CINCINNATI — Reports of ghosts at Music Hall are as old as the hall itself. And along with ghosts, there have been many discoveries of bones during renovations over the years.
So it’s no surprise to learn that work in April at Music Hall uncovered skeletons under the orchestra pit and in the north carriageway. The unseen visitors under the orchestra pit have been listening to music there in all likelihood since 1928. That was the last time construction work was done in that area, according to a just-released report by Gray & Pape, a local heritage management company that was called to assist with respectful removal and storing of the remains.
The property under Music Hall is well documented as a public burial ground, or potter’s field, going back 200 years. Even though the heavy excavation has not yet started on the $135 million renovation project, there has been some exploration of the soil during testing for asbestos. The human remains under the orchestra pit were first discovered on March 29 by Aztec Services Group, while investigating asbestos.
The project manager for the renovation, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), called Gray & Pape, an Over-the-Rhine firm that conducts archaeological and historical investigations, to verify that the remains were human. Three archaeologists as well as forensic archaeologist, Dr. Beth Murray concluded that they were. Working with Aztec Services Group because of the asbestos in the soil, the team was able to document and recover the remains.
The assortment of arm and leg bones under the orchestra pit are believed to be four adult bodies. The report released by 3CDC this week speculates that the skeletons probably had been moved from an original burial ground and reburied in a single grave. Archaeologists identified six other grave shafts in the north carriageway – a space between Music Hall's main building and the North Hall. Each contained burials in wooden coffins, but the team speculates that the graves had been disturbed during previous construction work.
In the past, remains found at Music Hall have been re-interred at Spring Grove Cemetery, which is the likely final resting place for these bones, said 3CDC spokesperson Anastasia Mileham.
"Gray & Pape is the same company we hired when we discovered bones during the excavation for the Washington Park Garage. These bones were ultimately re-interred at Spring Grove Cemetery with a special ceremony after Washington Park reopened to the public in July 2012. We will likely do something similar with the human remains uncovered at Music Hall," she said.
Bones have been popping up at Music Hall since construction began for the building in 1876. During the building's last major renovation in 1969, workmen found a skull and other bones while digging underneath Springer Auditorium.
Historically, the property was a potter's field in 1818. A few years later, it was occupied by the Cincinnati Orphanage Asylum, likely for children orphaned in Cincinnati's devastating floods and a cholera outbreak in the 1830s. Children's remains were recovered in the 1850s and moved to Spring Grove Cemetery.
When work began on Music Hall in 1876, remains were unearthed and described in grisly detail in newspaper accounts, and some were removed by medical students as well as by the public. Skeletons were again uncovered in the '20s while workers dug a foundation for a tunnel. Those were re-interred in a new elevator shaft.
In 1988, the same bones were rediscovered when a new elevator shaft near the south parking lot on Elm Street was excavated. At that time, 11 skulls and 88 pounds of bones were found on one day, followed by 119 more pounds of bones. The Enquirer reported that they were being stored at the morgue.
Even though it's nothing new, social media is lighting up about the skeleton discovery. Some musicians and orchestra fans have speculated on Facebook that the bones belong to (fill in the blank) a few conductors, the trombones, the much-maligned violas or a "de-composer."
Officials say they hope that analysis of the remains and historical research will reveal something about the lives of those who lived – and died – on the property surrounding Music Hall.