Bodies from 19th century located under North Market area

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Possibly hundreds of bodies from the 19th century are still buried beneath the North Market area.

Tens of thousands of people visit this bustling market every year to buy their fresh produce, meats, and other unique local favorites. 

What many visitors to the North Market area (and beyond) may not know is that they’re walking and driving over parts of a cemetery from the 1800s.

And there could still be bodies buried beneath the road.

Uncovering ancient Ohio: Artifacts found under local developments

Ryan Weller, the archaeologist who was working as part of the sewer line project that first discovered the human remains in 2001 along Spruce Street, said the amount could be in the hundreds.

Weller said a colleague called him from the site as construction crews started to dig out a trench for the new sewer line.

“He calls me and says, ‘Hey, you need to get down here quick, we had two arms fall into the trench’,” Weller said.

Weller says the excavation of what was once the Old North Graveyard led to 48 burials, but the uncovered bones weren’t complete.

“We were getting remains, femurs, other bones, entire skulls, teeth, the whole thing,” Weller said.

In the late 1800s, the owner of the land donated several acres to the city of Columbus, under the condition that the bodies buried at the North Graveyard be moved to Green Lawn Cemetery, south of the city. 

Most of the bodies were, but as development and expansion project continued into the 1900s, it was clear many bodies were left behind.

“Going along Wall Street and behind it, we found children's graves,” Weller said as he walked the streets surrounding the North Market parking lot. “There would be a ring, a long bone, say a femur, or part of a skull.”

Many people may be asking: why can’t they excavate the bodies?

SLIDESHOW: View photos from the dig

Weller said there are several reasons, starting with the fact that the project scope limited how far they could dig. 

But he also admits that unearthing one grave shaft would most likely lead to another, and the project could be limitless.

“Sometimes a grave shaft would be empty, sometimes a grave shaft would have more than one person in it,” he said.  “There were probably thousands of burials here.”

While most names of the unidentified remains will forever go unclaimed, there is one name Weller knows quite well.  (Click here to see the names of families recovered from the North Graveyard.)

Records show an ancestor with his last name was buried somewhere in the area.

“That kind of caught me,” he said with some emotion.  “I could have been digging one of my own relatives right now.”

The one message Weller would like people to know is that archaeologists today aren’t out digging pyramids or dinosaurs.

He says they’re uncovering history and hopefully telling a story in the process for future generations to appreciate.

Which is why the bodies buried below the surface near the North Market will stay where they are now.

“I can think that it'd be ok so as long as they are found and if they need to be moved, they are treated right,” he said.

A spokesperson for the City of Columbus concurs with Weller, saying “The city is just letting the remains rest. Should the areas be dug up because of projects, the city would notify archaeologists. “

Meantime, North Market Executive Director Rick Harrison Wolfe added, “North Market has been on this footprint for over 140 years and we’re very proud to be a piece of Columbus’s history.”