Gravesite of Samuel D. Holland

The most elegant monument in Union Baptist Cemetery

There are perhaps 20,000 burials in Union Baptist Cemetery, including many of the most prominent members of Black society in Cincinnati, and the most elegant monument is for someone who was neither famous nor powerful, but much loved. This is the monument for Samuel D. Holland.

Samuel Holland was born into slavery in the 1830’s, probably in Mississippi, and he grew up in Alabama. He came to Cincinnati in 1864 and went to work driving an ambulance for the old City Hospital, back when ambulances were drawn by horses. This was a job that put him in close contact with people who had cholera, dysentery, smallpox, and every other kind of ailment. Sometimes, when a patient died and was too poor for a proper funeral, Holland would have to drive the body so the potter’s field.

Holland drove that ambulance nearly half a century. “An angel of mercy,” is how one newspaper described him in 1895. “If his face is not a good one, none are good. It is broad, it is benevolent… . From under bushy brows, Sam looks kindly at the world. There are no horrors left for him in the work.”

Here is what the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said about him:

"In fair weather and foul weather, Holland has gone to the homes of the city’s poor to do his share in relieving sickness or distress. No disease, no matter how deadly or contagious, brought terror to his heart, and no illness, no matter how light, but claimed his tenderest care and sympathy.”

Samuel Holland Married Mary E. Dempsey. They had a big wedding followed by a honeymoon in the East.

Samuel Holland was forced into retirement in 1905, and for a time, he considered moving home to Alabama. But then he came back to work for the hospital. He lost his job in 1912, when hospital administrators phased out horse-drawn ambulances. But some of the doctors protested, and Holland was re-hired as an orderly. Holland worked for Cincinnati General Hospital nearly up until the time of his death, in 1916. His funeral was attended by physicians, nurses, and attendants from the hospital. His spouse Mary Dempsey Holland died two years later and is buried here as well, along with other family members.

There is still a mystery here, however: ambulance-driving cannot have been a lucrative profession, and yet Samuel and Mary Holland have a very expensive monument. Who paid for it? One possibility was that some combination of family, friends, and admirers provided the monument.

Another possibility is that Samuel and Mary Holland were actually wealthy. When Samuel Holland died, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported that physicians who knew Holland estimated his wealth at between $50,000 and $200,000 – in today’s terms, between $1.3 million and $5 million. They said that Samuel’s wife, Mary Dempsey, had inherited money; that the Hollands were frugal; and that Sam Holland had invested in several barbershops. Neither Samuel nor Mary Holland left a will, and there do not appear to be any probate records for them, so the truth is uncertain.


Samuel D. Holland monument
Samuel D. Holland monument Creator: Chris Hanlin



Chris Hanlin, “Gravesite of Samuel D. Holland,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed April 21, 2024,