Hamilton County Historian David Heighway has written so much about our community’s spookier side. And what better setting than a local graveyard — or cemetery, depending on its location. (The term “graveyard” typically refers to a burial ground associated with a church.) All distracting semantics aside, here are three local cemetery stories sure to get you in the “spooky season” mood.
The sexton who worked among the dead
Thousands of students pass by Crownland Cemetery every day on their way to and from Noblesville schools without thinking too much about who is laid to rest in that hallowed ground. Most of Crownland’s full-time residents were delivered there in caskets. But as with other burial sites, someone had to make sure they were properly laid to rest.
Phillip N. Waltenburg took up this job for Riverside Cemetery and then Crownland Cemetery in 1868, Heighway reports. As sexton, the German emigrant was responsible for digging graves and tending to the cemeteries. Day after day, year after year, Waltenburg toiled among the dead. When he retired, he had buried 3,912 people and reburied 205. I wonder if he was more ready than most to join his "brethren" when he died in 1899?
Taking his past to the grave
We all have secrets. Some big and some small. It is suspected that Joseph Jacobs Morse had his own secrets, and no one has been able to quite uncover them. His body — or the soil it has likely disintegrated into — now lies in Crownland Cemetery, marked by a conspicuous gravestone that looks like a chess piece but is meant to resemble an urn.
Morse came to Noblesville around 1866 by way of Kentucky and, before that, his home in Connecticut. He left New England in 1838, and although he was known as an outgoing and friendly man in Hamilton County, he was tightlipped about his past in Connecticut.
In his June 1, 1877, obituary in the Ledger, the writer commented, “… it has been thought that he was the bearer of a painful secret.”
“Interestingly, we haven’t found him in any of the census records between his birth and death. The man left almost no paper trail. So what was his secret?” Heighway writes. Perhaps his gravestone is a clue. Could it be an urn bottling up his painful past or a chess piece playing a tantalizing game with the living?
Gravestones without bodies
When you visit a cemetery, grave markers are there to guide you. They identify the people buried there, often sharing details about their lives, and help indicate where it’s safe for you to walk. But not all markers have bodies.
One such stone lies in Crownland Cemetery. Harvey H. Harrison left Noblesville around the age of 20 to join the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Monterrey, California, and then served in the Navy Reserve in Hammond, Indiana, where he tended boilers for the Northern Indiana Gas and Electric Company. He enlisted in the Navy in 1918, given the rank of Seaman, Second Class, and took his boiler-tending skills down into the bowels of The Wesover, a merchant freighter. A German submarine U-92 delivered the ship a fatal blow, taking Harrison down to the bottom of the sea 500 miles from France.
“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,” Heighway writes. “The only difference is that Harvey’s is engraved ‘Lost At Sea’.”
For some seriously spooky Hamilton County tales, ready about body snatching, ghosts and more!
The Hamilton County Bicentennial is proudly supported by Duke Energy, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, Hamilton County Tourism Inc., and Hamilton County Historical Society.