Expedition Team: Debbie Arnold, Dave Miller
Expedition Date: February 2017 – June 2020
Former co-worker Debbie Arnold told be the story of, when she was about five years old, going with her father and viewing a body in a coffin that was dug up at Library Park and put on public display.
THE BODY: On October 16, 1964 while digging to install a water fountain at Library Park, a ditch digger dug up an unmarked old fashioned cast iron coffin with a male body inside. According to Debbie, after being eventually moved to Bell Vault & Monument Company on South Main Street the coffin was placed on public display where people could view it in hopes of identifying the cadaver. Debbie remembers as a child going with her father and viewing the coffin and seeing the man’s skeletal face. Debbie believes the body was buried later in Highland Cemetery.
THE INVESTIGATION: Library Park was once Miamisburg’s first cemetery founded around 1850 but the majority of the graves were relocated to Hill Grove Cemetery in 1884 by superstitious, frightened residents who were trying to rid the Library Park cemetery of the ghost of a murdered woman that appeared every night at 9pm (see my other article titled Miamisburg Library Park Ghost). The remainder of the coffins were relocated in the early 1890’s. However, they forgot one coffin. The sharp dressed man in the coffin was called the “coffin dodger” by locals and was the first body buried at the new Highland Cemetery in 1965.
During research I uncovered a Sat., Oct. 17, 1964 Dayton Journal Herald article that said the casket was believed to be more than 100 years old (circa 1844 to 1864). Mortician Richard Brough, who removed the coffin to the Hillgrove Cemetery Vault, said the male body who he called “Mr. X” was virtually mummified. He had the remains of a man’s old-fashioned wing collar and bow tie which could be seen. The man was approximately 40 years old at death, 6 to 6 foot two inches in height and with black hair streaked with grey.
Brough speculated that identification of the coffin must have been lost back in the 1890’s or it would have been removed with the other coffins.
Another article from the Dayton Daily News dated June 21, 1965 showed photo’s of the unique coffin. The use of a cast iron coffin was an extremely expensive burial item 75 to 100 years ago. What I find fantastic about the coffin is that it looked like an Egyptian sarcophagus to me. The cast iron design is incredible. My guess would be the man was very wealthy.
The coffin is 7 foot long and a firm or body fitting type with a robe design on the coffin and flower pattern at the base.
I interviewed Tim Bell who co-manages Highland Cemetery on Upper Miamisburg Road founded by his grandfather in 1965. He said the unknown Miamisburg male cadaver has a marker and is buried in the front entrance to Highland Cemetery next to the flagpole. He was buried on June 20, 1965, the very first burial in Highland Cemetery. Tim says the elaborate bronze cast iron mummy case appears to be manufactured from A. J. Fisk Company out of New York.
My further research revealed that Almond Dunbar Fisk patented the Fisk Metallic Burial Cases in 1848 out of Providence, Rhode Island and had another plant in Long Island, New York. A. D. Fisk did license the right to manufacture the burial coffins to the W. C. Davis & Company in Cincinnati. The A. D. Fisk Company folded in December 1888. The cast iron coffins were popular among wealthy families in the mid-1800’s. A normal wooden coffin cost $2 and a A.J. Fisk coffin cost upwards of $100. The metal coffins were well sealed and more desirable by the wealthy to deter grave robbers. It is speculated that the name of the person may have been on the flat surface 5 to 10 inches at the top of the coffin but eroded away. This type of burial indicated that the individual buried was someone of cultural or societal importance.
With that in mind, who is Mr. X? Was the elaborate coffin ordered from the Cincinnati branch company and not the New York parent company? Since Miamisburg was founded in 1818, was the unidentified corpse a former Miamisburg pioneer that was wealthy and had influence in the community?