(Our Centennial City- Lakewood And The Civil War) Lakewood's Blue Ghost Army? The Grand Army of the Republic Highway- US Route 6 (Clifton Boulevard's OTHER name)

Clifton at dusk. What's coming up the road? (Probably not Jeb Stewart's cavalry!) See any ghostly anomalies?  (Photo by Gary Rice)

You might be able to hear their quiet footsteps in the gray hours just before dawn, or perhaps at the onset of dusk, marching or perhaps only walking... along Clifton Boulevard... going somewhere and yet nowhere in particular. A commonly held belief about ghosts is that these restless souls, having suddenly perished, have business that they want to finish yet never will. So quite possibly they remain among us, perhaps in some fourth dimension, hoping to resolve questions that, of course, can never be resolved.

We have a highway in Lakewood dedicated to an entire army of such ghosts. These would be the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War, and the road dedicated to them that was once America's longest national road is U.S. Route 6--The Grand Army of the Republic Highway. If Civil War ghosts would congregate anywhere, it would be logical to assume they would be located at such a place dedicated to their service... and to their memory.

We all have our own thoughts concerning the existence of ghosts, but in the gray light of dawn, or as the twilight of summertime dusk settles in, while standing at the side of nearly vacant Clifton's wide expanse, the imagination takes flight...or is it...imagination at all? The moving shadows and shuffling sounds...was that the wind...or something else entirely?

The highway passes by Lakewood's historic Abraham Lincoln school, itself situated over the remains of a former tunnel leading to the lake that may well have been used by escaped slaves in the days of the Underground Railroad. Ghosts in our midst? You decide.

After any war, there is a strong effort by the survivors, and particularly the victors of a conflict, to memorialize their deeds and to remember their fallen. At the close of the Civil War, virtually every community in our country had been adversely affected by the conflict, as over half a million Union and Confederate soldiers perished, a greater number of soldiers than in any other war involving this country.
Monuments on public squares and village greens sprouted like daffodils, as did the many cemeteries, homes and hospitals that addressed the needs of the less fortunate participants of that sad period in our nation's history. The beautiful and timeless Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky marks but one of the effects of the outcome of that conflict. Two Civil War cannon and a beautiful monument still guard the quiet dignity of the beautiful municipal Spring Grove cemetery in Medina, where a number of Union veterans are buried.

A scant thirty years after the Civil War, the automobile came along, and with it the need to expand our nation's highway system. Prior to the automobile, roads were often plain mud, cinders, or gravel, and a motorcar's speed necessitated the development first of better road surface technology, and then--just as important--more roads and a support system to keep the cars running on them.

Shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, local, state, and national leaders began to develop the concept of  a national highway system. As covered wagons had traversed the country just a few years before, the hope was that before long there would be coast-to-coast highways that Americans could travel with automobile service stations every few miles, along with places to rest and recuperate.

Those highway systems developed numeric route identification numbers, but they were also sometimes known by stirring names. The Lincoln Highway, for example, cut through Canton, Wooster, and Massillon here in Ohio on its way to the West, and our own U.S. Route 6, The Grand Army of the Republic Highway, sliced right through Lakewood. Of course, these highway systems began in the East, so it took a number of years for them to be finished enough to cut through Ohio. By 1937, U.S. Route 6 was designated a transcontinental highway, and was in fact the longest transcontinental road in America at that time, even if parts of it were not yet paved. By 1952, the roadway was paved throughout its length. Another famous highway was U.S. Route 66. That roadway began in Chicago and went through the southern part of the country before ending up in Los Angeles.

Of course, just a few years later, President Eisenhower got the ball rolling with America's 4-lane interstate highway system after seeing the military effectiveness and civilian convenience of similar roads in Germany in WWII. After the interstate highways came along, many of the old routes more or less faded into oblivion.
In Europe, buildings, roads, and landmarks last for many centuries. Lakewood's history, in contrast, barely spans five generations. Often, our culture seems to have little respect for the past. Yesterday's dreams are so often cast aside when some new idea comes along.

But along Clifton...in that dim light just before dawn, or at the close of day...perhaps it would not be so far-fetched to imagine there are thousands of spirits who perpetually remember...and perpetually walk that highway, giving an entirely new dimension to the pulse of this city.

Volume 7, Issue 14, Posted 8:15 AM, 07.13.2011