Memorial planned to honor late veterans’ tombstone activist

Bruce Yarnall

Until recent years, Barnesville residents frequently witnessed a small red pickup truck filled with a lawnmower and other landscaping equipment traveling about town. At the wheel was Hiram Bowen, a 1968 grad of Barnesville High School and Vietnam War veteran, who cared for many lawns in the community and, for a while, also cared for several cemeteries in Somerset Township.

Bowen epitomized the term “independent contractor” working on his schedule and taking on jobs as he saw fit. His character was also well suited for his other part-time vocation, researching, writing, producing, and placing detailed granite markers in area cemeteries. The stones, purchased and inscribed by Gallagher and Sons Monuments, Malaga, eventually marked dozens of graves focusing primarily on soldiers of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War and Civil War.  

As word of his work spread, citizens and history buffs provided tips and suggestions for markers each time sending Hiram off to the local library or reaching out to the National Archives for records. Bowen’s inscriptions were often lengthy providing far more details than the typical government marker. Several of the graves selected were unmarked while on many others the inscriptions were no longer legible. Bowen’s passion and dedication recaptured these men’s names and lives for future generations.

In addition to veterans' graves in Belmont and adjoining counties, Bowen also marked the final resting place of two Underground Railroad conductors, Alexander “Sandy” Harper at Captina AME Cemetery and Dr. William Schooley at Somerton.  

Bowen not only eschewed publicity for his work but also paid for the inscriptions and granite markers out of his own funds.

A 2012 chance encounter with a Columbus family who stopped to check out the former Bethel AME Church on West South Street resulted in one such stone. Cpl. Jasper Haddocks of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry was buried in an unmarked grave at Captina AME in Somerset Township. He was the ancestor of Doug Tracy’s wife Debbie and her mother Wilma, a Barnesville native, now 103 years of age. A conversation struck with the stranger who lived across the street, Hiram Bowen, resulted in yet another veteran’s grave marked.  

In February 2020, Tracy penned a guest column in the Columbus Dispatch for Black History Month.  In it, he wrote, “some might call it divine intervention. Others could choose to call it fate, destiny or maybe just coincidence. All I can do is be content to simply marvel at the wonder of it all. Thank you, Hiram Bowen, for all you have done to remember and honor our veterans.”

Bowen passed away last November at the age of 72. Except for a memorial book purchased by his BHS classmates at the local library, there was no obituary nor any other acknowledgement of his impact on the community.

Now, Bowen’s friends including this writer, are raising funds to place a memorial at the Barnesville Veterans Plaza to honor his dedication and work. With cooperation of the village of Barnesville, funds are being collected by the Chamber of Commerce with the goal to raise enough funds to purchase a granite bench or other appropriate memorial for the small park. Donations may be made to the Hiram Bowen Memorial Fund and sent or dropped off at the Barnesville Chamber of Commerce, 130 W. Main St., Barnesville, OH  43713.  

Once the memorial is in place, a dedication service will take place at the plaza.