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Local students honor Civil War vet more than a century after his death

Joseph Withers was buried in a numbered grave in a long-forgotten Toledo cemetery
Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 5:50 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Joseph Withers is one of nearly a thousand people buried in a small cemetery along Arlington Avenue between the years 1888 and 1922. A Civil War veteran, he was from Bucyrus and enlisted for the first time at the age of 18. He enlisted a second time and fought in several battles during the war.

After his service, he was married and had a child, but not much else is known about his story until he came to the Toledo State Hospital. He was there for seven years, and it’s believed he died of dementia.

He was buried in a numbered grave and long forgotten until some students at Bowsher High School raised money to buy a headstone.

There are 906 people buried at the cemetery. Like Withers, they were all patients at the Toledo State Hospital. They were there to be treated for everything from anxiety and addiction to traumatic brain injuries, dementia, and mental illness.

Only a small stone with a number on it marks their graves. The long-forgotten place was overgrown and all of the markers had been covered by the earth. A group of volunteers has been working for years to clean up the cemetery. They’ve also learned all the names of the people buried there and many of their stories.

A student organization at Bowsher called Leading Rebels raised $700 for a headstone honoring the life and service of Withers.

“I have been taught that a person dies twice. The first time is their physical death. The second is the last time someone says their name. Today, we are saying Joseph’s name again,” said Robyn Hage, supervisor of the Leading Rebels program. “I have truly enjoyed watching the students get excited about this project. It was a lot of work to raise that money. A lot of them want to be activists in the community, so this a great way to get involved. For me this is very personal because it connects our past to our future.”

Jane Weber is part of the Cemetery Reclamation Project

“For the students to acknowledge Joseph and help change his identity from number 820 back to Joseph Withers Civil War veteran was an amazing experience for me. One of the things I love about it is that many of the students are the same age Joseph was when he enlisted. What a powerful thing they helped make happen ,” said Weber.

There is also a second cemetery connected to the Toledo State Hospital. It is on the campus of UTMC. About 1,100 people are buried there.

If you’d like to get involved with the work at the two cemeteries, log on to toledostatehospitalcemetery.org.

Copyright 2020 WTVG. All rights reserved.

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