Tag Archives: Detroit cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #105: White Chapel Memorial Park

Vintage postcard of the grounds at White Chapel Memorial Park

Vintage postcard of the grounds at White Chapel Memorial Park

White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery
621 W. Long Lake Road
Troy, Michigan 48098
Telephone: (248) 362-7670
Founded: 1928
Size: 200 acres
Number of interments: more than 50,000
Open: Mondays through Saturdays in April through September from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in October through March. Closings echo the seasonal hours on Sundays and holidays, but the cemetery doesn’t open until 10 a.m. those days. The Temple of Memories Mausoleum is open 1 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. every day, even Sundays and holidays.

White Chapel Memorial Park lies alongside I-75, the chief north/south highway through Lower Michigan. It was the original memorial park cemetery in Michigan, introducing the state to the simple brass plaques placed flush in the ground that were pioneered by Forest Lawn in Glendale, California. In fact, when White Chapel opened on June 11, 1928, it was the first memorial park east of California.

Vintage aerial view of the Temple of Memories at White Chapel Memorial Park

Vintage aerial view of the Temple of Memories at White Chapel Memorial Park

The guiding principle of the memorial park concept was that rural cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Green-Wood, with their mortuary sculpture and mournful epitaphs, were old-fashioned. The world was changing rapidly in the 1920s: “Present-day enlightenment cannot tolerate the association of depressing, gruesome, and distracting objects with the final resting place of loved ones,” says their sales brochure published in 1928. “Here every environment speaks not of death, but of happy memories and the peace of life everlasting.”

Another of the innovations White Chapel brought to Michigan was a four-manual pipe organ, which was “capable of reproducing the tones of practically every known musical instrument.” It was specially designed by the Aeolian Company of New York City, with the intention of providing soft music “audible throughout the entire Park,” according to the vintage brochure.

Among the monuments adorning the very flat grounds at White Chapel is a larger-than-life-sized polar bear guarding an army helmet and cross. He commemorates Michigan soldiers who fought the Russians in World War I. According to the Roadside America listing for the monument, the men of the 339th Infantry (dubbed the Polar Bears) were the only Americans to actually fight the Russians in “real combat.” More than 200 men, many of them from the Detroit area, died in battle or from the harsh winter conditions in Russia. In 1929, surviving Polar Bears returned to Russia to recover the bodies of their comrades. 56 of them were reburied here in May 1930.

Interior of the chapel at White Chapel Memorial Park. Vintage postcard.

Interior of the chapel at White Chapel Memorial Park. Vintage postcard.

Among the historically important or infamous names buried at White Chapel are Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who assisted 130 suicides until he was imprisoned (His epitaph reads, “He sacrificed himself for everyone’s rights.”); John DeLorean, whose marker bears the image of his iconic car; Mauri Rose, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500; Sgt. Robert R. Shumard, the assistant engineer on the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945; and the last survivor of the John Dillinger gang, Russell Lee Clark.

Regarding White Chapel Memorial Park’s unusual name: the cemetery has no connection to the poor neighborhood in London where Jack the Ripper tore apart his victims. Instead, Michigan’s White Chapel is dominated by the enormous Temple of Memories Mausoleum. Said to be inspired by early Greek architecture (although the angels and other ornamentation seemed more Art Deco to me), the structure was built of “imperishable concrete and steel” faced with marble, granite, and bronze. It really stands out on the runway-flat lawn surrounding it.

In addition, the vintage brochure speaks of the “exclusive” nature of the White Chapel Memorial Park while pointing out the reasonable prices of its graves. The Last Great Necessity reports that Forest Lawn, first of the memorial parks, defended in court its right to cancel the sale of a grave plot to an African American lot holder who did not reveal his race at the time of the purchase. The book goes on to point out that White Chapel was one of the first cemeteries “to be so designated in any town or city that itself did not include ‘White’ in its name.” Segregation of memorial parks, the book continues, “was a nationwide trend.”

This trend continued in White Chapel into the 1960s, when an honorably discharged World War I veteran was removed from his newly dug grave and evicted from the cemetery. George Vincent Nash was a full-blooded Winnebago (also called Ho-Chunk), but the cemetery president said that 40,000 plot owners “had paid for the restriction” of the “type” of people who could be buried at White Chapel. It didn’t matter that Nash’s wife, part Chippewa, had been buried in the cemetery without incident since 1949.

According to Richard Bak, author of Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground, Senator Basil W. Brown of Detroit sponsored legislation that prohibited discrimination by race or color in private cemeteries. The bill passed into law in 1961 and was upheld by a State Supreme Court decision in 1966. “Although largely overlooked today,” Bak reports, “gaining equality inside Michigan’s graveyards was considered a significant early victory in the Civil Rights movement.”

Some Useful links:

The White Chapel Memorial Park home page

More information about the Polar Bear monument

Some lovely photos of White Chapel

The Grave-Cast tour of White Chapel

More information on the final resting place of George Vincent Nash

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Cemetery of the Week #74: Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn’s entry off of Woodward Avenue

Woodlawn Cemetery
19975 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48203
Telephone: (313) 368-0010
Founded: 1895
Size: 140 acres
Number of interments: 71,000
Open: Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sundays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Far from the center of Detroit when it opened at the end of the 19th century, lovely Woodlawn Cemetery is now an oasis not far from the notorious 8 Mile Road, which once served as the boundary between the inner city and the wealthier suburbs.

Woodlawn Cemetery has one of the largest collections of private mausoleums in the country. These run the gamut of architectural styles from classically Grecian to Egyptian Revival to Art Nouveau and styles even more modern. In fact, Woodlawn appears to be a cemetery of tombs more than a cemetery of graves, so its decorations are different than the statuary you find in most graveyards of the Victorian age.

The view across the lake in Woodlawn

In The Last Great Necessity, David Charles Sloane talks about the paradigm shift represented in lawn-park cemeteries like Woodlawn. As Americans retreated from Victorian sentimentality, the appearance of cemeteries changed to “combine the beauty of the lawn with the artistry of the monument.” Cemeteries became “a private, permanent burial place that honored rural values and celebrated lot-holder families [and reflected] the distancing of the living from the dead.” Woodlawn features over 150 private estates.

Now managed by the Midwest Memorial Group, which operates 29 cemeteries in Michigan (13 in the Detroit area alone, including the last Cemetery of the Week, Woodmere), Woodlawn seems in good shape to move into the future. Maintenance crews were busy when I visited in August.

The Dodge mausoleum

Among the permanent residents of Woodlawn are several titans of the auto industry, including the Dodge brothers, John and Horace. In 1901, they opened a machine shop in Detroit that built motors and steering gear for the earliest Ford cars. Eventually they owned 20% of the Ford Company. They used money from their stock sales to finance their own car company. The brothers died within a year of each other and are entombed in an Egyptian Revival mausoleum guarded by sphinxes.

The Ford sarcophagus

Also buried here are Edsel Ford and his wife Eleanor. Edsel, son of Henry Ford, served as president of his father’s company for 24 years. He was also deeply involved with the Detroit Institute of Arts, underwriting the amazing murals painted by Diego Rivera. Edsel Ford’s simple black sarcophagus seems to comment on the more ostentatious monuments of lesser-known men.

Perhaps not well known outside of Michigan, J. L. Hudson opened a men and boys’ clothing store in Detroit in 1881. It expanded into a department store that was the third largest in the nation by 1927. Eventually the flagship store contained 49 acres of floor space, but as the city died around it, it could not hang on. The building was spectacularly demolished in 1998.

Inside the Chapel Mausoleum lies Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks. In December 1955, Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat in the designated “colored” section of a city bus so that a white man could sit down. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, spanning over a year, and resulted in a US Supreme Court case that called segregation on public transit unconstitutional. She died in Detroit in 2005.

A couple of books capture the beauty of Woodlawn in glorious black-and-white photographs:

My review of A. Dale Northrup’s Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery is here.

My review of Richard Bak’s Boneyards: Detroit Underground is here.

Useful links:

Woodlawn Cemetery’s homepage

Some lovely photos and a list of locally famous people buried in Woodlawn

A tour of Woodlawn

The Hidden Gems of Detroit video tour of Woodlawn

GPS info, care of CemeteryRegistry.us

Other Detroit Cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery

Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit

Martha in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

We met in 8th grade, when she sat behind me in History class.  We didn’t really become friends until 9th grade, when she noticed I was reading the Star Wars novelization while waiting for my mom to pick me up from school.  I can remember that day more crisply than almost anything else that happened in high school.  Martha had seen the original Star Wars movie over the summer, just like I had (more than once!). We made a date to see it again as soon as we could get a ride to the theater.  We have been friends ever since.

Last week I wrote about how Martha suggested I shouldn’t go to Detroit alone to poke around cemeteries.  Since she volunteered to come along, those excursions have been some of my favorite parts of my trips home.  I borrow my mom’s red Buick and we cruise in air-conditioned comfort to some quiet green space to chat and catch up and enjoy each other’s company as we explore.

Martha’s father used to make stained glass.  He’s elderly now and can’t cut the glass any longer, but Mart absorbed a lot of knowledge at his elbow as a teenager.  She can see more in a stained glass window than I will ever see.  She was telling me about the kinds of glass in this lovely window.

I’m so glad we’re friends.  I don’t think she knows what an inspiration she is to me.

Another of my cemetery adventures with Martha.

An illustrated exploration of Lower Michigan’s many graveyards

Boneyards: Detroit Under GroundBoneyards: Detroit Under Ground by Richard Bak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This beautiful collection combines historic photographs with modern black-and-white photos of cemeteries in Detroit and the surrounding cities, ranging as far abroad as Royal Oak and Ypsilanti. The new photos were shot by a number of different people, but author Richard Bak ties them all together.  He provides a page of explanation and description for each photo, which makes for a quick read full of fascinating tidbits of information.

The book opens with an essay that spans Michigan history from the Copper People and the Mound Builders in the years BC up through the French and the American settlers who moved into the Michigan Territory.  It discusses the old pioneer graveyards that made way for factories and freeways, then talks about the lovely garden cemeteries that date back to the middle of the 1800s:  Elmwood, Woodlawn, and Woodmere, as well as the Catholic burial ground called Mt. Elliott.

Historic photos run a gamut from kids sledding at Elmwood to medical students — including a couple of women — posing with a cadaver at the Michigan College of Medicine. The modern photos dwell on the faces of angels or a gravestone photograph of two kids with a huge old car.  I can’t really do justice to the variety without making a really long list.

If you enjoy history, graveyards, or lightly morbid local stories, this is the book for you.  You can order your own copy through Amazon: Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground.

Cemeteries of Detroit on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #74: Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #73: Woodmere Cemetery

View of Woodmere Cemetery with Brevet General Vreeland’s grave

Woodmere Cemetery
9400 W Fort Street
Detroit, Michigan 48209
Telephone: (313) 841-0188
Founded: 1867
Size: 250 acres
Number of interments: more than 40,000
Open: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sundays, only by appointment.

Only two years after the Civil War ended, Woodmere Cemetery was founded by a group of prominent Detroit businessmen that included John J. Bagley (buried here), who would shortly be elected Governor of Michigan. These men felt that Detroit needed a rural cemetery, far enough away from the center of town that it would not be in danger of being exhumed and moved in the future. Of course, the city has grown out to engulf it now.

The 250-acre tract they chose had its own picturesque creeks, which had the lamentable habit of running red in the spring due to iron in the soil. According to Gail Hershenzon’s eponymous book about the cemetery, Woodmere was so heavily wooded in the beginning that the “cemetery office’s fireplace always had firewood.” Apparently, coffins were made out of other trees on the property. Some of the lovely old trees remain, but most are gone now.

Gravestone blackened by soot from the Rouge River factory three miles away.

Woodmere’s first burial was Anna Maria Schwartz in November 1868. The cemetery also received some 4000 bodies from the old City Cemetery including, Hershenzon says, a woman believed to have been buried alive during the city’s cholera epidemic in 1833.

In 1896, Woodmere set aside 10,000 feet for a military section. 156 bodies were moved from the Fort Wayne graveyard. The fort, which had been built in 1840, had the capability of firing on Canada across the river. Of course, that was never necessary.

Several titans of the auto industry lie beneath a modest gravestones at Woodmere. Among them is Henry Leland, a machinist who formed the Lincoln Motor Company and created the Cadillac. David Buick started his company because he’d developed an enameling process. Although he gave his name to the line of cars, he was forced out of his namesake company.

Formerly in a modest grave was Hamilton Carhartt, who developed the overalls that bear his name. His granddaughter had a classical mausoleum flanked by angels built and his body was moved in 2000.

Woodmere is the final haven for Private Eddie Slovik. Originally classified as 4F (exempt from service because of his conviction for theft) during World War II, Slovik’s classification was changed and he was forced into combat. He deserted twice in France. After he was caught, he was court-martialed and sentenced to die before a firing squad in January 1945. He was the only man to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. His wife fought to have him pardoned and his body returned to Michigan, but Slovik remained in a numbered grave until after her death. In 1987, Ronald Reagan signed an order allowing Slovik’s repatriation, but he has never been pardoned.

Brevet General Michael Vreeland is also buried in Woodmere. He fought at Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, but was “gravely wounded” at Gettysburg in 1863. All the same, he survived until 1876. His body wasn’t moved to Woodmere until 1911.

A mysterious headstone in Woodmere.

I wrote about my visit to Woodmere yesterday.

Other Detroit cemeteries on Cemetery Travel so far include Elmwood Cemetery, founded 1846, and reviews of books about Mount Elliott, consecrated in 1841,  and Woodlawn, founded in 1895.

My review of Gail Hershenzon’s Images of America book, Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery, is here.  You can order it from Amazon yourself here: Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery (Images of America)

Useful links:

September 22 walking tour of Woodmere.

Woodmere’s homepage.

Author Gail Hershenzon’s homepage.

Online tour of Woodmere.

GPS coordinates at CemeteryRegistry.us.