ASHLAND Ashland Middle School students took private tours through Ashland Cemetery Thursday as a part of the Walking with the Past annual event.
The tours have been put on since the mid-2000s and give a glimpse into the past of Ashland. As visitors walk through the Ashland Cemetery, they are greeted by reenactors dressed as the people of significance in Ashland and United States history.
Students encountered people from their town who played significant roles in the moments they are learning about in their history classes and more.
Lisa Epling and Bob Montague served as tour guides for the seventh grade class.
The students were introduced to the man the high school they will soon attend is named after, Paul Blazer. As they gathered on the edge of the road beside his grave, they learned of his importance not only in the oil industry in Ashland, but how the plant served a significant purpose in World War I providing supply to the military.
The students carefully walked between graves up a small hill to see a row of headstones, which are among the oldest in the cemetery. They heard about the history of Poage’s Landing, how Boyd County was once a part of Greenup and how John Poage hunted buffalo with a man bearing the last name Catletts.
Montague shared how Catlettsburg received its name, how Poage’s Landing was renamed for Henry Clay’s estate in Lexington and how Kentucky became a part of the Union. He told the students of how Anne Poage’s parents came to the area along with Daniel Boone.
“This was the western wilderness in the 1790s,” said Montague.
The students took a look at the bronze and tin statute commissioned by Elizabeth Ringo Fisher. The artist Hans Schuler was the first American sculptor to win the Salon Gold Medal and created the statue.
Montague shared of the legend, the wind that blows through the cemetery and how the statue looks as though it moves in the wind. He’s seen it himself, though he’s not sure it’s moving, but the illusion is there.
He dispelled the rumor that the statue was originally made to be standing, but moved.
“It’s not true,” he told the students.
The students met with several military members buried or memorialized in the Ashland Cemetery.
The story and history of the Battle of the Bulge was shared as students looked at a photo and the grave of Walter Franz. Franz was there in the battle when the German forces shocked the American soldiers on the border of Belgium. The Americans were outmanned and when the German soldiers were ordered to not take soldiers, a group that had been captured was sent into a field where the unarmed men were shot to death, only few survived. Franz was one of those who lost his life in the Malmedy massacre.
Montague spoke about the McCowen brothers who fought on either side of the Civil War. The battle split many families in Kentucky and West Virginia, he said, as many had brothers fighting on either side or father versus son or uncle versus nephew.
The students learned of Jay Rhodemeyer, a local man who played football for the University of Kentucky. He was drafted to the Green Bay Packers back when the team wore blue and is standing by founder Curly Lambeau in a team photo.
Another featured historical player was Mary Elliott Flanery. Montague shared Flanery’s importance in the women’s suffrage movement and women’s right to vote. Her involvement with what is now Morehead State University, The Ashland Daily Independent and her history making election into the state legislature.
Flanery’s seat, No. 40, has a bronze marker in the legislature. She was the first woman elected to the state legislature in Kentucky, and the first to be selected to serve in the role south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The students asked questions about history and the people’s specific roles, one questioned if Kentucky was in the Union or the Confederacy.
Montague explained that though some say it was in the confederacy, the state never seceded from the Union. However, a secondary capital was created in Bowling Green as the confederate capital. The eastern half sympathized with the union while the west sided with the confederacy, Montague said.
The tour guide said Abraham Lincoln was adamant about keeping Kentucky. Not only was it his home state, but it was strategic because of the Ohio river. Montague told of the many battles fought in Kentucky during the Civil War.
While speaking about the Civil War and Flanery, Montague said change often happens in the traumatic times. The country moves forward and creates more fair laws for more people during these times. Often protesting and advocating with others for more fair laws can have significant impacts, he said. He pointed to Flanery’s work for women’s rights and her life as “a great example of this.”
Montague was also able to talk about the number of baby graves marked with stones with lambs on them. The great number of children who died during the first pandemic in the country’s history due to the Spanish flu. The small graves cover one section, and unlike tourists from years past, the students, masked up, could relate and had an immediate and greater understanding of what some elements of life were like at that time.
There are many stops on the tour and walking shoes are a must. The public tour will include more reenactors throughout the stops than the students encountered.
Trenton Gist, one of the seventh graders touring Thursday, said he thought it was a great idea to come out. He learned a lot and was one of several students to walk alongside Montague to talk with him and learn more. Gist raised many thoughtful questions throughout the two hour tour.
“I’ve been into history for a while now,” he said, adding that the tour was a great way to learn history.
Having just moved to the area, he was intrigued by the stories shared. He’s interested to learn more about the Gallup family and a story most memorable was that of the Ashland Tragedy, where three teens were murdered and the house burned.
Gist said the tour was a great way to get to know the area more whether someone knows the area or not or is interested in history or not.
The Walking with the Past tours are organized by the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center. They are a fundraiser for the museum as well as the Ashland Cemetery. Public tours will be Saturday at noon, 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Public tours are $15 and tickets are available at the museum or from the cemetery the day of the tour. There is limited parking at the cemetery, so a shuttle from the Highlands will run for the tours. Those wishing to ride the shuttle should give their names to the museum and arrive 15 minutes prior to the tour time. The museum can be reached at (606) 329-8888.