Onion Dome Fever: Holy Transfiguration!

Holy Transformation Russian Orthodox Church, Steubenville, Ohio

Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church, Steubenville, Ohio

The Orbit road crew was a on a mission to find the grave of Jimmy The Greek in Steubenville, Ohio, and find it we did.  Oh yes, find it we did.  But as we were heading up Washington Street from downtown, there, sparkling like a new penny, was the phosphorescent green mini onion dome of Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church.  Never ones to avoid getting distracted by shiny things, we detoured up to the tiny dead end of North 10th Street to get a shot of the church all lit up in the afternoon sun.

Pastor Greg, dressed appropriately in a friar’s dark, knotted robe and sandals, spotted me taking pictures outside and asked if we’d like to come in for the service that was beginning in fifteen minutes.  We politely declined, to which he followed up by urging us to just come inside for a look. That was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

The humble country church look of the outside didn’t give any clue to the gorgeous collection of gold leaf icons, burning candles, Byzantine crosses, live flowers, incense burners, brassware, lace cloth, and the like that awaited within.

interior of Holy Transformation Russian Orthodox Church, Steubenville, Ohio

Interior, Holy Transfiguration Church

The pastor had departed in his minivan to pick up a parishioner who needed a ride to the service.  I wish we’d had the chance to ask him about the history of the church and the current state of the laity.  That very congregation was beginning to file in as we were poking around, so it started to feel pretty awkward and we made our exit.

Steubenville has been draining population since the 1940s (The Greek led that wave out of town), and my guess is that the number of Russian Orthodox parishioners is dwindling in the low double-digits.  So one hopes that Holy Transfiguration will be around for Steubenville’s inevitable glorious comeback, but it will probably take a little divine intervention.

Holy Transformation Russian Orthodox Church, Steubenville, Ohio

Interior (detail), Holy Transfiguration Church

A Visit with Jimmy The Greek

New Chapel, where Jimmy "The Greek" is entombed, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

New Chapel, where Jimmy “The Greek” is entombed, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

SPOILER ALERT:  There is no head stone to visit, no special directional signage like the “1812 Veteran” or the “Fighting McCooks” or the “Grandparents of Woodrow Wilson” get, and there’s not even a place to leave a tributary poker chip or tip sheet from the nearby Wheeling dog track. No, when you actually arrive at the final resting place for Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, it’s on the very top row, well above even this tall blogger’s head height, inside a sterile mausoleum called the New Chapel, marked with a simple brass nameplate that’s barely legible standing on the floor in full daylight. The photo I took inside was so uninteresting I decided we’d just go with the exterior shot.

The Greek died of some combination of diabetes and coronary failure in 1996, the year after New Chapel was built at Union Cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio–Jimmy’s home town and an easy jaunt from Pittsburgh.  Jimmy’s loved ones may have thought that having the latest and greatest in resting places for the family was practical (his sister Marika Berris died in 2009 and is entombed right next to Jimmy), but I’d guess that he was secluded high out of sight, out of mind, and–perhaps, most advantageously–out of reach from any malice that may have been directed his way in the afterlife.

Signed headshot of Jimmy The Greek

Jimmy The Greek in livelier times

Jimmy The Greek’s rise and (epic) fall is legend to a generation that was paying attention to such things in the 1980s.  He was a career sports bettor, television prognosticator, and outsize personality that injected street smart grit and spilled cigar ash on the sterile CBS studio where most of us first encountered him.  Jimmy brought sports betting out of the bar and into post-church middle class living rooms by way of his weekly picks on The NFL Today.

Snyder was fired by CBS in 1988 for “racially insensitive comments” he made on camera at a banquet dinner.  Whether Jimmy was actually a racist or just put his foot in his mouth on a topic he really didn’t have any business speaking on seems up for debate. Both his longtime NFL Today co-host Irv Cross (who is black) and Jessie Jackson defended Snyder and Jimmy famously spent the rest of his life apologizing for the incident, humbled and disgraced.  The world largely turned its back on him, which is perhaps how he ended up nearly un-locatable in Steubenville.

entrance gate, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union Cemetery entrance gate

The Greek’s surroundings in the New Chapel are particularly sad considering the phenomenal beauty of the rest of the park.  He’s going to spend eternity in a mausoleum that looks like a Denny’s while the rest of the of his neighbors are ensconced in the tree-filled, lush rolling hills of this gorgeous circa-1845 cemetery.

Union Cemetery has the characteristic design of others from this era: non-linear paths that work around the topography and ancient trees that grow between–and sometimes up and over–the graves.  The markers are notably more humble than those in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny or Homewood cemeteries, and have suffered a greater natural decay (cheaper material? harsher climate? less maintenance?).  But taken as a whole, it has a similar level of natural beauty, solace, history, and nature-without-man chaos.

statuary, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Statuary, Union Cemetery

Union Cemetery takes extra pride in their veterans.  The (many) Civil War graves each have a special iron shield, many still painted red, white, and blue, marking them as “Union Soldier”. Veterans from Cuba, World Wars I and II, and Korea each got similar, if less ornate, treatment. Vietnam veterans have an entire section to themselves, sharing space with large mortar cannons.

I don’t know that I can recommend a trip to Steubenville just to visit Jimmy The Greek, but we found some other interesting things while we were there (more about that in some future dispatch). However, if you’re in the area, and it’s as beautiful a day as we got, The Orbit has its own tip for you: do yourself a favor and stop by to say hello to The Greek.

Union soldier grave marker, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union soldier grave marker, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union army grave markers, Union Cemetery