Some curious news for those of us who graduated from Upper Arlington High School has been reported recently: the existing school where we went to classes years ago is built on the grounds of a former family cemetery. (As if going to high school weren’t scary enough already, just on its own!)
The back story is really pretty interesting stuff. In the years before and during the Civil War — long before Upper Arlington became the hoity-toity, McMansion-filled suburb it is now — the land was owned by a former slave named Pleasant Litchford. He was an leading member of the Perry Township community, a master blacksmith, a founding member of a church, a large property owner, . . . and, notably, a participant in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the slaveholding south, through the free states, and north to Canada and freedom. Mr. Litchford established a school for African-American children on his property — and also a cemetery for his family and descendants. Mr. Litchford died in 1867, just after the Civil War ended.
Years later, Upper Arlington was founded, and later still, in 1955, the school board was looking for a place to build the new high school. They bought the Litchford property and discovered that it included the cemetery. Rather than leave the cemetery be, they exhumed the buried bodies and moved them to Union Cemetery for reinterment, where most of them are listed as “unnamed adults.” The school then was built on the property and, with the kind of collective amnesia that is all-too-common in American history, people in Upper Arlington promptly forgot about Pleasant Litchford and his family cemetery. When I started to go to UAHS in the early ’70s, no one told me or my fellow students that we were walking over the ground of a former cemetery.
I don’t think I ever saw a ghost lurking in the halls of UAHS, and the only creepy feeling I got was around the flea-bitten remains of a gigantic standing stuffed bear that was kept in a glass cage near the entrance of the building. Now the old building is going to be torn down and a new building erected, and the construction crews are going to be mindful, as they dig and build, to keep an eye out for remains that might have been missed in 1955.
And while they’re building a new school, here’s an idea for the school board to consider: rather than renaming the new building Upper Arlington High School, which is pretty boring, how about celebrating a man whose life epitomized a strong, personal commitment to freedom, family, hard work, and education, and naming the new school Pleasant Litchford High School instead?