Archdeacon: The Little Giant, the Bull and many more on area cemetery tour

SPRINGFIELD — On a quiet, rainy afternoon a few days ago, there was no hint of the attention the modest grave on the eastern edge of Ferncliff Cemetery and Arboretum has attracted over the past 60 years.

North Plum Street, just beyond the wrought iron fence 40 yards away, had light traffic. No one was visiting Section Y of this 218-acre cemetery, where the flat gravestone looked like most of the others, save for a final, five-word epitaph:

David S. Moore


Featherweight Champion of the World

This is the last resting place of one of Springfield’s favorite sons and a Miami Valley sports legend. He’s the area’s only Olympic boxer; it’s only professional world champion.

Just 5-foot-2, he was called the “Little Giant” and he did have a towering presence in and out of the ring.

His fistic efforts were cheered by crowds in Venezuela, Cuba, Panama, England, Japan, Italy, Spain, Finland, Canada, across Mexico and throughout the United States, including the Dayton Gym Club and Springfield’s Memorial Hall.

Bob Dylan would pen a haunting song about him that Sports Illustrated recently rated as the top sports song of all time. Phil Ochs wrote a song about him, too, and Pete Seeger sang about him. And when he died, Pope John XXIII lamented his loss.

It was after the 29-year-old Moore succumbed from an injury sustained in his nationally-televised, world title fight with a young, once-beaten Cuban, Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos, in front of 22,000 fans at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in March of 1963 that Ferncliff Cemetery was mentioned in newspaper accounts, radio broadcasts and movie newsreels around the world.

Over 10,000 people. including entertainers like Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jr., paid their respects at his wake in Los Angeles.

Moore’s wife Geraldine, mother of their five young children, then accompanied his body on a flight back home, where, as the Springfield Daily News reported, another 10,000 mourners — including Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes and the entire student body of Kiefer Junior High, which Moore once attended and whose ring robe was maroon and gold, the school’s colors — filed past his bronze casket atop which was a large boxing glove made of golden chrysanthemums.

Some 1,000 people crammed Mt. Zion Baptist Church for his funeral service and another 1,000 gathered outside. At the very same time in Mexico City, the disconsolate Ramos attended a requiem mass in Moore’s honor at the Church of Saldo de Agua.

After the church service here, a procession of over 100 cars made its way across town to Ferncliff. People lined the roadways and North Plum Street filled with onlookers.

It wasn’t until a half century later that Moore’s grave again drew special attention.

In 2013, the city of Springfield dedicated a magnificent eight-foot bronze statue of Moore — made by noted Urbana sculptor Mike Majors — that was set atop an eight-ton boulder positioned on a grassy knoll across from the old South High School.

That day, Geraldine, who had married Davey when she was 16 and he was 18, was at the ceremony when a surprise guest approached.

The 71-year-old Ramos, who eventually had been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, had remained haunted by the death of Moore.

He had made the 20-hour, three-flight trip from his home in Mexico to Indianapolis and then was driven to Springfield, where he was embraced by Geraldine.

The last time she’d seen him was 50 years ago, when he came to White Memorial Hospital in Loma Linda — where Davey lay comatose — and tearfully begged her forgiveness.

“I know it’s hard, but I don’t blame you,” she had responded.

Doctors would determine Moore had severely injured his brain stem when he was knocked down in the 10th round and his neck whiplashed off the bottom ring rope, which actually was a steel cable coated with rubber. Once the statue dedication was over in 2013 — as the rest of the crowd headed to a reception — Ramos quietly asked Geraldine to take him to Davey’s grave at Ferncliff.

At Section Y, they walked arm-in-arm to the modest marker, next to which Ramos placed a bouquet of white lilies he’d brought along. He then kissed his fingertips, pressed them to Davey’s grave and said a prayer.

Four years later, Sugar Ramos died.

Although Moore’s grave now gets an occasional visitor, all that will change again in nine days when Ferncliff — thanks to the work of its historian and new chairman of the board of trustees, Dr. Paul “Ski” Schanher — has its first Athletes and Entertainers Tour.

On Aug. 22, Ferncliff will present two tours — at 2 p.m. and again at 3:30 — that will visit the graves of 22 of the athletes and entertainers interred there. Tour participants will be transported around the cemetery by trolley. The tours are free, but you must register first by calling the Ferncliff office at 937-322-3491.

Besides Moore’s grave, the tour will visit the cemetery’s World War II Annex where Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Brooks Lawrence is buried five rows away from Ormonde Ricketts, a 1960 Springfield High grad and captain of the Ohio State football team, who did two tours of Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star before coaching football at Springfield North.

The tour will visit the grave of Bob Bronston, a member of the 1950 Springfield High state basketball champions, the first Black captain of a Miami University football team — he’s in the school’s Hall of Fame — and the first Black teacher at Springfield High.

There’ll also be a stop at the polished black stone marking the grave of local tennis standout, Dave Beach, a Belmont High grad who played three sports at Wittenberg, coached the Tigers tennis teams to a 153-50 record in 19 years and is in the school’s Hall of Honor. A two-time Dayton singles champion, he’s in the Dayton Tennis Hall of Fame, too.

The grave of Betty Jane Dillahunt — a multi-sport phenom who Schanher called “our own Babe Didrikson Zaharaias” — will be highlighted.

Dillahunt played field hockey for 24 years, made the women’s’ national team, founded the field hockey program at Wittenberg, the first sport there for women, and coached nine different sports at the school.

She was invited to play in the All-American Girls Professional Girls Baseball League, a forerunner to women’s professional league sports in the U.S. A 5-handicap golfer, she finished fifth at the 1957 USGA Championship and won the Springfield women’s golf title 11 times. She was the first woman to serve as athletics director at the school; the softball field carries her name; and she’s in the Hall of Honor.

And there’ll be a visit to Elwood Pitzer’s grave atop a hill at Ferncliff.

Schanher said Pitzer signed with the University of Kansas to play basketball for the legendary coach Phog Allen.

“He ended up leaving there because he was in love with a girl back here,” Schanher said with a smile. “Her name was Betty ... Betty Braun.”

And what a couple the two became. They were married 64 years before Elwood died in 2001.

After Kansas, he was a three-year hoops star at Wittenberg, where he also played baseball. He signed a pro contract with the Reds, played three years in the National Basketball Conference, a predecessor of the NBA, and coached Springfield High to that 1950 state basketball title.

Betty, also a Wittenberg grad, founded what is now known as the United Senior Services, a nationally recognized program for senior citizen services.

“I’d say, no woman has had more of an impact in this community than she did,” Schanher said.

Highlighting Ferncliff

After graduating from Indiana University and then dental school at Ohio State, Schanher returned home to Springfield, began his dental practice and he and his wife Cheryl raised three children.

Also a history buff, he immersed himself in everything from the Civil War to Clark County and Springfield.

In 2002, he said Anne Benston — who over the years was president of the Clark County chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society and the Clark County Historical Society — introduced him to Ferncliff “to see the people I’d been studying all these years.”

“I saw the monuments and heard the stories and saw how beautiful this place is and I got excited about Ferncliff,” he said.

“Anne became a mentor to me and something of a second mother.”

She would put together annual cemetery tours for the last Sunday in October and he would present them.

Two decades ago, she suggested they write a book together about the cemetery.

“I agreed and started researching the history, while she wrote the biographical sketches,” he said.

“For five years I came over here (the cemetery office) during my lunch hour, after work and on the weekends. I found a desk downstairs in what I call the dungeon and I read thousands of pages of the Ferncliff minutes going back to the cemetery’s opening in 1863. It was fun.”

Together, Benston and Schanher created “Beautiful Ferncliff,” a wonderful appreciation of the cemetery.

Benston died last December at age 99.

This year the cemetery decided to expand its marketing and Schanher pushed to add more tours.

“This might be my personal bias, but I think Ferncliff is one of the finest cemeteries in Ohio — probably in the top five,” he said. “And I want us to be able to showcase it.”

And so, this year Ferncliff has offered tours featuring arborist Mark Goheen in April and celebrating Mother’s Day with an all- women’s tour in May. The Juneteenth tour featured Black Americans who made an impact. Last month focused on industrialists, and after the athletes and entertainers gathering, a September tour is dedicated to World War II and October has a mausoleum tour.

‘We were all proud of them’

Next to Moore — who represented the United States as a bantamweight at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and seven years later won the world featherweight title with a 13th round stoppage of Hogan “Kid” Bassey at the famed Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles — the best-known athlete at Ferncliff is Ulysses Brooks Lawrence.

The son of Georgia sharecroppers who moved to Springfield in 1922, he developed his lifelong love of reading and reciting poetry in school and later, in Major League clubhouses, you might hear him delivering his favorite lines from Rudyard Kipling or Will Allen Dromgoole.

He also was an extraordinary athlete and his junior year at Springfield, he lettered in football, basketball, and track.

As for baseball, he was not allowed to play according to the author Cheryl D. Lyons, who wrote “Pitching the Dream,” the story of Lawrence’s life. She noted the baseball team at Springfield was segregated.

She said after Lawrence sat and watched the team practice one day, he decided to challenge the status quo. He assembled several of his friends and they played an exhibition against the high school team, winning 15-2 thanks to Brooks’ dominance on the mound.

Regardless, he never got to play high school baseball.

He married after his graduation, was drafted into the Army in 1943 and sent to Guam as part of the segregated Army Engineers unit which built and repaired bridges in the Pacific theater.

When the Japanese attacked one of the bases where he was working, he jumped into a jeep manned with a machine gun and began to return fire at the strafing planes overhead. He was credited with saving the lives of many men that day and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Back home after the War, he pitched two seasons of baseball at Miami University and then got a tryout with the Dayton Indians, a farm team of the Cleveland Indians. He was signed and bounced around in the minor leagues, broke the color barrier along with Bill Gleason on the Triple-A Columbus Red Birds and finally was called up to the big leagues by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954.

He went 15-6 that season and picked up a nickname — The Bull — from manager Eddie Stanky.

Two years later, he was traded to the Reds, won his first 13 games and was named to the 1956 National League All Star team. He ended the season as Cincinnati’s top pitcher with a 19-10 record.

Four years later he retired and worked at International Harvester and in the Reds’ front office. He coached at Wilmington College and then worked with BATS, an organization that helped older players.

He died in 2000 and today is enshrined in the Springfield South, Ohio Baseball, Wilmington College and Cincinnati Reds halls of fame. And, along the way, he left Schanher an indelible memory:

“There was a time (1958) when Springfield had two pitchers with the Reds, Brooks Lawrence and Harvey Haddix. I remember we’d all get on the train here in Springfield for Lawrence/Haddix Day and my dad would take my brother and I down to Crosley Field for a Saturday doubleheader. Brooks would pitch one game and Harvey would pitch the other.

“It was a great time. The train was packed. It seemed like all of Springfield went down to see them. We all were proud of them.”

And now — if you look down at the marker on his grave that reads “Sgt. U.S Army, World War II” and you hear the stories of his glory days with the Reds — you’ll also feel pride in Brooks Lawrence, just as you will with Betty Jane Dillahunt, Davey Moore and so many others on the Ferncliff tour.

About the Author