He said that archaeologists do the best work that they can. These archaeologists are going to do the best work that they can. But it’s really hard to say that you’re going to get everything and he said you know it’s easy to see a future Where there’s, there’s more development down the line and they start digging, and they hit something and say, we’ve got to call the archaeologists back. So it’s really hard to say that, that this is the final chapter of the North graveyard. But it certainly feels like the beginning of the final chapter.
Tim Fulton 20:15
And so where does your reporting take you now? Is it sort of the follow up to talk to folks that were there with the excavation last year and talk through how the process is happening? Now? I guess, this is more of a process and journalistic question. Sure. You said earlier sort of in a vague way, no one’s not talking to me. But is it a, nobody’s really interested in talking about this? Because it’s not, you know, it doesn’t look great that they have to do this, but this is sort of the cost of progress. What’s been your experience there?
Jesse Bethea 20:51
Sure. I’m gonna preface this by saying I can’t assume anybody’s motive for anything. But having said that, like, we all know this is a sensitive topic, this, there’s no way it’s not going to be a sensitive topic, these are human remains. These are, this is a disgrace. It’s a it’s a disgrace, not for anybody who’s still alive. But it’s disgraceful that that these these earliest citizens of Columbus, were treated this way back in the 1800s. And everybody, everybody acknowledges that and understands it, but it’s still kind of awkward to talk about. So I think that that’s part of it. I think, also, you know, this is a we’re talking about science, and scientists do not like to talk about something unless they have all of the evidence and, and are able to draw the best conclusions they can. So I think that might be part of it as well, they, I get the sense that they want to do all the work first, do all the study and the research first, and then say something on the record about it, which I totally understand, having interviewed scientists before, they can, with good reason, be very suspicious of reporters, because reporters, you know, can get stuff wrong. And science is a very tricky subject to get right. So I think there’s some of that going on. But for my from my perspective, what I really want to do now, what I want to know now is what the archaeologists and the anthropologists learned from the bones about what Columbus was like, I want to know what they’re finding in terms of artifacts, what they’re finding in terms of, you know, if they’re able to do any DNA analysis, if they’re able to figure out sort of a distribution of sex and age and race or ethnicity of the people who were left behind. But it’s really hard to say how much of that will be possible, just just given how long they’ve been under the ground. But at the same time, this is because this is, this is such a bigger sample size than has been attempted before at this site. Because before, archaeologists were really, you know, this is not the great way, the best way to say it, but they were sort of nibbling around the edges, it was Spruce Street, Wall Street, you know, all you know, sort of the edges have, now they’re moving into the middle of the parking lot where there weren’t that many buildings built, the graves are probably less disturbed than they are elsewhere. And so this is going to be sort of the widest window that we get into a very specific period of history, you know, the period from 1813, to about 1864. When these people were buried, it’s going to be one of the best archaeological historical perspectives that we can get about what Columbus was like at that time. Absolutely. I want to follow the bones to their final resting place. I want to be there. You know, physically, I want to be there when they’re put into the ground. That was another thing that I learned from Randy Rogers, from the green Lawn Cemetery Association is that he expects there’ll be some sort of public committal ceremony. And I think that’ll be I don’t I mean, I’m predicting but I think it’ll be a bittersweet moment to get to watch that happen and to as a city Finally, put these earliest citizens of Columbus to rest after, frankly, having been disrespected for the last 150 years.
Tim Fulton 24:08
Yeah, I mean, regardless of the conversion of the graveyard, there should have been a better job done before we started parking there. Absolutely.
Jesse Bethea 24:17
And it’s easy to sort of be angry about this development. It’s easy to sort of have a perspective of like, wow, these developers are putting up a giant skyscraper on the bones of children and poor people. But that’s been happening for 150 years. And this is actually the chance to rectify that. To sort of stop this the cycle.
Tim Fulton 24:44
Absolutely. Jesse, I want to give you the opportunity that I give every guest on the confluence cast to say what you think Columbus is doing well, and what do you think Columbus is not doing so well?
Jesse Bethea 24:57
I gotta pick something for one to get to to that I’m
Tim Fulton 25:02
Why did you come here?
Jesse Bethea 25:03
I came here because I met my wife. No, but that that’s not the only reason I, I can’t The thing I like about Columbus is that it is sort of a, there’s a blank slate about it, there’s a sense that you can do whatever you want. I it’s just everything I say, I know somebody would disagree with, but there, it feels like there’s not as much gatekeeping as there might be in other places. You know, we can get mad about the fact that there’s not an established scene of whatever you want to be part of. But one, you know, side effect of that is that if there’s not an established scene, then there’s not established gatekeepers to keep you out of it. So there is a sense of like, you can start you can do you can be you can make whatever you want. As for what Columbus doesn’t do so well, I mean, I’ll, I’ll pick this one, because we’re here talking about this. Columbus doesn’t care about its history, nearly enough. There is a real sense. And it comes from all corners, you know, not one side or the other that Columbus was a cow town until, like 1989. And then it just sort of sprouted out of the ground. And that’s not true. The reason we think that is because you know, there’s there’s nothing, the oldest thing left in Columbus is the State House and the bodies under north market and frankly, and it’s, it’s unfortunate, because there’s a lot of interesting history to the city that nobody knows about, because we’ve really plastered over it.
Tim Fulton 26:36
Yep. Jesse, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you. Thank you for listening to Confluence cast presented by Columbus underground. Again, you can get more information on what we discussed today in the show notes for this episode at the confluence cast.com Please rate, subscribe, share this episode of The confluence casts with your friends, family, contacts, enemies, your favorite archaeologist. If you’re interested in sponsoring the confluence cast, get in touch with us. We can be reached by email at info at the confluence cast.com Our theme music was composed by Benji Robinson. Our producers felt Cogley. I’m your host, Tim Fulton. Have a great week.