Grave Matters: Murdock Cemetery

GRANDVIEW TWP. – When Richard and Mary McMahan moved into their home next to Murdock Cemetery in Grandview Township some 40 years ago, it was rather by default that they took over responsibility for the cemetery’s maintenance fund.

Though the cemetery is not a family plot, many McMahans are buried there, and the property bordering the cemetery has long been in the family, so they have always “kind of looked after it,” recalled Richard.

“I’m 73 and I can remember when I was a kid we had to pay somebody out of the fund to mow the cemetery,” he said.

The couple doesn’t know how much the fund originally held but it had between $600 and $700 remaining when they took it over.

The fund also helped pay to maintain an old iron fence enclosing one side of the cemetery. The fence was typically painted every two or three years and Richard himself often did the painting as a child, he said.

“I hated that job,” he added.

Not long after Richard and Mary bought the property on McMahan Road, Ohio passed a law giving townships legal responsibility for the care of cemeteries in their jurisdiction.

The change somewhat negated the need for the cemetery’s endowment fund, but Richard and Mary had been hoping for years the leftover money could eventually be used to enclose more of the cemetery with an appropriate fence.

“We’ve been trying for two or three years to get some old fence that matched up to the rest of the cemetery,” said Mary.

It was at an old property in New Matamoras that they found about 100 feet of antique hand-forged rod iron fencing. They then asked the owner to purchase it.

“The property owner said we couldn’t buy it but they’d donate it to the township if they used it to fence in this cemetery,” said Richard.

The township was happy to oblige, said Grandview Township Trustee Danny Riggs.

“We put the rod iron fence up around it last summer and this summer we’re planning on painting it,” he said.

The cemetery is one of 12 the township cares for and they typically mow it once every two weeks, he said.

Richard used much of the money remaining in the cemetery fund-about $300- to help the township purchase the tools to remove and reinstall the “new, old, old, old” fence, he said. A little remaining money in the fund will buy paint supplies this summer.

There is a lot of history in the old cemetery, which is within sight of Frontier High School.

Two Civil War soldiers are buried in the cemetery-one who lived to the ripe age of 81, and one who met a tragic demise at only 18.

Elijah Kigins was born in 1845, enlisted in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry twice, and died in 1926.

Daniel Riggs was born in 1843 and enlisted in the 36th OVI. According to historical records compiled by local historian Scott Britton with Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, Riggs committed suicide by hanging in 1861. Medical records had listed him as being under a temporary fit of insanity.

But Mary’s favorite story from within the cemetery is that of Sarah Leith.

“(The Leiths) were the first white couple married in the Northwest Territory. She was captured by Indians,” said Mary.

Decades ago, Leith ancestors from New York state visited the cemetery and purchased a new headstone for Sarah, said Richard. It now stands in front of her original headstone, which is likely the oldest in the cemetery; she died in 1800.

The headstone notes that Sarah was captured by Indians in Pennsylvania in 1763 and in 1779 was married to John Leith.

It is because of Sarah’s famous story that many have come to call the cemetery Leith Cemetery. It also goes by Center Valley Cemetery because of a nearby baptist church of the same name.

However, the official moniker according to financial documents is Murdock, said Richard. Two of the earliest burials in the cemetery-husband David and wife Mary Murdock-were buried in 1853 and 1850, respectively.