In-Ho Oh Remembered

By Ronald E. Shaffer

On Friday, July 29, 2016, City Council of Philadelphia, by proclamation, declared the 3600 block of Hamilton Street in Powellton Village to be known as “In-Ho Oh Memorial Way”.

Fifty eight years ago on Monday, May 9, 1958, the body of In-Ho Oh, a University of Pennsylvania student, was buried in Old Pine’s historic churchyard in a graveside ceremony conducted by Rev. Donald Love. In-Ho Oh now rests in eternal peace with patriots of the American Revolution and a host of people who left their footprints in history in an effort to make an ever changing world a better place to live. Oh’s memory remains a timeless instruction…to turn sorrow into Christian purpose. And that’s exactly the path his Korean parents followed…halfway around the world.

In-Ho Oh was brutally gang murdered by eight teenage hoodlums who lived a few blocks away. Why? Why did they do this? Oh had just posted a letter to his parents in a mailbox at the corner of 36th and Hamilton Streets. Moments later he was beaten to death by “kids” using soda bottles and blackjacks. Why? For all of 35 cents in his pocket! The letter home to his parents arrived weeks later. But not before they received a Western Union cablegram with devastating news…your son was murdered in Philadelphia April 25, 1958. Their return cable instructed…ship our son’s body in a casket to Seoul. Days later a revised cable was sent…please locate a Presbyterian graveyard with a spare piece of land where our son can be buried. In-Ho Oh’s headstone at Old Pine to this day reminds us what his parents did “To Turn Sorrow into Christian Purpose.”

His forgiving parents established a foundation to provide social guidance for each of their son’s attackers when they were released from prison. In addition, they successfully petitioned the courts for sentences reflecting the most generous treatment possible within the law. Their petitions ended, “that we can do something to minimize such juvenile-criminal actions…which are to be found not only in your country, but also Korea…and, we are sure…everywhere on earth. May God bless you, your people and particularly…the boys who killed our son and kinsman.”

As a graveyard tour guide, I am often asked, “When was the last person buried here?” I always clarify, “the last body burial in a casket was May 12, 1958.” Then I take them to In-Ho Oh’s granite gravestone where I read out loud, “To Turn Sorrow into Christian Purpose”…followed by “I’d like to share his parents story about forgiveness and Christian purpose.” 

More than one person has shed a tear.