Section: Features

The underground history of the Kenyon College Cemetery

Although most students on campus are preoccupied with the lives of their neighbors, a look at the local dead reveals a rich and fascinating history. The Kenyon College Cemetery is situated between Storer and Horvitz Halls, enclosed by a black iron fence. The most selective housing on campus, the cemetery is the final resting place for a prince and holds a mausoleum that was used as a distillery during Prohibition. 

The College recorded the first burial in the cemetery in 1829, although little is known about the inhabitant of the first grave other than his elderly age. The cemetery expanded, and now is the resting place for many names notable to Kenyon’s history: Norton, Lewis, Caples, Timberlake, Fink, Ransom, Manning and Weaver are pictured on the various monuments, obelisks and markers throughout the cemetery. 

John Crowe Ransom, founder of the Kenyon Review, is the cemetery’s most famed inhabitant. Despite his esteem, Ransom’s grave is a small stone marker with neither iconography nor an epitaph. Other notable inhabitants of the Cemetery include Prince Kwaku Lebiete, who came to Gambier from the Gold Coast and lived there until his death in 1865 at age 14. The first Kenyon graduate, Alfred Blake, Class of 1829, also rests in the cemetery, as does Stephen Shepard, a victim of the 1949 Old Kenyon fire. Unlike the other nine students who perished in the fire, Shepard’s family refused to recognize the remains as their son. Instead of returning to New York, his hometown, Shepard’s body remained in Gambier. 

Perhaps the most central marker in the cemetery’s landscape is the Lewis crypt. Built in 1890 by the Lewis family, the crypt is the only such structure in the cemetery and was used by students to brew alcohol during Prohibition. According to a 1949 Kenyon Collegian article, students “found it a neat manufactury for their assorted tonics.” John N. Lewis, a prominent railroad engineer and the first person laid to rest in the crypt, had only been dead for a few decades prior to Prohibition, and students turned his final resting place into a makeshift distillery.

Although many may wish to call Kenyon home for all eternity, space in the cemetery is limited, and admission is more selective than that of the College itself. According to a 2010 Kenyon Collegian article, Manager of Business Services Fred Linger noted that spaces are only eligible for members of the faculty and officers of the College with tenure, retired or active. Linger also noted, however, that the College may make exceptions if the deceased significantly impacted or brought distinction to the College through their life works. Those that wish to apply for a cemetery plot can do so through the president of the College. 

 

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