Odds and Ends V: Cemetery Vandals, a Meteor and a Ghost Story (sort of)

This Spooky Marion update concerns a couple of stories I have lying around that aren’t really long enough to warrant their own posts, but I think you’ll still find them interesting reading.

Vandalism and the Wyatt Cemetery

Is there anything lower than graveyard vandalism? For anyone who’s ever lost a loved one, we like to think that their final resting place will be, well, peaceful.

That was not the case for the Wyatt Cemetery during the summer of 1969. The Marion Star reported that young people (presumably) had been using the site as a party spot that summer and had toppled many of the tombstones.

wyatt olentangy
The Wyatt Cemetery with the Olentangy River in the background. Fort Morrow is long gone, of course, but the cemetery bearing Nathaniel Wyatt’s name remains.

Located just south of Waldo and next to the Olentangy River, Wyatt Cemetery is actually the oldest cemetery in Marion County. It’s historically important as well since it’s near the site of an old military outpost, Fort Morrow. Still, it’s surprising how many people in Marion County have never heard of it.

In 1806, Nathaniel Wyatt and his brother-in-law, Nathaniel Brundige, brought their families to settle in what is now Waldo Township. They were the first white settlers in what would become Marion County.

When one of Mr. Wyatt’s children died in 1808, he buried her on a bluff overlooking the Olentangy River, and thus the cemetery began.

Mr. Wyatt also built an inn, and when the War of 1812 began, the military surrounded it with a stockade and it eventually became known as Fort Morrow. The article appearing in the Star in 1969 described Fort Morrow as “a place of refuge for passing volunteer and regular soldiers from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Chillicothe or Columbus who were en route to combat in the Lake Erie portion of the War of 1812.”

In addition to the many members of the Wyatt and Brundige families buried in the Wyatt Cemetery, the remains of 13 unknown soldiers who died while fighting in the War of 1812 are buried there as well.

Just a few years later, on July 10, 1972, the Star again ran a story detailing how “unthinking vandals” had damaged and even toppled many of the tombstones.

headline wyatt narrow
The headline from the July 10, 1972, edition of The Marion Star. The article noted that some of the 1969 vandals were eventually caught and served some time in jail over the vandlism.

A lot of those young people who vandalized the Wyatt Cemetery are probably in their late 60s today. I suspect they wouldn’t be as thoughtless about toppling a tombstone now that they’re a lot closer to having one with their own name on it.

The Meteor of 1918

For as long as we have gazed up to the heavens, meteors have inspired feelings of awe. And fear. As such, they turn up time and again in literature as symbols of foreboding:

meteor
The (misspelled) headline for the January 10th, 1918, edition of The Marion Daily Star.

In Richard II, Shakespeare uses meteors to describe a universe out of balance:

“The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d
And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth
And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change.”

And in the Bible, a passage from the Book of Revelation 6:12-13 (“And when I saw the Lamb open the sixth seal, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black like sackcloth of goat hair, and the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth…”) implies that meteors (i.e. falling stars) will be part of the Great Tribulation.

Unsurpsingly, then, when a meteor streaked through the sky over Marion in the winter of 1918, it caused quite a stir.

The Marion Daily Star reported that people around town were awoken by a loud explosion that shook their houses shortly after midnight on January 10th.

Witnesses who were outside at the time reported that, “[A] gigantic ball of fire swept the sky. It was a vivid green color, and in its path a bright streak of the same hue remained visible in the heavens for a time.”

Although residents tried to locate the spot where the meteor landed, they were unsuccessful. In all likelihood, the meteor burned up in the atmosphere before it reached the ground.

Was that a Ghost I Happened Upon?

While I was putting together a chapter on the Quarry Street Cemetery for Haunted Marion, Ohio, I ran across this letter to the editor written by Marion resident Donald Moore and published in The Marion Star on November 13, 2010. In the end, although I didn’t include it in the book, I still think the story he tells is quite charming.

[This is an] incident which happened to me in 1935 when I was 14 years old and lived on East George Street, east of Greenwood Street, opposite the old Huber plant. I was skinny as a rail and also a book worm, both of which contributed to my story.

I had walked to the library on South Main Street and was returning home after dark. I walked down Quarry Street beside the cemetery, and being more foolish than brave, I decided to cut across the center of the cemetery toward a short north and south alley that ended at the north edge of the cemetery.

quarry street graveyard tombstone resized 2
One of the few remaining grave markers in the Quarry Street Cemetery.

For some reason, about halfway through the cemetery, I started running. So, there is a teenager having second thoughts about going through a cemetery after dark. I really wasn’t spooked. I just decided to cross this area in a little less time.

So, I was moving pretty good as I approached the north edge of this quiet, dark area. As I came to the alley area, I spotted two strands of a wire fence blocking my approach to the alley about a foot off the ground. At my modest speed it was no problem to jump over the law fence. As my feet hit the ground, something grabbed me about the waist, and I was pulled backward into the dark cemetery.

If my hair ever stood on end, that was the time. I tried to get my speed up and got nowhere. When my heart slowed down a bit and my brain started working again, I discovered that there was a third strand of wire, waist high, that I hadn’t seen in the darkness and it had caught me as my feet hit the ground and lifted me backward to the same spot I had just departed from.

You might ask have I any objection to going into cemeteries? No, not on a bright sunny day. At night? Forget it! At one time in my youth, I was more foolish than brave. Now I am neither foolish nor brave. Count me out.

 

The Myers Farm Murders

The Marion Star described Roush as a “sleight” man who had never so much as had a speeding ticket before he murdered Mr. and Mrs. Myers.
The Marion Star described Roush as a “sleight” man who had never so much as had a speeding ticket before he murdered Mr. and Mrs. Myers.

The Electric Chair

Note: the following is taken from an eye-witness account that appeared in The Marion Star.

On April 26th, 1939, at exactly 8:00 p.m., 49-year-old Harvey Roush entered the white-walled death chamber at the Ohio Penitentiary and seated himself in the state’s electric chair. Working quickly, two prison guards strapped an electrode to his ankle and another to a clean-shaven spot on his head. The electrodes were backed with wet sponges, and as the guards cinched the strap under his chin, a trickle of water ran down his face. Next they tightened down the leather straps and hooks that would hold him in place when the electricity began coursing through his body. Lastly, they covered his face with a leather hood. Their preparations finished, the guards stepped back. It was now up to the warden to give the final signal.

Harvey Roush, the last person from Marion County to die in Ohio’s electric chair, committed a crime of senseless and appalling violence that, even now, is shocking. It’s a Depression-era tragedy in which two families were destroyed.

The Crime

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 30th, 1938, two young men spotted a farmhouse on fire on Route 423 (known then as the Delaware Road) just north of Waldo. They went into Waldo to raise the fire alarm and returned to the house a short time later with some other men. They were able to pull the homeowners, Homer and Mineola Myers, from the blaze. Mineola was already dead and Homer died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

To law enforcement members arriving on the scene, it was immediately clear that someone had murdered the couple. Mr. Myers had a bullet wound to the head and Mrs. Myers had suffered a severe beating.

mr-and-mrs-myers
Homer and Mineola Myers. They had been married for forty years at the time of their murder. Both are buried in the Marion Cemetery.

Homer Myers, 65, was a well-respected and prosperous farmer as well as a locally renowned horse and cattle breeder while Mineola, 67, was well-known in social circles. Both of them were born and raised in Marion County. Mr. Myers was, in fact, born on the very same farm where he was slain, and at the time of his death, it had been in the family for four generations.

Why anyone would want to murder two such well-regarded people was a mystery. Investigators initially assumed that robbery-gone-wrong was the most likely scenario. However, this theory began to fall apart when the Myers’ son said that no valuables appeared to be missing from the fire-damaged house. Investigators became convinced that Mr. Myers had known his killer after the coroner provided them with one small but significant detail about Mr. Myers at the time of his death: He had partially chewed peanuts in his mouth when he died. They speculated that Mr. Myers must have known his killer if he felt at ease enough to eat in front of him.

The Confession

The Myers farmhouse is still standing today and is clearly visible from Route 423. This photo was taken in October of 2015.
The Myers farmhouse is still standing today and is clearly visible from Route 423. This photo was taken in October of 2015.

Harvey Roush lived in a small house on the Myers Farm where he worked as a tenant farmer. On the surface, he didn’t seem like the type to carry out a brutal double homicide. Roush was originally from Seaman, Ohio in Adams County, but he had come north to Marion looking for work in around 1933. At the time of the murder, he had worked on the Myers farm for about four years and, according to another farmer interviewed in the Star, “enjoyed a good reputation for peace and quiet.” He was married and had seven children ranging in age from 11 to 21. Up until the Myers murder, he had never been in trouble with the law.

But Roush also had money problems. Years earlier he’d had his own farm in Adams County but he eventually lost it due to debts. He also owed money to Mr. Myers. When he began working for Mr. Myers, he borrowed just over $1500 , but at the time of the murder, Roush had only managed to pay back $100 of it. At a time when the average household income was approximately $1700 per year, this was a sizable amount of money.

On Sunday morning, the day after the murder, investigators drove out to the Roush residence. Harvey Roush told investigators he’d gone with his family into Marion on Saturday, where they planned to do some shopping and then catch a movie at the State Theater. However, at some point Roush had split up with his family and gone instead to a few downtown bars. He claimed he later dropped in on the film his family was seeing – he didn’t sit with them – for 30 or 40 minutes before leaving again. This story struck investigators as strange but not incriminating, and they eventually left. Later that day they returned, and when prosecuting attorney Paul Michel asked Roush a few questions about the movie he claimed to have seen, Roush couldn’t answer them. At that point, Mr. Michel ordered the sheriff to arrest him.

Once in custody, Roush almost immediately confessed to the murders. While his family was watching the movie at the State Theater, Roush went back out to the Myers Farm where he told Mr. Myers he was ready to pay off his $1405 debt. However, as soon as Mr. Myers marked the note as paid, Roush shot him in the head with a .38 caliber revolver. Mrs. Myers heard the shot from a nearby room and began screaming. Roush shot her as well, but she didn’t die, so he beat her to death with a rifle belonging to Mr. Myers. Roush then set the house on fire, threw the murder weapon in the Scioto River on his way back to Marion and picked up his family. When the Roush family returned to the Myers farm, the farmhouse was still burning, and Roush even helped fight the fire. During his confession, Roush admitted he had planned the crime for several days before he carried it out.

The Trial

On May 6th, while in custody, Roush attempted suicide by slashing his own throat with a razor blade. Roush was already on suicide watch because, during his confession, he admitted he had initially planned to “do away” with himself after murdering Mr. and Mrs. Myers. Although he lost a large amount of blood, he eventually recovered.

Although he had confessed to the murders, during his June 11th arraignment, Roush plead not guilty. On July 18th, as his trial was about to begin, Roush changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, and this caused a delay in the trial. He was sent to the notorious Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for 8 days where doctors eventually declared him sane.

The trial finally got underway on August 1st, 1938, and despite the oppressive heat, the courtroom was packed during the trial. Prosecutor Paul Michel decided to try Roush only for the murder of Mr. Myers (with a trial for the murder of Mrs. Myers planned should he fail to get a conviction).

fire-damage
The interior of the Myers farm after the fire. The room in the foreground is the dining room where Mrs. Myers was found. The room in the background is the downstairs bedroom where Mr. Myers was found.

During the trial, Roush took the stand in his own defense where he made a couple of outrageous claims. For one, he said Mr. Myers had made unwanted advances on his wife, Virgie, that had enraged him. However, Roush also claimed that he didn’t actually carry out the murders; instead a former farmhand named Joe Cammon had done it for Roush. No one took either of these claims seriously, and neither Mrs. Roush nor Mr. Cammon was ever called to testify.

On August 15th, 1938, a jury found Roush guilty of the murder of Mr. Myers. They did not recommend mercy, and Judge Hector Young sentenced Roush to death. The trial had lasted six days. Although members of the Roush family were seen off and on during his trial (especially Mrs. Roush), no one from his family was present during sentencing.

When the death sentence was handed down, Roush didn’t react. A reporter from the Star who visited Roush on death row reported that he seemed “resigned to his rapidly approaching death.”

The End of Harvey Roush

Roush's photo from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. The text accompanying the image reads, "Harvey Roush, Legally Electrocuted for the Murder of Mr. and Mrs. Homer Mysers at Marion, Ohio."
Roush’s photo from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. The text accompanying the image reads, “Harvey Roush, Legally Electrocuted for the Murder of Mr. and Mrs. Homer Myers at Marion, Ohio.”

At 8:03 p.m. in front of 130 witnesses (53 of whom were from Marion County), the prison warden gave the signal, and for one full minute an electric current passed through Harvey Roush’s body. At 8:04 a doctor declared him dead.

Roush’s last words were, “I shall not kill.” This sentence caused considerable debate among the spectators. Was he talking about himself? Or admonishing the state that was executing him? We’ll never know.

After Roush’s execution, his wife applied for relief (i.e. welfare) for herself and the two youngest children who still lived with her. She could only stay in the tenant house for a few days after the murder since the property was almost immediately involved in probate court proceedings. When Mr. Roush died, the family had no money in the bank and no life insurance. During his confession, Roush had said that his motive for killing the Myers was “to end my own trouble and fix a little future for my wife and family.” How tragic, then, that Roush left his family with nothing.

- Josh Simpkins

Sources:

The Marion Star, April 26, 1939
The Marion Star, April 27, 1939
The Marion Star, August 1, 1938
The Marion Star, August 5, 1938
The Marion Star, August 6, 1938
The Marion Star, August 15, 1938
The Marion Star, June 6, 1938
The Marion Star, June 11, 1938
The Marion Star, June 18, 1938
The Marion Star, July 18, 1939
The Marion Star, May 2, 1938
The Marion Star, May 3, 1938
The Marion Star, May 4, 1938
The Marion Star, May 5, 1938
The Marion Star, May 7, 1938
The Marion Star, May 11, 1938