60 learn about Niles history during cemetery tour

NILES — Laid to rest in Niles Union Cemetery are many of the lives lost in the Civil War, World War I and World War II, as well as the city’s earliest leaders and their families.

Their stories were brought to life Saturday with a tour by local historian Wendell Lauth.

About 60 attended the sunny, windy walk-through with Lauth and members of the Niles Historical Society and the Niles McKinley Memorial Library.

Stopping to peer into the mausoleum that holds famed Niles inventor Harry Stevens — credited with creating the hot dog among other items — the group marveled at the age of the tombstones and found stories in the dates of death and birth carved into family plots.

The group saw the graves of the infant sister and maternal grandmother of President William McKinley, who spent several years of his childhood in Niles.

“Everything is so interesting, the history here is just astounding, especially relating to President McKinley,” said Lois Stredney of Niles.

One small stone marked the grave of Jacob Shelar, a corporal in the Ohio 171st Volunteer Infantry who served in the Civil War. Shelar is credited with saving the life of a young McKinley after he nearly drowned in Mosquito Creek, Lauth said.

“If he hadn’t saved McKinley, imagine what effect that would have had. It changed history,” Lauth said.

The cemetery holds the remains of the Heaton family and Ward families, who founded and restored the iron industry in the town after it was founded by James Heaton in 1806.

The cemetery was founded before the Civil War and began as a 1-acre plot on the south side, on a raised hill, Lauth said.

Lauth said the oldest part of the cemetery has numerous unmarked graves and needs to be thoroughly researched to identify where the graves are and who is buried in them.

For many years, the gravesite of Anne Allison, McKinley’s grandmother, was lost, Lauth said. But one day, while visiting the site where McKinley’s sister Abigail, who was 7 months old when she died, was buried, he started taking a closer look. Under years of sod and other build up, he discovered Allison’s marker, Lauth said.

The stone was removed and cleaned and put in the care of the Niles Historical Society for preservation. A replacement stone was erected to mark the grave, Lauth said.

Lauth also demonstrated how diving rods can be used to search out unmarked graves. The rods, about 3-feet long, are held parallel to the ground and cross when passing over certain materials in the ground.

Florence Siglin of Braceville, on the tour with her daughter Ada Nelson, of Niles, said she learned to use the rods as a girl with her parents, “witching for water.”

Using fresh branches, Siglin said she has found leaks in underground water pipes, clogs in leech fields and water sources.

Several tried the trick and some were astounded to see the rods cross involuntarily over what appeared to be an unmarked grave.