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Feature Article on C. H. Roman. Topic: PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in June, 2000

C.H. ROMAN'S GRAVE MARKER CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL

A twilight walk through Graceland Cemetery on a warm summer night can be a memorable experience. First organized in 1867, the cemetery occupies a rolling and terraced terrain perfectly suited for its intended purpose. From the dignified family monuments to the uniform, government-issued markers for the soldiers who fought for our country Graceland mirrors much of our past.   The most talked about site on the grounds has been and continues to be C. H. Roman's grave, located facing County Road 25A. The marble edifice proudly proclaims that Roman was an agnostic, or one who neither admits nor denies the existence of God. The man and his monument represent an interesting chapter in local history. This is their story.

C. H. Roman's parents were people of the soil. He was born on the family farm nine miles northwest of Sidney, Ohio in Cynthian Township. Although little is known of his youth, when he turned 18, he followed his older brother Frederick to Mississippi where he taught as a college professor. He graduated from Iuka Normal Institute in Iuka, Mississippi with a degree in science.

Perhaps it was the influence of his college professor brother, or perhaps his science education, but at some point Roman began to refine his philosophy of life and his views about God and the world around him.

Agnosticism as we know it today was conceived through the writings of Cambridge scholar T. H. Huxley in the 1840s. He believed that although an atheist does not believe in God, an agnostic believes that since reason can never be used to prove the existence of a being who transcends reason, it is not possible to say whether or not He exists. The humanistic beliefs on which agnosticism is based, however, had been around for many years. An early apostle of this philosophy was the American Revolution hero Thomas Paine. His statement, which was also destined to appear on Roman's monument, summarizes humanism: "The world is my country and to do good is my religion."

Mr. Roman was a wanderlust from his early years. He taught school as a young man in North Dakota, Montana and Washington beginning in 1901. Tiring of that occupation after a few years, he then worked as a traveling commercial salesman. A fourteen year career as a representative with the American Feature Film Company followed.

It was in that position that he developed a keen sense for dealing with people. Mr. Roman once stated that he had been in virtually every town large enough to have a motion picture house east of the Mississippi from the northern tip of Maine to Key West, Florida. He contacted the theaters in order to book the newest entertainment fad, the silent motion picture.

He and his wife, Myra had eight children. With the creation of a large family and his thirst for travel apparently quenched, the 36 year old Roman returned to his family's Cynthian Township farm in 1917 to operate it with his father. That arrangement lasted just six years. His inquiring mind compelled him to enroll in law school at the Warren G. Harding College of Law in Ada, Ohio. He excelled there, and was chosen to be on the Law Review.   C. H. Roman, then 46, after careers as a teacher, salesman, booking agent and farmer entered the practice of law in Sidney in 1927. He rented rooms in the Amos building, which was razed in the early 1970's for the construction of what is now Firstar Bank.

Meanwhile, the agnostic movement had found a new leader in Robert Green Ingersoll. He was a key figure on the national Republican scene, but perhaps he was best known for his humanistic and agnostic beliefs. Ingersoll was at the height of his influence when C. H. Roman was a young man. In an address to the McKinley League in 1896 he concisely summed up his agnostic philosophy: "We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living, hope for the dead."

His works and those of Thomas Paine a century earlier helped influence Roman to build his monument. He decided to do so before his death. It was completed during the second week of August 1948. One side of the monolith contains a portion of his favorite poem by R. G. Ingersoll, which reads:  "Is there beyond the silent night an endless day?  Is death a door that leads to light?   We cannot say.  The tongueless secret locked with fate, We do not know...we hope and wait."  The north side of the stone contains a quote from Roman himself. "I hold him at fault who teaches the trusting child as fact, that which is not known to be true."  A Sidney Daily News article appearing on August 13, 1948, understated the reaction of community members when it reported that the monument "had attracted considerable attention."

Local religious leaders were outraged. One preacher, Rev. John Meister of the First Presbyterian Church made Roman's monument the topic of his sermon the next Sunday. The sermon, reprinted in the paper the next week proclaimed God as being relevant and vibrant in our lives, and included a challenge to Roman to debate Rev. Meister on the steps of the Courthouse. Roman declined the invitation. The controversy heightened when someone wrote "For shame" in lipstick on one of the steps leading to the monument. Roman offered a $100 reward for information on the identity of the culprit, and stated no charges would be filed if the individual would step forward and apologize. No one ever did.

C. H. Roman apparently was amused by the controversy his monument generated. One is left to wonder why he embraced agnosticism in such a public way, especially considering that his first name was Christian and his wife’s maiden name was Babylon.  He died almost three years after the completion of his edifice. His wife and one child one survived him.

 

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