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October 04, 2016

Hamilton County Cemeteries: Don’t Fear What Isn’t There

harrisonHamilton County Cemeteries: Don’t Fear What Isn’t There

 By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

As Halloween approaches, images and stories of “spooky cemeteries” start to appear. This cliché is kind of odd to historians, since we generally view cemeteries as one more form of documentary evidence. One reason is that we know that the bodies are often no longer under the stones.

Indiana soil is highly acidic and many of the early burials are no more than black dirt now. Graves can also be disturbed for a variety of reason. Riverside Cemetery has been inundated by floods several times and, during the flood of 1913, the land became saturated and coffins floated to the surface.  Several of them were found downstream. Grave robbing was another problem, as I wrote here, here, and here.

Then there are the stones that never had a body under them to begin with. A stone like this is referred to as a “cenotaph”. Hamilton county does not have a lot of cenotaphs, but there is one at Crownland Cemetery which has an interesting story behind it.

img_0468The stone is the marker for Harvey H. Harrison (1889-1918). Harvey was the son of Calvin and Dora Harrison and grew up on a farm in Fall Creek Township.  Some time around the age of 20, he left home and joined the United States Army. In 1910, he was stationed in Monterrey, California, in Company H, 8th Infantry. His draft registration from June of 1917 says that he served for three years and 20 month in the infantry and in the Navy Reserve.  At that time, he was living in Hammond, Indiana, tending boilers for the Northern Indiana Gas and Electric Company (which would eventually become NIPSCO).

He enlisted in the Navy on May 7, 1918 – some sources say that he was on furlough from the army when he enlisted.  He was given the rank of Seaman, Second Class and was assigned to the USS Westover as a fireman, which meant tending the boilers of the ship. The Westover was a newly-built merchant freighter that the U.S. government had acquired to help with the war effort. She was loaded with supplies and assigned to a convoy on May 27. However, she fell far behind the rest of the ships because of engine trouble. One source said that she was 500 miles from France on July 11 when she was spotted by the German submarine U-92. The submarine fired two torpedoes and sunk the ship.

westover-headlineOne of Harvey Harrison’s close friends aboard ship – L. N. Howell of Brooklyn, New York – survived the sinking and later came to Noblesville to tell Harvey’s parents what had happened. He said that they had been sleeping when the first torpedo struck at about 7:00 on a cloudy morning.

“We rushed on the deck and the ship was ablaze. I had on more clothing than Harrison and withstood the cold better. Harrison ran back to the bottom of the ship to get some clothing and while he was down there, the second torpedo hit the vessel and exploded the magazine, which was only a few feet from where Harrison had gone. I am satisfied that he was killed instantly.” [Indianapolis News, Sept. 9, 1918, p. 8.]

In the years following, Harvey’s parents continued to memorialize him. In 1921 on the anniversary of his death, they put an “In Memoriam” notice in the Noblesville Ledger. In 1923, when the nation observed Navy Day, they decorated their house with flags and bunting.

It’s not known when the stone was installed at Crownland Cemetery, but it’s in the same style as the family stones in the same area. The only difference is that Harvey’s is engraved “Lost At Sea”. Interestingly, there are two other markers that record Harvey’s death as well. One is the WWI plaque on the Memorial Plaza on the west side of the Hamilton County Courthouse. The other is at the Brookwood American Military Cemetery in Surrey, England.