The Speaking Stone
Stories Cemeteries Tell
- Published: April 2021
The Speaking Stone: Stories Cemeteries Tell is a literary love letter to the joys of wandering graveyards. While working on a novel, author and longtime Cincinnati resident Michael Griffith starts visiting Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, the nation’s third-largest cemetery. Soon he’s taking almost daily jaunts, following curiosity and accident wherever they lead. The result is this fascinating collection of essays that emerge from chance encounters with an interesting headstone, odd epitaph, unusual name, or quirk of memory. Researching obituaries, newspaper clippings, and family legacies, Griffith uncovers stories of race, feminism, art, and death.
Rather than sticking to the cemetery’s most famous, or infamous, graves, Griffith stays true to the principle of ramble and incidental discovery. The result is an eclectic group of subjects, ranging from well-known figures like the feminist icon and freethinker Fanny Wright to those much less celebrated— a spiritual medium, a temperance advocate, a young heiress who died under mysterious circumstances. Nearly ninety photos add dimension and often an element of playfulness.
The Speaking Stone examines what endures and what does not, reflecting on the vanity and poignancy of our attempt to leave monuments that last. In doing so, it beautifully weaves connections born out of the storyteller’s inquisitive mind.
The Absent Guest: Leon Van Loo
Bake Visibly!: Gustav Huenefeld
“A Great Awkward Bunglehood of Woman”: Fanny Wright
Interlude: The Bank-Shot Unmemoir
“Death’s Taxicab”: Willard Hess and Martin Hale Crane
Accidental Charon: Jacob Strader, Dred Scott, and Body-Snatching
“Due Allowance for Foam”: Martha McClellan Brown and the Ohio Women’s Crusade
“Another Well-Picked Skeleton”: Homunculi, Mail-Order Tree Stumps, Petrified Logs, and the Many, Many Charles Millers
Outlook Hazy: Laura Pruden, Harry Houdini, and Arthur Conan Doyle Interrogate the Spirits
Ghosts of the Walldogs: Gus Holthaus
Interlude: The Crypto Auto-Obituary
“And They Did Kill Her by Inches”: The Strange Case of Carrie Elder
The Sculptor, His Son, the Odd Fellows, and the Weird Assassin: Louis Rebisso(s) and Oscar Mundhenk
Six Degrees of Jonathan Cilley
The Permeable Earth
“Griffith finds a fruitful ground for his research into the past in the third largest [cemetery] in the country, that contains poignancies and mysteries alike. Entertaining...a fine prose rejoinder to Spoon River Anthology and other similar works.”~Kirkus Reviews
"Michael Griffith is a masterful and quirky storyteller, and his new book will be known to future generations as one of the great literary oddities. I would be happy to sell it out of the trunk of my car – that’s how much I love The Speaking Stone."~David Kirby, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English, Florida State University
~Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen
"The Speaking Stone is a brilliant book of essays springing from Griffith’s soulful rambles around a cemetery in Cincinnati. It’s an ingenious anti-memoir full of strange and delightful tales from the lost corners of history, not least among them those concerning the author himself."
"Michael Griffith's The Speaking Stone is a marvel: a marvel of erudition, a marvel of curiosity and craft, a marvel of intellect and openness. This a book that is obsessed—with gravestones and signs and cities, sure, but also with the stories of the people who made the signs, who are under the stones, who lived in the cities. Those people are gone, but wherever they are, I hope they realize how lucky they are that Michael Griffith is the one telling their stories. By telling their stories, Griffith has come up with a one-of-a kind way of telling our own, and his own. What a wise, funny, deeply humane book!"~Brock Clarke, author of Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?
"These essays track the subtle ways history intersects with individuals, and they remind us that pride and ambition lead inexorably to oblivion. Griffith simultaneously sharpens our sympathy for solitary lives and chastens us for harboring fantasies of immortality."~Sean Kinch, Chattanooga Times Free Press
"The Speaking Stone: Stories Cemeteries Tell is a collection of non-fiction essays inspired by its author Michael Griffith’s daily walks in Cincinnati’s historic Spring Grove Cemetery. Each chapter takes a deep dive into the life of one or more of the people whose gravesites Griffith randomly encountered during his constitutionals at sprawling (733 acres) Spring Grove. . . . While The Speaking Stone is deeply researched and written, Griffith has some fun with his work as well, chiefly by throwing pop culture references into the mix."~PopMatters