Oak Grove Cemetery offers peace, quiet


The Oak Grove Cemetery was established in the 1870s, almost 50 years before the University was founded. The nine and a half acres of land feature two mausoleums, a fountain and war memorials.

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Before buildings appeared at the University, there were gravestones. Before the first student was enrolled, bodies were buried.

The Oak Grove Cemetery in the middle of campus is a place that bustles with activity and life, even though the majority of the people inside are deceased.

“It’s a very humbling place to go,” said Bob Waddle, assistant vice president of captial planning and design. “It’s a beautiful space.”

The city built the cemetery around 1873 after purchasing the land from Robert Eldridge, said sexton Tim Hammer.

Hammer oversees all cemetery operations including landscaping, selling the lots and digging the graves for burial.

His favorite aspect of his job is the quiet

atmosphere, he said.

“Oh, it’s peaceful over here,” Hammer said. “I’ve been doing this for so long.”

Hammer has worked as a sexton, or caretaker, for a little more than a year, but has been involved with the cemetery for around 12 years helping with landscaping and burials.

“At first it was kind of weird,” he said. “It was different.”

Now, he is used to the cemetery atmosphere and really enjoys his job, Hammer said.

Families can ask Hammer for help locating buried loved ones, and he enjoys assisting them, he said.

“I feel like that’s part of what I’m getting paid for,” Hammer said.

Aside from relatives of people interred, students should try to visit the cemetery, Waddle said, and the University might help out with that.

“I would love to see us create a wide pathway through the cemetery,” he said. “The city really and truly essentially wanted a route that was innovative.”

Most colleges don’t have an on-campus cemetery, so University students should enjoy Oak Grove and the scenic benefits it provides, Waddle said.

“One of the things that’s great is we’ll always have green space,” he said. “The cemetery is something you have to work around.”

However, some students, like senior Phil Benner, wouldn’t like taking a walk through the cemetery.

“I don’t see a reason to go into a cemetery unless a loved one is buried there,” he said. “I don’t know anybody there.”

Benner said he has never been inside the cemetery, but sees the outside of it often.

“I commute here, so I park next to it everyday,” he said. “It’s strange when I’m walking out to my car and see the tents and them digging the graves.”

Digging graves is commonly associated with cemeteries, although finding unmarked bones is usually not.

Around 10 years ago, the city put in piping around the cemetery and thought they uncovered human remains near the fence line, Waddle said.

“We unearthed a hamhock bone,” he said. “We still joke about it on a regular basis.”

The city is aware there are some unmarked graves along the fence line of Ridge Street, but there haven’t been any issues with bodies since finding the animal bone, he said.

However, last year a few of the graves were vandalized during the night.

“I don’t know why someone would do that,” Hammer said.

Since the incident, the city placed cameras at the entrance and near the maintance building.

The hardest part of Hammer’s job is watching the grieving families as he prepares the graves, he said.

“Some people take death differently,” he said. “Some people are okay with death.”