Tag Archives: Elmwood Cemetery

The Most Beautiful Cemeteries on Cemetery Travel

Last week I talked about the Most Morbid Cemeteries on Cemetery Travel. That was a fairly easy list to make.  Today’s list is much more subjective.  In addition to beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it’s also dependent on season.  A graveyard in spring is likely to be subjectively more beautiful than a graveyard in winter: flowers trump bare branches, blue skies trump gray, lush green lawn trumps unbroken snow.  A case could be made for the opposite, of course, but I’m sensitive to cold and live in foggy, brown-in-summer California. We long for what we don’t have.

Highgate Cemetery in May

Highgate Cemetery in May

Week #2: London’s Highgate Cemetery

I’ve been to Highgate twice: once in January, once in June. Although winter had stripped the branches, the ivy was still glossy and green and primroses bloomed on some of the graves, bright in the gloom.  Summer was an entirely different experience:  green thrived everywhere, all but swallowing up the old angels standing guard over the graves. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery oversee the place as managed wild land, encouraging foxes, birds, rabbits, and other wild things to call it home.  They try to keep the monuments from falling to ruin, but let Nature rule.  A trip to Highgate is what started me on the road of cemetery exploration. I think it would do the same for anyone. I’d love to go back and see it in spring sometime — and in winter, too.  This is one place where snow would add its own kind of magic.

The Aylsworth family monument

The Aylsworth family monument

Week #58: Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

In 2002, I was lucky enough to plan a Grand Tour of East Coast graveyards.  The day we reached Swan Point, spring was in full sway.  One hillside shone gold with daffodils. The Seekonk River shimmered, visible through the trees, a startling hyper-rich blue.  The grass was green and the fruit trees on fire with blossoms.  Even the air smelled perfumed.  It was impossible not to fall in love.

Shelley's gravestone

Shelley’s gravestone

Week #8: The Protestant Cemetery of Rome in Rome

Every Italian graveyard I’ve visited was full of one-of-a-kind statuary that could take your breath away.  The Protestant Cemetery had the added poignancy that these were outcasts, buried here because none of the Catholic burial grounds would have them.  Here are remembered John Keats, who was so Romantic that his name doesn’t even appear on this gravestone, and Percy Shelley, whose friends soaked his body in wine and cremated it on the beach near Viareggio. Beyond them stands a forest of statuary lovelier than any museum’s collection.

Shrouded granite urns on family plot, Elmwood Cemetery, DetroitWeek #12: Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery

I grew up in Michigan, so I’m partial to the particular shade of blue in the summer sky painted by the Great Lakes above my home state.  When I first started to drive down to Detroit to explore its historic cemeteries, I started with Elmwood, site of a battle in the French and Indian War. Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park) re-designed the graveyard to include roads that swoop over and around of the rolling hills. He also planted the groves of trees where squirrels, pheasants, and other wildlife now live.  A sense of peace pervades Elmwood that belies its location right downtown.

Archangel Michael in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland

Archangel Michael in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland

Week #42:  Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

I discovered Lake View by accident while my dad was at the Cleveland Clinic.  I knew that President Garfield was entombed there, but I wasn’t prepared for the wash of golden leaves that had drifted around the headstones.  Since I was guiltily stealing an hour away from the hospital, my photos don’t do the place justice, but one of my favorite cemetery statues anywhere is the brooding warrior angel Michael who stands over the grave of John M. Hay, Secretary of State under President William McKinley. I wouldn’t mind having him stand guard over me for eternity.

Honorable mentions:

It was hard to limit myself to just five beautiful cemeteries.  I’m sure I’ll regret leaving out Hollywood Forever, the New Jewish Cemetery of Prague, and Mount Auburn Cemetery.  There are others that probably would have made this list, if only I’d visited on a different day or in a different season.  There are so many, many more that I’m sure are lovely, but I haven’t had the opportunity to see for myself yet.

I’d love to hear you make a case for the cemetery you think is most beautiful.

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

Cemeteries in the Summer

I think there’s nothing more beautiful than a lush, green cemetery in the summertime.  Flowers blooming, birds singing, soft breezes at play, and beautiful statuary:  what could be more relaxing?

I’ve listed my favorites below, but I’m hoping you’ll also tell me what graveyards or memorial parks you like to visit when it’s time to unwind.

The Gem of the Motor City

Elmwood Endures: History of a Detroit Cemetery (Great Lakes Books)Elmwood Endures: History of a Detroit Cemetery by Michael S. Franck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fascinating introductory essay in this book places Elmwood Cemetery firmly inside the history of Detroit and connects it to the rural cemetery movement, begun in the U.S. by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It discusses the unusual monuments and beautiful landscaping of the cemetery, followed by a longer segment exploring biographies of some of the historic figures who’ve made Elmwood their final resting place.

By far the largest portion of the book contains lovely black-and-white photographs of the cemetery in every season. I particularly liked the sculpture of the little angel frosted in snow, but I found the summery images suffered a little from the loss of color. I remember Elmwood as vivid green beneath a cerulean sky full of snowy white clouds. The black-and-white photographs suggest that beauty but can’t possibly do justice to it.

Also, I wish the text and the photographs had been better integrated. I found myself flipping back and forth between the biographies, the list of photos, and the grave monuments, trying to connect everything up. Images of the permanent residents would have been a nice addition to their biographies, too.

One thing I very much appreciated was the reproduction Victorian monument advertisements. The gorgeous historic photographs of the cemetery were also a wonderful addition. I wish there had been more of them.

As it stands, this book will add depth to your exploration of this spectacular cemetery. One hopes an updated edition will resolve some of the layout problems.

Copies are available on Amazon: Elmwood Endures: History of a Detroit Cemetery (Great Lakes Books)

View all my reviews

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery

Vista in Elmwood Cemetery

Elmwood Cemetery
1200 Elmwood Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48207
Telephone: (313) 567-3453
Established: 1846
Size: 86 acres
Number of interments: 51,000
Open: 8 to 4 daily October 1 until April 30. 7 to 7 daily May 1 until September 30.

Full of splendid well-preserved Victorian sculpture, Elmwood Cemetery is the oldest continually used non-religious cemetery in Detroit. Part of the Eastside Cemeteries Historic District, it abuts the Catholic Mt. Elliott Cemetery and the Jewish Lafayette Street Cemetery. It’s not far from the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit and the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

The cemetery’s hilly terrain is much like what the French explorer Cadillac would have seen in 1701 when he founded a settlement at the straits of Lake Huron, which he called Detroit. During the French and Indian War, Chief Pontiac’s troops defeated the British at Parents Creek, which flows through the modern graveyard. On July 31, 1763, British blood stained the water so much that the creek became known at Bloody Run. The State of Michigan designated it as a State Historic Site in 1975.

When the war was over, the land became farmland on the edge of the village of Hamtramck. An original parcel of 42 acres was purchased by six prominent Detroiters to form a rural cemetery modeled after Mount Auburn in Massachusetts. In 1890, Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park) was hired to re-design the graveyard. His plans included the roads that swoop over and around the rolling hills. He also planted the groves of trees where squirrels, pheasants, and other wildlife now live.

The cemetery holds 6 Michigan governors, 11 U.S. senators, 28 Detroit mayors, as well as inventors, explorers, artists, abolitionists and former slaves. Among the notables lie Detroit’s legendary first Black mayor Tuskegee Airman Coleman Young, Hiram Walker (founder of Canadian Club whiskey), the Michigan Territory’s first governor Lewis Cass, and guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5. The graveyard’s management has done an exemplary job of mixing newer burials amongst the historic gravesites, continuing the cemetery’s long tradition of integration. Michigan’s first African American school teacher is buried there, along with the state’s first Black lawyer, legislator, newspaper owners, radio station owner, and more. In fact, the cemetery offers Black History tours and partners with local schools to give the kids a chance to work in the graveyard on gardening and restoration projects.

The military is represented from the Revolutionary War through the Persian Gulf, including more than 30 generals. The State of Michigan purchased a lot for veterans of the Civil War, which includes 15 members of the 102nd U.S. Colored Troops regiment. There’s also a large, lovely plot that serves firemen.

Since the graveyard is right downtown, I am not sure how safe it is to wander alone, although I did so and was fine. (The only creepy thing that happened was that people jumped in their vehicles and drove away whenever I wandered too close to their graveside vigils. I am not an intimidating woman.) You might be best off to visit with one of the tours offered by the cemetery over the summer for $5 a person. The first one is scheduled for May 4, 2011.

Useful Links:

Elmwood Cemetery’s website

Photos of some of the unusual monuments at Elmwood

Schedule of Tours of Elmwood Cemetery

Tales from the Crypts from the Detroit News

The historic plaque text

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Notes from my trip to Elmwood.

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Elmwood Cemetery:

Elmwood Endures

Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground