My maternal grandfather, John Alonzo Applegate, died on June 20, 1978. He was a harness horse driver and had just finished second in back-to-back races at the old Latonia racetrack, now Turfway Park. Although the racetrack is thoroughbred-only now, for a long time Latonia Trots had a summer standardbred meet. (Funny they don’t mention that in their online history.)
Grandpa was turning the horse around to come back and “salute the judge” when he fell off the sulky. Medical people said he was dead of a massive heart attack before he hit the racetrack. We know a lot of eye-witness details because my father happened to be at the racetrack that night and saw everything.
My grandparents were divorced at the time, and Grandpa’s common-law wife made the funeral arrangements, choosing to have Grandpa buried in Hamilton, Ohio, where they were living, in the Greenwood Cemetery. I was there the day they laid Grandpa to rest, and visited again over the Memorial Day weekend in 1980. I hadn’t been back to the site since then, although of course I’ve been to Hamilton many times over ensuing years.
My mother had never been back at all. When we were discussing with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans what to do outside on such a gorgeous, warm day, Mom asked if we could go up to visit Grandpa’s grave. “Maybe for the last time,” she told us. “It took me 31 years to get up here again.”
Mom had directions, but it still took us a while to track down Grandpa’s grave. I snapped the photo below of Mom and the two Hooligans – great-grandchildren he never knew, and to them he’s just a vague story and a man in a photo riding a horse-driven sulky. (Diamondqueen herself was only eight years old when Grandpa died.)
It’s hard to tell in the photo at left, but the Butler County Fairgrounds is in the background. In fact, over Mom’s right shoulder is one of the barns and the roof of the old grandstand. One thing I remember about Grandpa’s burial is looking over there and seeing the fairgrounds, and thinking how appropriate it was that horse barns and a racetrack were within view of his grave. It also made me sad – I’d spent many years as a child watching Grandpa race at that track. I have memories going back to when I was five years old playing down in the well of an old dry fountain on the fairgrounds while Mom sat above on a lawn chair; and of gathering thrown-down betting tickets along the fence during the long waits for Grandpa’s races. I once shouted at him during the pre-race parade from that grandstand; Mom and Grandma shushed me, but they laughed when we saw Grandpa grin. He’d heard me!
I wish Grandpa wasn’t up there by himself in that cemetery; there are no other family members buried there. Then again, the situation was awkward and relations were strained by that time. And when he was absorbed in his horses, he always seemed kind of isolated from the rest of us anyhow.