One of the most unexpected sights in Downtown Cleveland is, without a doubt, a cemetery right across the street from Progressive Field. Its existence alone is somewhat spooky… after all, who expects to encounter a historic cemetery in the heart of a bustling city? What’s spookier still is the local lore that exists around this cemetery. According to some, Erie Street Cemetery is one of the most haunted cemeteries in Cleveland. Pay it a visit… if you dare!
Erie Street Cemetery is the city's oldest standing cemetery, and a great deal of history rests in its hallowed ground.
In 1826, this charming cemetery was established on East 9th Street, though it was known as Erie Street at the time. Before then, a community burial ground was maintained near modern-day Public Square.
The cemetery may seem out of place in the heart of a bustling city, but it was actually on the edge of the community at the time of its founding.
Expansion, of course, eventually caught up with the cemetery, and it's now right across the street from Progressive Field. This growth once threatened the cemetery's existence, as bodies were removed from the cemetery in the early 1900s to make space for new development. This preparation was shut down when the Pioneers' Memorial Association was founded, so the burial ground remains, yet it now feels oddly out of place.
These grounds are the eternal resting place of some of Cleveland's earliest residents, as well as some of the most significant early settlers.
Lorenzo Carter, the first permanent white settler in Cleveland, is buried here. So, too, is John W. Willey, Cleveland's first mayor. Leonard Case, Jr., whose name you may recognize from the Case Institute of Technology, was also laid to rest at this historic site.
The grounds are also an enduring source of local legend.
Over the years, bodies were moved from the cemetery to Highland Park Cemetery in preparation for impending development. Some were moved to Lake View Cemetery as it grew in prominence. It's also true that remains were moved from other cemeteries
into this historical site. With so much digging, it's no wonder slumbering souls grew restless... or, rather, that local residents' interests were piqued.
Perhaps one of the most unforgettable stories is that of Joc-O-Sot.
Also known as Walking Bear, Joc-O-Sot was the proud Chief of the Mesquakie, a tribe that existed in Iowa. Following the conclusion of the Black Hawk War, Jo-O-Sot came out east to hunt. He made the acquaintance of Dan Marble and joined his theater troupe, traveled to England, and even came into the favor of Queen Victoria. However, he fell ill and parted ways with the troupe.
Legend maintains that Joc-O-Sot was making his way home to his ancestral lands, anticipating his demise, but that he passed in Cleveland before he reached his intended destination.
As a result, local myth maintains, Joc-O-Sot remains eternally restless. His local friends, like Dr. Horace Ackley, arranged for his burial in Erie Street Cemetery. His dismay at being unable to return home caused him to crack his stone grave marker. He found further dissatisfaction with the Cleveland Indians' portrayal of indigenous culture and is said to have come to haunt Progressive Field across the street.
One version of the story maintains that vandals attacked the grave after being hexed by Chief Thunderwater.
Driven to insanity, these poor, hexed souls lashed out and cracked Joc-O-Sot's headstone. Interestingly, local legend maintains that Chief Thunderwater was the inspiration for Chief Wahoo.
Though the spooky cemetery feels barren, it is home to somewhere between 8,000 and 18,000 interments. Perhaps the large number of unmarked graves are contributing to the purported hauntings.
Various sources offer a different number of presumed eternal residents in the cemetery, but there is no doubt that several thousand people are buried in this relatively small 8.9-acre lot. Perhaps the woman in white (an enduring symbol throughout American folklore) that is seen at this site actually rests in one of the cemetery's unmarked graves. Perhaps she is a restless former resident of Cleveland's first burial ground that was relocated to this cemetery. Or, perhaps she's just another character in an elaborate local legend...
Whether or not you choose to believe the legends of Erie Street Cemetery it maintains an eerie quality to it.
With a number of burial sites that are nearly two centuries old, this lot in Downtown Cleveland has a great deal of history hiding behind its grand, gothic gate. Its aged mausoleums and headstones have a spooky sense, and many are discolored following exposure to the pollution caused by former industry. Some have been vandalized, and other gravesites have been forgotten.
It's remarkable that such a cemetery has intrigued local imaginations for so long, and that it has remained in place despite the encroachment of the modern world.
A great deal of history remains in this fascinating cemetery to this day, but perhaps its most significant role in local culture is as a setting for local legend.
Address: 2254 E 9th Street, Cleveland, OH, 44115
Local legend maintains that Erie Street Cemetery is one of the most haunted cemeteries in Cleveland. While the validity of these claims is up for debate—after all, it is just a local legend—the history of this fantastic urban burial ground is undeniable. Have you heard any tales of Erie Street Cemetery?
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