Note: This is part of a series of articles I've written chronicling my recent travels for The Farm's Patreon. Dispatches from Dandyland (Somerset, KY) and Weird Wisconsin can be found there along with the entire first Cincinnati dispatch. A preview is available on this blog here. Finally, my traveling companions and I recounted our experiences in Cincy for The Farm recently. That interview can be found here and here. Part two is available in its entirety here.
The third and final day of my occult exploration of Cincinnati and the surrounding area unfolded over the course of May Day or Beltane, depending upon your mileage. It was a kind of holiday weekend for my traveling companions and myself. We started to descend upon Cincinnati that Thursday, but it wasn't until Friday that every member of the party was present, and the adventure really began. With May Day/Beltane falling on Sunday, this meant that Walpurgis Night would unfold after sunset on Saturday. For those of you unaware, Walpurgis Night, along with Halloween, are considered the two principal Witches' Sabbaths. They're also the major cross-quarter days. For more on the pagan significance of these dates, see the second installment in this series.
When the topic of activities for Walpurgis Night came, there was one obvious choice to my mind: the storied Spring Grove Cemetery. Describing this place as an architectural marvel is a gross understatement. It's reportedly the nation's third largest cemetery, weighing in at 733 acres. It was first established in 1844 by the Cincinnati Horticultural Society. From the beginning, the group had ambitious designs for the cemetery. At the time, the so-called "Garden" or "Rural" Cemetery movement had taken off in Europe and the US. As the name implies, the location of Spring Grove was abundant in both its name sakes and seen as ideal for a garden.
The Occult Architect
The initial architect wasn't quite up to the task, however, and in 1855 a replacement was brought in. He was a Prussian who went by the name of Adolph Strauch. At the age of 16, Strauch ventured to Vienna and apprenticed for six years at the Hapsburg imperial gardens at Laxenburg and Schönbrunn Palace. it was there that he was "discovered" by a mysterious Cincinnati businessman named Robert B. Bowler. Bowler had married into the Pendleton family by way of the daughter of Nathaniel Greene Pendleton.
The Pendletons are part of America's old guard aristocracy, which I addressed in part one of this series. Patriarch Nathaniel Pendleton Sr. was an aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene during the Revolutionary War and later became an early US Senator. Inevitably, he was an original, hereditary member of the Society of Cincinnati, that mysterious body from which the city was named after. The Pendleton clan would remain prominent well into the 20th century, spawning such notables as Francis Key Pendleton and Nathalie Schenck Laimbeer (a great-granddaughter of Nathaniel G. Pendleton).
It was no doubt a major coup for Bowler to marry into the Pendleton clan during that particular time and place. They were arguably at the height of their prowess during the mid-19th century. His brother-in-law, George Hunt Pendleton, had married into the family of Francis Scott Key and was about to embark upon a successful, Ohio-based, political career. Unsurprisingly, Bowler became a highly successful businessman in the Cincinnati area. This positioned him to embark upon an especially illustrious family estate.
In 1850, Bowler convinced Adolph Strauch to relocate to Cincinnati and work on his family estate. It became known as Mount Storm and was by all accounts a wonder to behold. Designed as an old English country estate, it featured marble columns, a conservatory, and a Corinthian-style pergola, which was fubbed the "Temple of Love." By 1912, the estate was owned by the city after both Bowler and his son, Robert Jr., died prematurely. Despite having hosted Edward, Prince of Wales, at one point, the city opted to raze the structure in 1917. The reason given is that it had become a "trysting" place for young lovers. Others argued that it stood in the way of "progress," even though the spot has never been anything other than a park ever since. Given the family connections and some of the curious architecture, its easy to wonder if something beyond mere trysts were unfolding at Mount Storm.
As for Strauch, his work on the Bowler estate made him an immediate sensation in the Cincinnati area. After working on a few other private estates in the area, he landed the gig he will forever be remembered for: Spring Grove. After becoming the cemetery's superintendent in 1855, he transformed it into what has been described as "the prototype of the lawn cemetery." Indeed, Strauch would later lend his talents to other famed cemeteries, such as Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery, Detroit's Woodmere Cemetery; and Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Spring Grove remained Strauch's masterpiece, and seemingly the work closest to his heart. It's where he opted to be buried, after all. And he's in good company: the founder of Kroger's is there, along with the namesakes behind Procter & Gamble; Salmon P. Chase, the Ohio political giant who eventually became the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court; and numerous members of the Taft dynasty, including Skull and Bones co-founder Alphonso.
Alphonso is not the only founder of a fraternity residing in Spring Grove either. Isaac M. Jordan, a successful businessman who served one term in the US House of Representatives, co-founded Sigma Chi, one of the largest fraternities in North America. Well into the 1970s, pledges were required to sneak into Spring Grove and record the inscription on Jordan's tomb.
At least two members of the Pendleton family, Nathaniel G. and H., reside in Spring Grove as well. Keep in mind the family's patronage of Strauch by way of Bowler as well as their hereditary place in the Society of Cincinnati. In the first installment in this series, I noted another original member of interest here: the famed architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant. As I'm sure many reading this are aware, L'Enfant is widely credited with the occult lay out of DC. While his role in Freemsonry has been widely remarked upon, the Frenchman was quite active in the Society of Cincinnati also, being a founding member and designing the group's first emblem.
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