DETROIT: Mt. Elliott

28 May

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A cemetery can tell you the story of a city; where residents came from, who was rich, how streets got their names, it can be fascinating stuff. Today we are visiting Mt Elliott Cemetery on, well, Mt Elliott, just north of Lafayette. The oldest, still operating, traditionally Catholic, cemetery in Detroit, it was consecrated in 1841, just 4 years after Michigan became a state. The first burial was that of Robert Elliott, notice the name? Elliott was one of the original purchasers and planners of the cemetery, one month after it opened, he was killed in a construction accident at St Mary’s, it was named ‘Mount Elliott’ in his honor.

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We enter through a beautiful stone gateway designed and built by Walter Schweikart in 1882; many prominent families are laid to rest near the entrance. The grass is green and lush, the spring breeze a bit chilly, monuments and tombstones rise from the ground as far as the eye can see. Directly in front of us is the monument of a barefoot scholar belonging to Daniel Campau, son of Joseph Campau, yep, that guy. Surrounded by books, the man looks deep in thought, as if he is pondering some eternal question; his father, Joseph, is buried at Elmwood. We traverse the grounds winding past grave sites; it is tranquil, serene, the only sounds come from the rustling of leaves and songs of the birds. A canopy of mature trees seem to exist to protect those who have passed on. Crosses come in all sizes here; carved of stone, one resembles a log while another has a Celtic design. There are multitudes of statues gracing monuments; angels, women in flowing robes, they all wear grief stricken, sullen expressions, some turn their faces upwards toward heaven. 

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Some headstones are barely legible, weather has taken its toll and worn them nearly smooth, one monument has become very dark, it looks long forgotten. A tiny lamb sits atop a stone rectangular box, details have been washed away. In 1872 the Fireman’s Fund bought large lots for $500 apiece for the purpose of burying firefighters; the Fireman’s Fund Monument stands tall over the headstones, annuals have already been planted in the urns, two red, faux fireplugs flank the site. Jerome Cavanagh, Mayor of Detroit from 1962-70, is buried here, as are many French and Irish settlers, soldiers that fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, for and against Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo and the Polar Bear Expedition to Russia after WWI. Little Chief Edward, grandson of Sitting Bull is laid to rest here; the well-known and unknown are entombed side by side.

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The mausoleum architecture is elaborate, fancy, graceful. The Palms is my favorite; framed by a Crimson King Maple on each side, the structure is beautiful; a few steps lead to metal doors that have tarnished over time, creating a lovely patina, short columns flank the entryway, a statue of a woman is positioned on top. The Palms family were Detroit high society through real estate and banking; they have left an architectural legacy in the Palms House, Palms Apartments and Palm Theatre (now the Fillmore). We pass familiar names such as Beaubien, St Aubin and Moross; most mausoleums have gorgeous metal gates, some, ornate stained glass windows, iron grates and urns waiting for flowers to be planted. One tombstone resembles a church steeple, another a tree stump with a log cross, where the bark is ‘peeled’ away we learn the names of those who have passed on. 

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Crossing Mt Elliott, we find ourselves in front of St. Bonaventure and the Solanus Casey Center. St Bonaventure Monastery, constructed of red brick with limestone trim, built for the order of Friars Minor Capuchin, opened in 1883; Father Solanus Casey was a Friar here from 1924-1946. At the Center we pass through the open gateway into the courtyard; brick pavers are engraved with names of donors, large pieces of sculpture dot the garden landscape. A pair of impressive glass doors lead us into the building; sunlight floods the interior corridor. A group of bronze statues are to our left, glass cases display items used by the monks; robes, chalice, sashes, habits, sandals and wood rosary beads. A narrow doorway leads us to a series of exhibits detailing the life of Bernard Francis Casey; born in 1870, he was the sixth of 16 children. There are family pictures and personal items; stories from childhood through adulthood appear on placards, giving us insight into this revered man.

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Father Solanus Casey’s casket lies beneath the north trancept at St Bonaventure’s; today a single red rose and small folded pieces of paper sit atop the wooden tomb; prayers offered for the intercession of Father Solanus. Known as a ‘wonder worker’ he is the first United States-born man to be declared ‘venerable’ by the Roman Catholic Church; he has been proposed as a candidate for Sainthood. The church is quiet, we are the only ones here. The Gothic Revival style is simple and elegant; highly varnished wood wainscoting covers the lower half of the walls, classic lantern-style lights hang from chains. Light streams in from understated stained glass windows that face Mt Elliot, the main focus of the space is definitely the meticulously carved wood altar, magnificent with its tall spires.

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We exit through a rear door that leads to the Votive Candle Chapel, enclosed in glass it provides a lovely view of the grounds. Tiny flames dance inside tall red and green glass jars; the scent of melting wax permeates the air, it is familiar to me, many of the old churches smell exactly like this, I find it pleasant and comforting. A few people arrive with new candles purchased in the gift shop, they will replace ones that no longer burn with their own prayers.

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We leave the serenity of the Center and head to Eastern Market to grab a late light lunch; Germack is now serving bagel sandwiches in their coffee shop–perfect! We place our order at the counter and have a seat at a nearby table, I sip on a hot Chili Mexican while we wait. Our sandwiches arrive and they both look delicious; Kris has a PBJ: Germack’s own freshly ground cashew butter and a layer of a locally made blueberry lavender vanilla jam on a Detroit Institute of Bagels blueberry bagel, if you think it sounds good, you should taste it! I went with the Morning Sunshine–house-made herb cream cheese, cucumbers, tomato and arugula on an everything bagel, yum! When our sandwiches are gone we sit back and chill as we finish our coffee, it has been another great day in Detroit.

5 Responses to “DETROIT: Mt. Elliott”

  1. Barbara Dorda May 29, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    ANOTHER GREAT REVIEW. I LOVE YOUR POSTINGS!

    • detroitdvotion May 31, 2014 at 1:26 am #

      Thanks Barbara

      Glad to have you along for the ride!!

  2. Jules June 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    I remember being part of that day, a great day indeed! Thanks for opening the conversation! ^_^

    • detroitdvotion June 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      ‘Twas great having you, plenty more to show you when you’re back in town!

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