WYSO Curious Digs Up The Story Behind A Woodland Cemetery Statue

Aug 3, 2017

Today on WYSO Curious we answer a question from listener Eileen Ribbler of Kettering about a statute of a little boy and dog at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. Eileen wanted to know what the story was behind the marker, one of the most iconic monuments in the Cemetery, which commemorates five year old Johnny Morehouse. Community Voices producer Renee Wilde went to this famous Dayton landmark to dig up the answer.

Johnny Morehouse's monument is one of the most iconic at Woodland Cemetery
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

Johnny was the son of a local cobbler who fell into an old canal that cut through the center of Dayton where Patterson Boulevard now runs. His beloved dog pulled him from the water but unfortunately, Johnny had already drowned. The local legend has is that Johnny’s dog stayed by the boy’s gravesite after he was buried, and carved on the marker are items that were on the young boy when he drowned; which includes a harmonica, a top, a small ball and his cap.

Visitors leave offerings of flowers and small trinkets on Johnny’s marker; like hand woven bracelets, small toys and photos. The cemetery staff clear off the items regularly to preserve the monument, so every morning the boy and his dog start the day of fresh, ready to engage a new group of visitors.

Woodland Cemetery is also an Arboretum, with over 3,000 trees. And hanging out in those majestic Oaks, Magnolias and Shagbark Hickories are birds. Lots and lots of birds.

"Last spring during the migration the birds are really bright, so at one point there were, like, three Scarlet Tanager’s ever where you looked. They were really bright, bright red. So that was a thrill,"  says Ann Gallaher.

She’s here this morning for one of the Cemeteries themed guided tours, which includes the History, Mystery, Mayhem and Murder tour, and The Women of Woodland, both of which focus on the many famous residents buried in these rolling hills.  But, this morning’s tour focused on the living residents of Woodland, as Amanda Lawson took a group of visitors on a birdwalk around the grounds.  In between bird sightings Amanda tells me how she got started giving tours at the cemetery.

Amanda Lawson is a certified Ohio volunteer naturalist who leads birdwatching tours of Woodland Cemetery
Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

"Actually my grandparents are buried here and they got me into birding when I was a little girl," she says. "And after grandma and grandpa passed away, actually during grandpa’s service, he went first, I heard all kinds of birds and I was like ‘oh my gosh this is awesome’. So I started bird watching here more and this has become my favorite place for urban birding in the entire area."

Amanda is a certified Ohio volunteer naturalist, and she shares her love of birding, and the cemetery, with other visitors.

"It basically encourages people to volunteer in their communities doing environmental outreach," she said before noticing a White Breasted Nuthatch nearby.

I didn’t want to intrude on their birdwatching, so I wandered around some of the one hundred thousand graves and monuments that are located in Woodland Cemetery; marking the graves of people like writer Erma Bombeck, African American poet Paul Dunbar, and of course the famous Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur.

Credit Renee Wilde / WYSO

WYSO Curious is sponsored by Proto BuildBar, proud supporter of curious minds.