The Canton Repository – 10/26/2014

Alliance Jewish Cemetery rich in history, ghost stories
For local Jewish residents, the burial ground is foremost a sacred site to be respected and preserved.

October 26, 2014
Ed Balint staff writer

ALLIANCE — A narrow back road crosses from Stark to Mahoning County before reaching a small cemetery tucked on a wooded slope.

About 70 people of the Jewish faith are buried at the unassuming half-acre plot. Less than two seconds and the headstones peeking from the earth are a memory to motorists who round a bend and plunge deeper into the remote area.

A closer look at the leaf-strewn graveyard brims with character and history.

Two layers of fencing are posted, including classic wrought iron. Rusty barbed wire tops the chain-link. The gates are locked, sandwiched between two brick columns, each one bearing a Jewish name.

Tree trunks, strangled with vines, form a natural perimeter. Headstones are sprinkled about, dating back decades. Many are emblazoned with the Star of David. Letters and numbers are worn on some, clearly visible on most. A few are crooked or hunched. Most are unbent by time.

No sign or name is posted for the burial ground. It’s simply known as the Jewish Cemetery or the Alliance Jewish Cemetery. Ghost hunters say it’s haunted and weave stories about mysterious blue lights, shadow people, apparitions and other paranormal activity.

People may believe such things. Others say it’s nonsense. But to local Jewish residents, the burial ground is foremost a sacred site to be respected and preserved.

Temple Israel in Canton maintains the nine-row cemetery. The last burial, the believe, took place in the early 1980s. Most go back several decades.

An endowment from Alliance Jewish community funds the maintenance of the cemetery on Lexington Road in Smith Township in Mahoning County. River Street in Stark County changes to Lexington at County Line Road.

“That cemetery was created there for people who lived in Alliance, and we, as the Canton Jewish community, try to maintain the holiness and respect for that place,” said Rabbi Jon Adland of Temple Israel.

Several years ago, Temple Israel collected damaged holy objects and old prayer books and buried them at the cemetery as part of a service. Jews also gather at the cemetery annually to say traditional prayers, Adland said.

According to a written history, “Jewish Cemeteries of Mahoning County,” compiled for the Mahoning County Chapter of The Ohio Genealogical Society, Jews were living in Alliance during the Civil War, although their numbers were not high enough to support a temple until 1917.

The Alliance congregation purchased the Christ Reformed Church that year at 335 East Columbia Street — on land originally granted by President James Madison to Richard Fawcett in 1811 — and it became the Temple of Israel, according to the research.

Membership at Temple of Israel declined in the 1950s, mostly due to population loss. In 1963, the temple was razed and most members attended services in Canton.

The Jewish Cemetery was platted in 1916. In the late 1940s or early 1950s, the wrought iron fence was installed and, because of vandalism, a chain link fence was installed later.

In 1988, care of the cemetery was passed to Temple Israel of Canton. In 1992, the document says, several tombstones were laid flat to make them less of a vandalism target.

The unofficial historian of the Alliance Jewish Cemetery is Mark Taylor of Stark County.

His interest in the property was sown when he visited it on Jewish holidays. Then his son chose it for a community-service project as part of his Bar Mitzvah, cleaning up the property and repairing the gate and fence. Taylor’s daughters later catalogued the cemetery for their projects.

A longtime member of Temple Israel in Canton, Taylor also serves as a contact for those interested in visiting the cemetery.

“I feel it is important to keep this information alive, and I also have an inborn interest,” the Lexington Township resident said.

Names of those buried include: Baer, Geiger, Frutkin, Lasse, Roseblum, Cohen, Kesler, Katzenstein, Galen, Kamber, Eisenberg, Cohn and Spiegel.

“It’s part of the heritage of our congregation,” Taylor said. “A lot of families who were influential and supported the (Alliance Jewish) congregation in its infancy are still buried there…I’ll run across a person in their 80s or 90s, and they may have been a child when their grandparents was buried there.”

The cemetery is not only rich in history and character, but it also has attracted those seeking paranormal encounters.

Peck these words on a computer keyboard — “haunted Jewish cemetery … Alliance” — and the Internet search will yield a few ghost stories worthy of an autumn campfire.

Here’s one: “Mysterious blue lights are seen quite often in a small shed-like structure in Alliance’s Jewish Cemetery.”

But the shed is no longer there, which the website — Ohio Exploration Society — notes in its entry about the landmark.

Taylor said he has no recollection of a shed on the plot, but there’s a dilapidated one behind the cemetery. “My guess is that it was the tool shed at one time for a caretaker when the congregation was active in Alliance,” he wrote in an email. “I have never heard of (blue lights) or any ‘sightings’ from any of the older congregation members who lived in Alliance, or that I have met.”

Taylor suspects that the marshland along the eastern side of the graveyard may emit gases in certain weather conditions and be responsible for the reports of strange lights.

The Ohio Exploration Society website, under the Mahoning County section, also references another reported spiritual presence. “The road is haunted by the dog of the old (Jewish Cemetery) caretaker who died after being struck by a car,” the website says. “The dog would always walk the road looking for his master, Zeke. The dog was also hit by a car sometime later and is still seen walking down the road around dusk.”

Taylor said he’s not familiar with that ghost story, either.

“I’ve never experienced anything, but I also don’t go out there and look, either — not deliberately,” said the 58-year-old.

Paranormal investigators once asked Taylor if equipment could be set up on the grounds to search for otherworldly activity. They were turned away out of respect for the site, he said.

“I think there’s always that possibility, personally, that people and spirits can linger,” Taylor said. “It’s not something that I dwell on, (but) it’s something I accept as a possibility.”

There is at least one documented mystery at the cemetery. For more than 20 years, someone mowed the grass there. After Taylor changed a broken lock on the cemetery gate, following a winter season, the mowing abruptly ceased.

“I think whoever the benevolent person (or persons) was didn’t want to be recognized, and once I cut off their access, they chose to stop rather than come forward (and contact Taylor with the phone number posted on the gate),” he said. “That’s more of a mystery than ethereal swamp gases.”

Kimberly Mitchell, of Columbiana County, heads Ghosting 12, a group of paranormal investigators; her work includes sites in the Alliance area.

She’s received reports from those who say they have experienced the spiritual realm outside the cemetery — “shadow people” who have slashed through the gates and cared off the visitors. Mitchell, 51, hasn’t gone there late at night probing for paranormal activity. And she said she doesn’t plan on it out of reference for the cemetery.

“As a ghost hunter you want to respect areas like that and not break in…because the gate is locked,” Mitchell said. “You also want to respect their religious beliefs.”

There are plenty of other locations to scour for ghosts, she said. Other sites also have greater reputations for channeling the world beyond.

“Obviously it’s blocked off for a reason,” Mitchell said. “And they worry about vandalism and things like that, and that’s sad.”

© 2006-2014, Gatehouse Media, Inc.

The Ohio Exploration Society was referenced in Ed Balint’s article on the haunted Alliance Jewish Cemetery. Thanks to James McAllister for sending the article to us.