Grave Matters: Dinsmoor Cemetery

Towering way above its stone neighbors in the Oak Grove Cemetery is the gravestone of John Calhoun Dinsmoor, but reaching a height of about 12 feet, it would seem to most passersby to be more of monument.

Located in Oak Grove Cemetery just off the corner of Washington and Wooster streets is Dinsmoor’s grave, a tall memorial to a Marietta native who made a lasting impression by buying up oil wells throughout the second half of the 19th century and into the 1900s.

Considered a widely successful business man who earned his way by hard work and perseverance, the one true mystery Dinsmoor left behind is that he is not actually buried under the magnificent tombstone that bares his name, but instead in the simple mausoleum on the other side of the cemetery, alongside his second wife Nellie.

Scott Britton, historian and director of The Castle in Marietta, explained that Dinsmoor’s family owned several plots where the stone is located, but at the time, a crowding of trees prevented a safe burial of Dinsmoor’s body.

“There was worry about the trees there, they took up about five of the plots, and there was concern that they could fall on the stone or interfere,” Britton said.

Instead, two younger descendants, Geraldine B. Marshell and Carlyle J. Dinsmoor, were buried at the plots once the family had the trees cleared away.

The back of Dinsmoor’s grave reads “his body lies elsewhere.”

As far as the tremendous size, Britton said that has to be left up to speculation.

“I don’t know whether it’s just a matter of the cost not being an object at the time or the family wanting to leave a legacy,” he said. “When you look at some of the tombstones around, it’s funny that some prominent people have gigantic monuments and some prominent people have next to nothing.”

Born in 1838 in Warren County, Pa., Dinsmoor was the grandson of the 14th governor of the state of New Hampshire in a family of Scottish origin.

According to his obituary, Dinsmoor originally planned on attending law school to reach the educational achievements the rest of his family was known for.

But like many others at the time, Dinsmoor got caught up in the excitement of the rapidly-growing oil industry and got a job working on an oil boat on Oil Creek in Pennsylvania.

After dabbling in jobs on oil rigs as well as in the coal business, Dinsmoor eventually found himself in West Virginia, where he came to own 450 oil-producing wells within the area, with a rich wealth of stocks and a large command of the area’s oil business.

“Mr. Dinsmoor made his way up to his enviable position by work, his alma mater is the college of hard knocks, and he had the rare faculty of never getting discouraged when failure stared him in the face,” wrote George Washington Brown in his book “Old Times in Oildom.”

That success could be what allowed his family to pay for the massive grave monument after he died in Marietta in 1919.

“The stone was probably all done at once, and it probably wasn’t cheap,” said Eric Richendollar with the Washington County Public Library’s History and Genealogy branch.

Richendollar said a grave stone of that size and detail could have taken months to make.

His gravestone features his likeness perched on top, leaning on an oil well. Underneath is an elk with the denotation of B.P.O.E., for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the area social club Dinsmoor was a member of, along with being a member of the St. Mary’s Gun Club in W.Va, among several other clubs.

Toward the middle, the stone reads “Uncle John: His soul was like a star and dwelt apart.”

The epitaph seems to ring true, as Brown wrote that Dinsmoor was a perfect example of a hard worker who experienced immense success in an industry that was easy to get lost in.

“That he made no mistake is strongly accentuated in the fact that he has won enviable prominence in his chosen field, not only accumulating wealth but making a reputation among the leading oil operators of the country of a man with remarkable business ability,” Brown wrote.