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Finding Stories Of Life Among The Tombstones


With the last of the autumn leaves clinging to their branches, botanical gardens and even cemeteries are wonderful places to visit. NPR's Noah Adams has a favorite - cemetery, that is - and he takes us there as part of our Wingin' It series - finding places that might surprise you. Here's Noah's postcard from Dayton, Ohio.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: We are at Woodland Cemetery - much of it overlooking Dayton's river valley. And we'll start up here on this hilltop. There' a blue flag with a white airplane. It flies over the Wright family plot.


ADAMS: There are plain granite markers for Wilbur and Orville and Katherine, their sister.

HANS HARTWIG: Well, I got to get the quarter down on one of them.

ADAMS: This is Hans Hartwig, an engineering student at the nearby University of Dayton. He always places a tribute coin on one of the markers. Lots of people seem to do that.

HARTWIG: I don't know if that's a tradition or not - or if that's documented - but every time I've come here, you put a coin next - down by one of the grave sites.

ADAMS: My first time at Woodland was the summer of 2002. I was working then on a book about the Wright Brothers. Now, I live in a town nearby, and it's easy to come over for a walk.


ADAMS: These days, the graves are dug by backhoe. Rufus Slate runs a six-man cemetery crew.

RUFUS SLATE: They do more than just one job. These two gentlemen digging the graves are also the cremationists.

BETH DUTENHAVER: The king and queen of gypsies is supposed to be buried here. I don't know where.

ADAMS: Beth Dutenhaver is at Woodland on this day, for a memorial service. When Queen Matilda died in 1878, a thousand carriages arrived in procession. Also Dayton famous and Woodland buried: Paul Laurence Dunbar, the African-American poet; George Huffman - that's Huffy bicycles; Charles Kettering, the electric starter for the automobile; John Patterson - his company became NCR. Erma Bombeck is still loved in her hometown. She wrote about being a wife and a mom, and a who-cares cook. One of the Woodland volunteer tour guides, Dawn Luker, offers her top six, most-visited graves.

DAWN LUKER: Erma, Johnny Morehouse, the Gypsies, the Wright Brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar; and then the town madam, Madame Richter, is always a popular one.

ADAMS: That second name on the list, Johnny Morehouse - a 5-year-old. He was playing and fell in the canal. His dog jumped in, but Johnny died. There's a stone carving of the boy and his dog, and people often leave things here. Victoria Ritchie likes to see what arrives.

VICTORIA RITCHIE: Stuffed animals and race cars, Batman, Spiderman, Ninja Turtles - that kind of stuff.

ADAMS: Dayton, Ohio's, Woodland Cemetery now settles into winter. The dog walkers keep on coming; and the runners, especially for the hills. When you visit anytime, it changes your day. The stories seem to rise up from 107,000 graves.

Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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