Oil City Heritage Society, Venango County Genealogical Club sponsor tombstone tours

By JUDITH O. ETZEL – Contributing writer

In a promise that “some of these stories are quirky,” two local history-related organizations will hold a “In and Amongst the Tombstones” tour on Saturday, Sept. 8, at Grove Hill Cemetery in Oil City.  The Oil City Heritage Society and Venango County Genealogical Club are sponsoring the public tour at the 147-year-old cemetery on Cedar Avenue in the city’s North Side.  The walking tour will be repeated at three intervals— 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. — and will feature members of Franklin’s Barrow-Civic Theatre and others in period costumes.  The players will offer historical
information on 11 individuals buried in the cemetery. “We’re doing three tours because last year’s tour was so popular,” said Kay Dawson who with fellow local historians Margo Mong and Taunee Smith will lead the tours.  “This time we are doing a smaller area and will be walking among the tombstones rather than along the cemetery road.”

A 20-page illustrated brochure detailing highlights for 32 individuals or families who are interred at Grove Hill Cemetery will be available.  The cost for admission and the brochure is a $5 donation with proceeds to benefit both Oil City Librarybased organizations.  There are “incredible stories’ to be learned by touring the cemetery, formally dedicated on June 22, 1871, said Dawson who led Smith and Mong in the archival research. “It is just amazing,” said the retired teacher.  “We picked just two cemetery sections, wrote down the names, researched them and then developed a path for the tour.  Everyone in that cemetery has a story to tell and we found some great ones.” Mong, who noted the quirky nature of the fact and folklore learned during the research, offered an example.  “Near the cemetery entrance is a pink marble obelisk and it is the largest monument in the cemetery.  John B. Smithman erected the huge marker four years before he died and when asked why so large, he said he wanted people to ask who he was,” said Mong. Among the highlights of the 32 families and individuals whose brief biographies are included in the cemetery tour
brochure are:

-Many of them were immigrants and came to the region from Scotland, France, Luxembourg, Sweden and Germany.

-One gentleman was an Episcopalian minister who cared for many 1892 fire and flood victims when they were taken to his South Side church for emergency aid.

– Several of the graves mark the resting place of the city’s wealthiest residents who made their fortunes in transportation, oil, gas and brewing.

– One man was the first postmaster named for Oil City and his appointment was made by President Lincoln.

– A young woman buried at Grove Hill was married to a future U.S. presidential candidate.

– One of the founders of Oil City’s first professional baseball clubs is interred at Grove Hill.

– Confederate as well as Union veterans from the Civil War are outlined in the tour brochure.

– The partner in the extravagant plan to develop Clark Summit is buried in the cemetery.

– An Oil City teacher in the latter half of the 1900s will be profiled.

– The professions range from barber to fireman, druggist, oilman, mayor, photographer, tailor, dentist and more.

“One woman buried there was a born a slave in Virginia,” said Smith.  “That was the biggest shock when we were doing the research.”  While histories will be orally presented at 11 tombstones, all 32 families and individuals listed in the tour booklet will have family photographs displayed at the gravesites.  After the tour, those attending are encouraged to “feel free to stroll and visit those other locations,” said Smith.  As the trio of researchers prepared information for the tour, they were eventually forced to stop in order to keep the cemetery walk-through manageable.  “You just want to keep on going and going because the stories are so great,” said Dawson. “We think people will really enjoy this.”  The names of the family plots that are included in the “In and Amongst the Tombstones” brochure are: William Krosskop, Alvin Deming, Dr. Jason Arter, Isaac Sowers, Thomas Cowell, Kenton Chickering, John Campbell, Daniel Goettel, Warren Innis, Dr. Emanuel Wolfe, William Fleming, Robert Magee, John Tonkin, J.H.B. Brooks, John Smithman, John Saltzmann, Christian Dale, Fazello Bishop, James McComb, Duncan Cumming, Thomas Porteous, Annie Clark, William McGarvey, William Fair, Margaret Reid, William Lay and Robert Man.