While the Kellogg brothers were famous for their contentious relationship, the two are now neighbors in Oak Hill Cemetery. Many of Battle Creek’s movers and shakers have found their way to Oak Hill, which has been in business since 1844.
With its trees, wrought-iron fences and memorials, Oak Hill is a lovely, restful place that is full of history.
It’s also the spot for one of Battle Creek’s favorite urban legends, the “Crying Mary” sculpture. Many kids have dared each other to see if “Mary” cries at midnight. The bronze statue is actually supposed to be a Greek goddess, but don’t let that stand in the way of a good story.
Here are six famous people buried in Oak Hill Cemetery who are not cereal magnates:
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Floyd Dewain Bates
Floyd Bates played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1939 until 1947. Bates was a super athlete. According to the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame, he broke records in track and basketball, while being one of the most feared long-ball hitters in softball. He moved to Battle Creek in 1949 and owned a couple businesses around town, including the B&C Grocery Store.
Before visiting the cemetery, check out a larger-than-life version of Erastus Hussey and his wife, Sarah, at the Underground Railroad Sculpture by the Battle Creek River. They stand by the side of Harriet Tubman, helping to harbor slaves on the path to freedom.Hussey, a Quaker who ran a dry goods store in Battle Creek, became a stationmaster in 1840. He estimated more than 1,000 fugitives stayed at his house on their way to Canada. As a senator, he drafted the Personal Liberty Law in 1854, which made it illegal to capture escaped slaves in Michigan.
Clinton “Bill” Knapp
If we had our way, “Bill” Knapp’s gravesite would be marked with a chocolate cake sculpture. There were many birthday celebrations that included a free slice of the rich, delicious dessert at the Bill Knapp’s restaurant.The first Bill Knapp’s restaurant opened in Battle Creek in 1948. It grew into a chain that sold comfort food at 69 restaurants in five states.Bill Knapp passed away in 1974 and the business closed in 2002, but if you want to try the chocolate cake, they’re sold at Family Fare.
Sojourner Truth shed her slave name and chose her own, meaning “a traveler spreading the truth.”Truth spent half her life traveling to advocate for abolition and equal rights for women. She escaped slavery in her thirties, then won a court case to save her son, who had been illegaly sold to a plantation in Alabama.Sojourner moved to Battle Creek before the Civil War but continued her travels and activism work. Truth died at her home in Battle Creek in 1883 and she still has descendants in town.On election days, some people will leave their “I Voted” stickers at Truth’s gravesite. It’s to honor her legacy by showing they don’t take for granted the rights she fought so hard to secure.
In case you don’t recognize the name “Autry DeWalt Mixon,” look for the gravestone with a saxophone.Known as Junior Walker, the Motown star actually got his big break in Battle Creek. He and the All Stars moved here to play at the El Grotto Lounge, run by Helen Montgomery. While in town, he made connections, signed a contract and ended up at Hitsville U.S.A. Junior Walker and the All Stars made it to the top of the charts with “Shotgun” in 1965.
Ellen G. Harmon White
Ellen White’s visions led the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which she founded with her husband, James.Battle Creek’s cereal industry can be traced back to a vision White had on Christmas Day in 1865 -- the Adventists were called to create a health institute in Battle Creek. They advocated for exercise, fresh air and fresh vegetables.The Whites have a family plot at Oak Hill, where you can find gravestones for Ellen, James, and their sons Henry, James Edson, Willy and John.**Article written by freelance writer Annie Kelley.