OOS Archival Object

Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson headstone, Woodland Cemetery, and Rockefeller’s Obelisk, Lake View Cemetery

Date Unknown / Curated by Andrea Gyorody and Lo Smith

Bagby Head Stone_Photo 2_Lo Smith 2020.jpg

The last person to be legally prosecuted for escaping chattel slavery and the richest person in modern history are buried approximately three miles apart in Woodland Cemetery and Lake View Cemetery, respectively. Born within several years of each other, these two important figures in American history both established themselves in Cleveland in young adulthood, but the lives they led—and the way they have been memorialized in death—could not be more different. In 1861, Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson was the last person to be captured and returned into slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act. Meanwhile, in 1863, John D. Rockefeller built the first oil refinery of what became Standard Oil Company, an enterprise that generated a fortune that redefined the meaning of wealth in America. The striking differences in their burial monuments force us to consider how private monuments reenforce or transform what and how we remember.

For the first 106 years of her internment, Bagby—who had returned to Cleveland in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation—was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodland Cemetery, a long-neglected historic site currently undergoing restoration. Michelle Day, who runs the Woodland Cemetery Foundation, led the charge to install a proper headstone in 2010, after having previously made a wooden crucifix to mark the grave. Northcoast Memorials in Willoughby donated the simple headstone, which bears the inscription “Unfettered and Free.”

In contrast, Rockefeller’s burial site was prepared in 1899, nearly 40 years before his death, with the establishment of the Rockfeller family plot. Located at one of the highest points in Lake View Cemetery, close to the James A. Garfield Memorial, the plot is marked by a 65-foot-tall granite obelisk atop a square base. At the time of construction, the monument was both the largest granite shaft ever quarried in America (in Barre, Vermont), and the tallest headstone erected over a private gravesite. At a combined weight of 122 tons, the obelisk and base bore the maximum weight the railroad could carry without straining its bridges, though the railway nevertheless had to make specially designed cars to carry the load. Through business practices that were controversial at the time and would be illegal today, Rockefeller amassed a fortune that afforded him an opulent gravesite costing $60,000 in 1899—equal to more than $1.8 million in 2020.

Citation

: Curated by Andrea Gyorody and Lo Smith, “Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson headstone, Woodland Cemetery, and Rockefeller’s Obelisk, Lake View Cemetery
,” Ohio Outdoor Sculpture , accessed September 28, 2020, http://oos.sculpturecenter.org/index.php/items/show/1686.

Dublin Core

Title

Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson headstone, Woodland Cemetery, and Rockefeller’s Obelisk, Lake View Cemetery

Description

The last person to be legally prosecuted for escaping chattel slavery and the richest person in modern history are buried approximately three miles apart in Woodland Cemetery and Lake View Cemetery, respectively. Born within several years of each other, these two important figures in American history both established themselves in Cleveland in young adulthood, but the lives they led—and the way they have been memorialized in death—could not be more different. In 1861, Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson was the last person to be captured and returned into slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act. Meanwhile, in 1863, John D. Rockefeller built the first oil refinery of what became Standard Oil Company, an enterprise that generated a fortune that redefined the meaning of wealth in America. The striking differences in their burial monuments force us to consider how private monuments reenforce or transform what and how we remember.

For the first 106 years of her internment, Bagby—who had returned to Cleveland in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation—was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodland Cemetery, a long-neglected historic site currently undergoing restoration. Michelle Day, who runs the Woodland Cemetery Foundation, led the charge to install a proper headstone in 2010, after having previously made a wooden crucifix to mark the grave. Northcoast Memorials in Willoughby donated the simple headstone, which bears the inscription “Unfettered and Free.”

In contrast, Rockefeller’s burial site was prepared in 1899, nearly 40 years before his death, with the establishment of the Rockfeller family plot. Located at one of the highest points in Lake View Cemetery, close to the James A. Garfield Memorial, the plot is marked by a 65-foot-tall granite obelisk atop a square base. At the time of construction, the monument was both the largest granite shaft ever quarried in America (in Barre, Vermont), and the tallest headstone erected over a private gravesite. At a combined weight of 122 tons, the obelisk and base bore the maximum weight the railroad could carry without straining its bridges, though the railway nevertheless had to make specially designed cars to carry the load. Through business practices that were controversial at the time and would be illegal today, Rockefeller amassed a fortune that afforded him an opulent gravesite costing $60,000 in 1899—equal to more than $1.8 million in 2020.