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Semi rollover damages historic cemetery

UNION COUNTY — The historic Southard Cemetery in York Township was almost decimated early Tuesday morning after a semi truck, towing a large container of powdered lime, lost control and rolled over numerous headstones.

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Crews clean up powdered lime debris caused by a semi rollover crash early Tuesday at the Southard Cemetery in Union County. (MARYSVILLE JOURNAL-TRIBUNE PHOTO | RYAN HORNS)

 

“There are people buried in there from the 1800s,” York Township trustee Mike Sullivan said. “I saw one person buried in there from at least 1868.”

The repair process could take some time, Sullivan said, but he assured the community that planning is already underway.

According to Robert Parrott of the Union County Historical Society, the earliest surviving tombstone at the cemetery is that of Phoebe Summers who died in 1851. He said the last recorded burial was for Arthur Wilgus in 1951.

Officials have since reported six headstones were damaged by the crash. Some were toppled over, others broken into pieces. The truck hit the ground so hard portions of concrete on the road were even pierced by the metal.

The Marysville Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSP) reported this morning that driver Frank Mikolajczyk, 57, of Toledo, was headed eastbound on Route 47 at 4:57 a.m. in a 2006 Volvo semi truck. He came upon a sharp left-hand turn in the road, where Route 47 intersects with Newton-Perkins Road, and may have mistaken an access road as the main route.

Mikolajczyk reportedly overcorrected when he realized the mistake, sending the truck off the left side of the roadway. The vehicle struck a utility pole and rolled over onto its side after the tires became stuck in the dirt, sending it over the headstones.

The OSP reported that the semi truck was towing a large metal container filled with a dry powdery substance. The container was punctured in the crash and the material poured out across the gravesites.

Emergency officials likened the spilled material to dry cement mix at the time. This morning, however, the OSP confirmed it was powdered lime, most likely en route for use at nearby chicken farms.

Coincidently, lime was historically used to treat corpses in wartime, preventing odor by prolonging the decomposition process. It is often used in the agricultural, scientific and food industries.

The OSP reported the material is not toxic.

According to OSP trooper Jacob Morrison, damage done to the cemetery and its historic headstones will take time to assess. He also wondered if more damage would be revealed once the powdered substance was cleaned up off the ground.

Sullivan confirmed later on Tuesday that the final damage was indeed six headstones.

“We don’t have any quotes yet,” he said about the price tag. “We’re going to be checking in with the restoration company.”

On the scene, clouds of dust rose over the cemetery as half a dozen workers shoveled the powdery mixture off of the ground and into the back of a truck.

“If you have to bake any bread, you’ll have plenty of material,” one man said to another. “This stuff is like flour.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of York Township, a steady stream of semi trucks took left-hand turns off of Route 31 north to westbound Route 47. As workers cleaned up at the cemetery, the number of semi trucks passing by provided some perspective on the crash. The area is seeing an increase in semi traffic, in part because of the “Road Closed” detour sign diverting vehicles off of Route 31.

Southard Cemetery is located on Route 47 in western York Township, at the site of a former Methodist brick church called Nations Chapel, which stood from 1853-1868.

According to online genealogy reports, compiled by David and Leona Gustafson, the church was later demolished because of old age and “was pronounced unsafe.” The church members divided at the time, with some joining the Methodist Church in West Mansfield and the others forming a new one.

Parrott said details on the history of the cemetery are few.

“I have heard it called Southardtown Cemetery and (it) was named for an early settler to that area Samuel Southard who located there in 1840. Exactly when the cemetery was started is not recorded,” he wrote over email this morning.

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