Last night I had the opportunity to spend some time at Memorial Hall, which is located right next door to another historic building with amazing history, Cincinnati’s iconic Music Hall. Memorial Hall was built in 1908 but Music Hall came much earlier and was completed in 1878. Before this area was a turn of the century entertainment hot spot it had an immensely dark history.
From 1818 to the 1850’s this area was home to Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. There was also an intricate system of canals throughout the city at that time. The area between Elm Street and the canal, which is precisely where Music Hall was erected, became known as Potter’s Field. This is where bodies of the indigent were buried. Many of those bodies came from the Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum but later, a good portion came from deaths at The Cincinnati Orphan Asylum.
Cincinnati Orphan Asylum was built in the early 1830’s to house the many orphans that came to be after the cholera epidemic of the same period. This epidemic ravaged the area and when it was all said and done 8000 Cincinnatians would lose their lives to the disease.
For the next 20 years, this land was used as a “pauper’s cemetery” or indigent cemetery and became extremely run down. People referred to the orphanage as a “Pest House” and with numerous complaints from nearby property owners, the city determined the area needed a serious makeover. The orphanage was relocated outside the city limits and the former location was razed. On January 29, 1859, the city converted the entire area formerly dedicated to the asylum and orphanage into a park known as Elm Street Park and the land and buildings were used for exposition purposes until 1876 when it was turned over to the Music Hall Association.