There was a time when Ohio was the living, beating heart of American society. Perhaps even the center of all Western Civilization.
Ohio men commanded the Union forces that wrought a hard-fought conclusion to the American Civil War: General Grant, General Sheridan, and General Sherman became household names around the world. Ohio factories pumped out the oil, steel, rubber, glass, and machinery that fueled the post-war Reconstruction and rapid westward expansion of the United States. Ohio politicians dominated the national scene throughout the last quarter of the 19th Century and first quarter of the 20th Century, occupying the White House more than half of those years. It’s hard to overstate how big a player Ohio was during that period of history. For a time, it almost seemed like the sun rose in Youngstown and set in Cincinnati.
The time passed, however. The center of American gravity kept shifting further to the west and south. The Industrial Revolution slowly, slowly gave way to the Information Age. The Steel Belt became the Rust Belt. Ohio is reinventing itself, but it cannot be debated that the glory has long since departed.
Relics remain regardless. Especially here in Northeast Ohio. These Ichabodian identifiers of Ohio’s Golden Age can be subtle and surprising: an old railroad depot converted into a restaurant, a plaque in some random field erected by the Ohio Historical Commission, a footnote in a history book… My favorite find, though — out of all these random reminders of that bygone era — is Lake View Cemetery, in the University Circle neighborhood of East Cleveland.
The urban area surrounding the cemetery is pretty sketchy these days — a sharp reminder of the heights from which the region has fallen — but the grounds themselves are a step back in time to the glory days of Northeast Ohio.
President James A. Garfield is interred in a beautiful basilica atop a prominent hill overlooking Lake Erie and downtown Cleveland.
A stone’s throw away from the Presidential Monument, a towering obelisk marks the spot where the world’s first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller is buried with his family.
Just a bit further lies the grave of John Hay, personal assistant to the great Abraham Lincoln — and later the 16th President’s biographer, and still later the Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt. In between and all around, other forgotten Captains of Industry and Titans of the Times are marked by massive monuments, seeking to preserve their place in history.
I know it’s kind of silly to go on and on about this cemetery — and about this period of Ohio history that’s now nearly a century in the nation’s rear-view mirror. It’s just that these relics and remnants of history remind me of who I am and from whence I come. I’m proud to be an Ohioan and share in the glory of things past. But I’m even more proud to be a citizen of Heaven and share in the glories that are yet to come.