The Fittings

Frederick M. Fitting and Ruth Markey Fitting share their story with visitors at Bellville's Cemetery Walk on Saturday. The Fitting were played by Norris and Jan Tangeman of Bellville.

BELLVILLE -- It’s not every day those buried in a cemetery can stroll through the rows of headstones and converse with their visitors.

But that’s exactly what happened Saturday morning during the Cemetery Walk in Bellville. Deceased residents of the village returned to life in the form of actors who shared their story.

“Every year it becomes more professional. It’s like they outdo themselves,” said event organizer Lynn Fox.

Rinda Sansom as Nell Gatton Wade

Rinda Sansom, Bellville resident and secretary of the Bellville Jefferson Township Historical Society, played Nell Gatton Wade at Saturday's Cemetery Walk. Wade's family arrived in Bellville in 1811. She was born in 1886 and worked as an art teacher and lance designer for Wade and Gatton Nursery. 

The Bellville-Jefferson Historical Society has hosted the Cemetery Walk for four years. Fox founded the event after attending a cemetery walk in Johnsville. She even contacted the organizers there for advice.

Each year’s cemetery walk includes different people from Bellville’s history.

“There are a lot of stories from Bellville history. I’ve never had a problem coming up with characters,” said Fox, historian and meeting president for the historical society.

Fox said the biggest challenge in organizing the event is finding volunteers willing to portray the characters. She sometimes recruits family members of the deceased to embody their predecessors.

“Sometimes it’s an ancestor of someone who stops into the museum,” Fox said. “When I know that they’re researching that ancestor already, I invite them to participate.”

One couple, David Smith and Sue Ann Snyder Smith, came all the way from Chicago to play the husband and wife duo Benjamin and Abigail Mitchel Jackson.

The Jacksons are Snyder Smith’s fourth-generation great grandparents.

Sue Ann Snyder Smith as Abigail Michel Jackson

Abigail Mitchel was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1755 to a family of British Empire Loyalists. She later married rebel solider Benjamin Jackson. The two travelled west in a wagon caravan in the 1810s and settled in Bellville in 1815. Mitchel Jackson was portrayed by her fourth great-granddaughter Sue Ann Snyder Smith of Chicago.

“They have a son who's buried here, Benjamin Jr, who was a judge in the area for a while to a farmer and a merchant as well,” Snyder Smith said. “So I feel like I am kind of part of Bellville because these are my roots.”

The Jacksons hailed from New Jersey and migrated to the wilds of Ohio in 1812. Benjamin was a Revolutionary War veteran who fought on the side of the rebels. Abigail came from a family of Loyalists, but lost touch with them after marrying Benjamin at age 19.

“Have you ever heard of such a thing? Of political divides separating families?” Abigail asked her audience, who responded with chuckles.

This year featured residents with birth years ranging from 1752 through 1886. Fox researched the residents and provided information to the actors, who developed their own monologue scripts.

David Smith as Benjamin Jackson

David Smith of Chicago portrayed Benjamin Jackson during Bellville's Cemetery Walk. Jackson was a Revolutionary War veteran and father of seven children. He died at age 91.

“Getting information for the men is relatively easy, but finding information on any of the women ... it’s like looking for hen’s teeth,” Fox said.

Most women in the early days of Bellville were homemakers. The details of their lives went undocumented.

Nevertheless, Saturday’s Cemetery Walk featured four Bellville women -- Abigail Mitchel Jackson, Ruth Markey Fitting, Emeline A Charles and Nell Gatton Wade.

Jackson and Fitting were accompanied by their husbands, while Charles and Wade shared their stories independently.

Charles, portrayed by Bellville native and researcher Rhonda Bletner, was born in 1834 in Washington Township. She owned her own business, a millinery and ladies’ fashion shop.

She never married.

Rhonda Bletner as Emeline A Charles

Emeline A Charles, also known as Miss E.A. Charles, was a business owner and milliner in Bellville in the 1800s. Charles was portrayed by Rhonda Bletner during Saturday's Cemetery Walk.

“Milliners typically didn't marry,” Charles said. “It's a demanding business. Also, husbands can take control of your business, they control your finances.”

“We don't have time for marriage,” she added. “The hats are made totally from scratch.”

Charles travelled to Cleveland and New York regularly to keep up on the latest fashions and bring them back to Bellville.

Not far from where Charles is buried alongside her parents and sister, Frederick M. Fitting stood with his wife, Ruth Markey Fitting. The Fittings were portrayed by Bellville residents Norris and Jan Tangeman.

Norris Tangeman as Frederick M Fitting

Frederick M. Fitting, played by Norris Tangeman, financed the expansion of the B&O Railroad into Bellville.

Frederick Fitting was born in Knox County but later became one of Bellville’s most prominent landowners and entrepreneurs. His parents, Jasper and Fanny, migrated to Knox County from Pennsylvania in 1802. They moved to Richland County in 1819.

After graduating from the eighth grade, Fitting loaded up a wagon with produce to haul to Wooster and Sandusky. On the return trip, he brought back big bags of groceries and dry goods from the big city. He later bought into a dry goods store and married Ruth Markey, the daughter of John and Mary. The couple had two daughters, one of whom died just shy of her 10th birthday.

Fitting went on to work as a miller, a real estate investor, a banker and eventually the vice president of Mansfield Savings Bank.

He donated 12 acres of land for the Bellville Cemetery on the condition that he and his wife would get their first pick for the family plot. They chose the highest point in the cemetery.

While Bellville may bear the name of its founder Robert Bell, it's likely the town would have faded out of existence if not for Fitting.

Jan Tangeman as Ruth Markey Fitting

Ruth Markey Fitting, played by Jan Tangeman, was the daughter of businessman John Markey. She had two daughters with her husband Frederick.

After Mansfield’s railroad secured its position as the county seat, Fitting knew a rail line would be key to Bellville’s economic future. He invested $25,000 of his own money in order to bring the B&O Railroad to town.

“Of all the roles I played, I would like to be known as the man who brought the railroad to Bellville,” Fitting said.

Down the hill, Mitchell Au portrayed another prominent Bellville resident -- Miller Moody. Moody was born in Knox County in 1821. His family later moved to Bellville, where he served as mayor in the late 1840s. He went on to serve in the Ohio legislature from 1849 to 1850. He led a company of 75 men in the Civil War.

“We were the first regiment to cross the Ohio River into the southern Confederacy,” Moody told visitors. “We performed guard duty along the B&O Railroad and repaired and rebuilt bridges burned by the rebels. My unit was in the Battle of Phillipi, which was the first battle of the War.”

Moody was mortally wounded in the battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. He died a few weeks later in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania at 41 years old.

Mitchell Au as Miller Moody

Miller Moody, portrayed by Mitchell Au, served as both the mayor of Bellville and a representative in the Ohio legislature. He is the founder of the Bellville Street Fair. Moody was mortally wounded fighting in the Civil War. 

Moody was also responsible for establishing a beloved Bellville tradition. He headed up the first Bellville Street Fair in 1850.

Josh Andra, manager of the Bellville Branch Library, played Theodore Dean. Dean shared the chilling, mysterious tale of his parents’ demise.

By the late 1880s, John and Sarah Dean had retired from farming and were battling serious, painful illness. Sarah eventually lost the strength to get out of bed, while John required two canes to walk.

Theodore Dean lived with his wife and children in a house on Renie Road, but he frequently stopped in town to visit his parents. What he discovered on March 16, 1888 was nothing short of horrifying.

Josh Andrea as Theodore Dean

Josh Andra portrayed Theodore Dean at Saturday's Bellville Cemetery Walk.

“I saw a bustle of villagers all over my parents’ yard. There were people coming in and out of the house,” he recalled. “I saw a doctor and a policeman. I went inside, only to find my mother lying on her cot with her head split open.”

John was found in the barn with slit wrists and throat and a penknife at his feet. For reasons can will never be fully known, he bludgeoned his ailing wife with a hatchet and then committed suicide.

“I'll never know exactly why he did it,” Theodore reflected. “I’d like to think that it was done out of mercy for the pain that they were in, but I’ll really never completely know.”

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