A summer surprise in a Cincinnati cemetery

February 5, 2019

A summer surprise in a Cincinnati cemetery

No lights shined inside the glass-and-marble mausoleum, the contrast of shadow and light at times barely discernible due to the dark rain clouds outside.

It was a Tuesday morning, and I was alone. The royal blue carpet softened my footsteps as I used the memories of two long ago funerals to make my way. No map was warranted. I knew where I needed to go.

At the far end of the hallway, in a chamber where rain patted floor-to-ceiling windows, I found the names for which I looked — George T. Pidgeon and Mary Catherine Pidgeon.

I came to gaze upon their final resting place, a silent place behind brandy-colored marble adorned with a crucifix, the Marine Corps globe-and-anchor, and what appeared to be a profile of the Virgin Mother.

There was another purpose for my presence. These were my grandparents, my father’s parents, and I came to beg their permission, to be granted the burden of telling their story. I’d reached a dead end in my search. I wanted to understand their mystery, their conspiracy, their why.

Nothing whispered back. But I was about to uncover an unexpected clue.

Staring Into the Void

I’d been peering into the lives of George “Bud” Pidgeon and Mary Catherine ever since my father unveiled the terrible truth of the circumstances surrounding his birth.

Bud had kept a young mistress, who gave birth to a baby boy in September 1956. But when Bud and Mary Catherine reconciled soon after the birth, Bud ripped the baby boy away from his mistress.

Together with Mary Catherine, they raised the boy, never telling him the secret, letting him believe Mary Catherine was his true birth mother. Now almost 60 years later, the secret was in the open, Bud and Mary Catherine had passed on, and I was free to go looking for the young woman.

A husband and wife in the 1950s
Mary Catherine and Bud from a 1950s photo.

I started my search with two goals. First, to find the young woman, whose name was Dorothy Lipp, to learn who she was and if possible, uncover what happened to her.

On that front, I reached a frustrating void. Nothing in the archives or online data banks could prove anything. I had nothing to show after a year of searching.

My second goal, though, was to piece together the puzzle, so a full picture could explain what happened. It was still difficult to comprehend. Two people, Bud and Mary Catherine, whom I knew and loved from the beginning, had engaged in a cruel conspiracy to steal a child and raise him.

A few clues came to me. There was the catastrophic tragedy of a pregnant Mary Catherine nearly dying in October 1945, while Bud was in Pakistan with the Marines. They lost their first child, a boy.

While that added some context, it was still nine years before my grandfather’s affair and my father’s birth.

I still could not find a link, a piece or pieces of the puzzle which would help me understand; and help me explain it all to my father.

That’s what it was about, after all, helping him make sense of how his life began.

Renewed Sense of Purpose

After silently paying my respects to my grandparents, I walked to the main office of St. Joseph’s Cemetery, a historic landmark in Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhood.

I wanted to find my great-grandparents, Bud’s mother and father, whose resting places I’d never before visited. During my investigation, much of the lives of Ben and Amy Pidgeon revealed themselves to me, and I wanted to pay respects to them, too.

A clerk greeted me at the counter and asked if she could help. I told her what I was looking for, and she asked me to wait a minute.

“Huh,” she said as she paged through a large binder.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“No, I found the people you were looking for,” she said. “I think I did. Is this them?”

She pointed with her finger at a page full of index cards, aged and with typed notes on them. The names matched.

“Yeah, that’s them,” I said. “Ben and Amy Pidgeon.”

“They’re not the only ones there,” the clerk said. “Look on the other side of the card.”

I carefully removed the card and turned it over. Another set of typewritten notes could be seen, and when I read them, my heart nearly broke.

“Thomas William Pidgeon,” I said. “Died July 29, 1954. Age zero years, zero months, zero days.”

“Stillborn, I guess,” the clerk said.

The card explained how buried with Ben and Amy was this child, the son of Bud and Mary Catherine, born and gone about two years before my father. Thomas would’ve been the second baby boy they lost, and it happened at around the time Bud began his affair with Dorothy Lipp.

Cemetery card identifying a stillborn youth.
The card identifying the grief Bud and Mary Catherine suffered in 1954.

Could it be that when Dorothy gave birth to a son, what motivated Bud to take his barbaric measure was the possibility of bringing a baby boy to Mary Catherine?

It was all so staggering, and I was left with a single invigorating thought.

I had to find where Dorothy Lipp went afterwards. If she was alive, she would be the only one who might be able to explain everything, to give her account, to bring it all full circle.

I went to St. Joseph’s dejected. I left with renewed purpose.

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blogging challenge. The theme for this week is “Surprise.” Previous posts can be found on the Maintenance of Way page.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. He writes about fathers of the past and his own journey into fatherhood here at CausingDadmage.com. You can reach him at dave@writingintheafternoon.com

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