Bones Discovered Under Music Hall

Music Hall was constructed in Over-the-Rhine in the late 1870s, and already there had been several uses for on the land on which the hall sits. A map from the early 1830s points to a Potter's Field in that block, adjacent to a branch of the Commercial Hospital & Lunatic Asylum, which was nicknamed "Pest House" because it was used for people who had contracted contagious diseases such as cholera, small pox and tuberculosis. The Potter's Field was also used for immigrants and paupers who had the misfortune of dying without identification, or without loved ones to claim their bodies. Then, in the 1830s, the managers of the Cincinnati Orphan Asylum purchased the tract. Some twenty years later, those same individuals sold the land to the city for temporary use while a new Commercial Hospital was built directly west of that site, across the canal.

Once the new hospital was up and running, the North American Saengerbund Society decided it was the perfect location for its 1870 convention in Cincinnati and a large wooden hall was built on the site for Saengerfest. Once the singing had ended, the hall was used for the 1870 exposition.

part of a period newspaper article Construction on Music Hall started in October, 1876, presumably right after the Saengerfest Halle was torn down. It was during the excavation of the site for the new building's foundation that workers came across the first ''human remains''. Newspaper accounts at the time -- which sometimes were embellished to sell papers -- indicates that the discovery drew crowds who watched as boxes were filled with skeletal remains.

Music Hall Association meeting minutes show that the city was not interested in helping dispose of the skeletons. W.H. Harrison was on the Association's board, as well as on the board of Spring Grove cemetery. He arranged for a plot to be used for a proper reburial of all the skeletons that were found.

Why were skeletons found in that area? After all, it was Washington Park that had at one time been the site of Presbyterian, Episcopal and German Protestant cemeteries. Could that site have been a potter's field?

In February 1927, while digging a foundation for connecting tunnel during the remodeling of Music Hall, workers came across three coffins. A headstone for one of the coffins read: ''Sacred to the Memory of George Pollock, native of Scotland, who died October 29, 1831, age 52 years.'' According to news reports, workers stopped digging the trench when a snowstorm interfered with their work. While they were gone, souvenir hunters removed several bones, including a skull and two pelvic bones, possibly those of a young girl. Rather than move the three bodies to Spring Grove Cemetery with the skeletons found in the 1870s, they were ''given a fitting burial in the pit of the new elevator shaft,'' a four-foot cement vault.

Later that same year, as another trench was being dug -- this one under the south wing -- workmen discovered what was called a ''Valley of Death'' -- 65 graves. Again, even though watchmen were placed nearby, several skulls were stolen during the night. Initial investigation indicated that there were traces of coffins around the bones, but all the wood had disappeared in the century between burial and discovery. Newspaper reports indicate that all were reburied where they were discovered.

Fast forward to early May, 1988. The history of the site and the events of 1927 were long forgotten. Workers drilling a new elevator shaft uncovered 207 pounds of bones that had been interred in concrete; the coroner was called in to investigate the possibility of foul play.

bones recovered in the 1980s

Later a number of the bones ended up at the physical-anthropology lab at the University of Cincinnati, where they were studied in order to provide more information on the physicality of people from the early 1800s. Forensic anthropologist and Mt. St. Joseph professor Dr. Elizabeth Murray examined the bones as part of her doctoral dissertation to see what secrets they held about life among Cincinnati's first settlers, and to compare them with bones from other Americans living in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In the mid 1990s, Dr. Murray took students from the Mount on a field trip to Music Hall, to excavate under the Music Hall stage in hopes of finding additional bones as well as artifacts that could shed more light on early life in Cincinnati.

RELATED INFORMATION

Cincinnati's own forensic anthropologist, Dr. Elizabeth Murray, has studied bones discovered as workmen drilled a new elevator shaft in Music Hall and is currently working on bones found during excavations in Washington Park.

Is Music Hall haunted? Read about it, visit Music Hall, and decide for yourself.

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