Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

David Buick, Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit

I drove to Elmwood Cemetery fine by myself, even though the guidebook described it as lying in the shadow of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. As I wandered around the lovely old graveyard, I noticed that people seemed nervous whenever I drifted too near them. They would look at me, then quickly return to their vehicles and drive away. It was hard to believe that I was spooking them, but it happened enough times that I couldn’t imagine any other explanation.

When I described the occurrence to my friend Martha, she scolded me for going to Detroit alone. We were both small-town girls, growing up, but she lived in urban Flint then. She made me promise I wouldn’t drive to Detroit alone again. She even volunteered to come with me.

Her concern made me think of one of the poems she read me in high school: “James James said to his Mother, “Mother,” he said, said he, “You must never go down to the end of the town, if you don’t go down with me.”

So I asked her to come along the day I drove down to Woodmere Cemetery, which lies closer to Dearborn, a suburb, than to the heart of Detroit. Woodmere isn’t anywhere near downtown, but it’s just a couple of miles north of the notorious River Rouge factory. In 1969, while Ford built Mustangs at the plant, the river was so horribly polluted that IT CAUGHT FIRE.

Martha and I drove past the plant on our way to the graveyard. It was model changeover time, so that huge campus, even though it contains six Ford factories and smelts steel now, looked like a ghost town.

We saw evidence of the factory’s presence on the gravestones, though. The cemetery must lie upwind. Black grit stained the stones, picking out the lettering and marring the angels’ faces.

Martha and I poked around for a long while. I wanted to find the grave of David Buick, who started the company where my dad worked for more than 30 years. Buick’s company helped my dad buy the farm where I grew up. It put food on our table and paid my way through university. Without this man, and the stability General Motors provided my family, my life would have been completely different. I might have been working in a factory myself.

As Martha and I wandered through the graveyard, we heard an ice cream truck roaming the neighborhood streets beyond the cemetery fence. I hummed the song it played, trying to place it. When the ice cream truck reached the chorus, I sang along: “Look for the union label.”

It was the anthem of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, about buying American-made products. I’m sure no 21st-century children recognize the melody, although I remembered it from television commercials in my own childhood. Martha’s father had been a union man, but my dad had been white collar. Both of them lamented what had happened to Michigan when most of the auto companies moved their manufacturing jobs out of state.

Cemeteries of Detroit on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #74: Woodlawn Cemetery

Another of my Detroit cemetery adventures with Martha.

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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9 Responses to Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

  1. Wouldn’t rather drive a Buick? nice story

  2. Loren Rhoads says:

    Thanks! I probably should have mentioned that I drove my mom’s red Buick to Detroit that day, too.

  3. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #72: Woodmere Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  4. We had a Buick Skylark in the early 1989s. That thing went for over 250,000 miles. Towards the end of its magnificent life the only thing holding it together was Bondo. I don’t think there was an ounce of metal anywhere on the body of that car.

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      I learned to drive in a huge blue Buick Century. It was never the same after I drove it through the Flint River flooding, but it ran for another 10,000 miles anyway. That thing was like a tank.

  5. I see you did find David Buick’s resting place. It is a very humble looking memorial, in comparison with others. Are all his details on the other side?

    I still do not quite understand why everyone steered clear of you. Were they thinking that trouble would gravitate your way?

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      I didn’t actually walk around to the other side of Buick’s stone. We’d searched and searched for him, but it was under a tree and much smaller than I expected. I felt sorry for him.

      I think that people in general were avoiding each other in the cemetery. I’m not sure how unsafe Detroit really is, so I could be misreading their behavior, but when I was in high school, I drove down for a show at Joe Louis Arena, which isn’t far from Elmwood Cemetery. I stopped for directions at a gas station, but the cashier showed me the pistol stuck into his waistband and made me get back into the car before he would speak to me. At the time, I was a 17-year-old girl. I’m not sure I’m as frightening now as I might have been then, but I’ve never forgotten that a grown man could be afraid of me, afraid enough to threaten to shoot me.

  6. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  7. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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