Grave Concerns

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ROANOKE, Ind. (WPTA21)-If you’re a history buff, a real history buff then you love cemeteries. The architecture of the monuments, the stories of the people who rest there, often heartbreaking stories. Hannah Chapman rests in Roanoke cemetery, she died in 1854, just 31 years old after a short and cruel life. Hannah lost two children, a son, Joseph, eleven days old and a daughter, Hatty, probably stillborn. And then there is Adam Smith, Civil War veteran of the Union Army who apparently died as fearful as he must have felt on the battlefield.

Sitting atop Adam Smith’s grave is a massive coffin shaped cast iron slab held together with thick rivets, a barrier to a morbid undertaking. In 1879 five physicians founded the Fort Wayne Medical College in the old Hugh McCullough mansion on Superior Street. Students were required to pay tuition, study hard and provide their own cadavers for dissection. The need for medical cadavers inspired the very lucrative profession of grave robbing and no cemetery within fifty miles of Fort Wayne was safe.

One cemetery that had thirty graves disturbed and the corpses were stolen to supply the medical college in Fort Wayne,” says historian Jean Gernand.

The corpse of one beloved Roanoke resident, Daddy Payton, was dug up and hauled off, reappearing in Fort Wayne.

He was discovered his body was discovered at the medical college and one of the students recognized him and he was returned,” explains Gernand. “And they could see the hole in his jaw they had a big hook and you could see where the hook had gone around his neck.”

Families were so fearful their loved ones bodies would be sliced up on a medical table they came up with ingenious solutions; cast iron grave covers like Mr. Adam smith’s, metal bars like jail cell doors blocking access to the grave. Even iron fences anchored deep in the ground. Public outcry about grave robbing grew so loud medical schools including Fort Wayne’s began legally supplying corpses for students and the dastardly profession of grave robbing died out. But there are traces of the ghoulish practice left behind to this day…if you just know where they’re buried.

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