DETROIT: Woodlawn Cemetery

28 Oct

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There’s a place in Detroit where city fathers, industrialists, bankers and politicians reside alongside social activists, writers and musicians–many of which changed the face of our country. A city of sorts, spread out across 140 acres of gentle rolling hills, towering trees, a body of water nicknamed Millionaires Pond; where obelisks reach toward the sky, deer and geese roam the grounds and private mausoleums house families whose names are found on street signs and buildings all over Detroit. I’m talking about Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodward between 7 and 8 Mile roads. Established in 1895, the first burial took place in 1896, to date there are over 71,000 interred here. This is one of the largest collections of private mausoleums in the country.

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Kris and I have always enjoyed walking through historic cemeteries; visiting Woodlawn is a bit like strolling through a local history museum that just happens to be in a beautiful park-like setting; peaceful, serene. In my opinion Autumn is the absolute best time to come, trees are painted brilliant colors, the temperature is just right for meandering. The simple entrance gives no clue to the magnificent mausoleums and gravestones contained on the grounds. Most structures are granite, designed in the Egyptian, Greek or Roman Revival styles of architecture. From the late 19th to the early 20th centuries the monument industry thrived in America.

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We first stop at the Greek Revival style Hecker mausoleum, resting on a  hill this is the only building on the grounds with a marble exterior; Hecker was a railroad car manufacturer, his lovely Chateau-style mansion still sits on the corner of Woodward and E Ferry. Many mausoleums have striking, elegantly detailed, bronze grill work doors, they have acquired the perfect patina over the decades. Stained glass windows are another popular feature, we go right up to the doors and peer inside, if the sun is shining just right the colors glow, lighting up the interior. The Mills mausoleum is an impressive structure, done in the French Beaux Arts style it reflects the wealth the Mills family amassed organizing Detroit Stove Works, the Banner Tobacco Company and First National Bank, he was also Mayor of Detroit in 1866 and 67.

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Traversing the grounds leaves crunch under our feet, geese scatter, squirrels chase one another; colorful hydrangea trees decorate the setting. Each name we read is familiar: Hudson, Booth, Grinnell, Ford, Groesbeck, Pingree. Members of the Four Tops, Miracles, Temptations, Funk Brothers, Winans and Spinners are laid to rest here along with family members of Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin. The Egyptian style Dodge mausoleum is guarded by two large sphinxes, four papyrus-topped columns flank the doorway. Brothers John and Horace died 11 months apart and are reunited here. Next door John’s wife Matilda and her second husband Alfred Wilson are laid to rest, the Art Deco style building has amazing entrance doors and a sculptural medallion done by sculptor Corrado Parducci, really take the time to look at the detail.

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The lake is surrounded by European-style garden memorials, the most impressive belonging to the Kanzler family. The plot is 50′ by 50′, reminiscent of an 18th century French formal garden, the sarcophagus is carved from one piece of French marble, so elegant and pastoral. Kanzler worked with Henry Ford at FMC then went on to organize the Guardian Detroit Bank with Edsel Ford; his wife Josephine was the sister of Edsel’s wife Eleanor Clay, and J. L Hudson was their uncle– how’d you like to move around in those circles? Across the way a tall arch topped with an obelisk looks out onto the lake.

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One beautiful memorial after another, they are stately, grand, reflecting the stature of the deceased; clearly I cannot talk about all of them, but here are a few more of our favorites. C. J. Whitney has a distinctly Art Nouveau design, he is credited with bringing the first motion picture projection to Michigan in 1896. James Couzens mausoleum was designed by Albert Kahn, it is one of the largest in the Detroit area and is considered to be a mini-version of the Parthenon. A bronze statue of a woman mourns for W. H. Harrison, her anguish obvious; today fresh flowers rest in her arms. The bronze Bowen gravestone resembles an Italian Renaissance sarcophagus, it has aged gloriously, dripping with patina, pilasters have claw-foot bottoms, it was designed by Paul Phillipe Cret, the architect who designed the DIA. At one time Bowen was president of Cadillac then went on to become president of D. M Ferry Seed Company, his house remains at 5435 W0odward Ave. 

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We enter the main public mausoleum, built in 1941 it has a more Modern/Art Deco look about it inside. In a series of hallways individuals are entombed in the walls, there are small rooms where families are grouped together, their name engraved above the doorway; each a symbol of the personal style of the family with a particular marble, lighting and elaborate stained glass windows. The windows are stunning! Angels, landscapes, religious scenes, colorful patterns and flowers are just some of the designs. Urns rest on marble shelves in glass-windowed cabinets, carpet covers the floors, it’s so quiet in here. In the chapel area pews, lectern and walls are the light-colored wood popular at the time; the Our Father is beautifully carved into panels.

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Again we see more recognizable names like Whitcomb (Belle Isle Conservatory), Mel Farr, Fruehauf. We take a stairway to the second floor, at the end of the corridor Stanley S Kresge is laid to rest, stained glass windows in rich colors are religious in nature. When we are finished we proceed to the basement level, maintenance is in the process of replacing letters that have fallen off through the years. Large gravestones accompany the traditional mausoleum walls. Time has passed quickly, it has been fascinating traveling through Detroit history. 

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Just a short drive away is Kuzzo’s Chicken and Waffles located on Livernois between 7 Mile and Outer Drive, we arrive just after 3 pm and the place is packed!  Open for less than a year their creative menu of southern comfort food keeps people coming back. The place is very attractive inside; red walls, open ceiling, funky floors, great art, very cool.We are seated at the only open table, I look around to see what surrounding diners are eating–everything looks delicious. Our server drops off our drinks, takes our order and reminds us everything is made to order from scratch, so it takes a little time. The crowd thins out after 3:30 and our food arrives.

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Ok, so we went a little crazy ordering, that’s what take-home boxes are for….Here goes: The Big Red is a red velvet Belgian waffle served with a scoop of cream cheese icing in the center, a side cup of bourbon maple syrup, 3 large, hand-breaded, luscious chicken tenders and a side–we are having collard greens. Every single item is outstanding, and the bourbon maple syrup, well, you’re gonna have to try it for yourself! Biscuits and Gravy are the ultimate comfort food, we got 2 buttery, crispy on the outside-flaky on the inside biscuits and a bowl of chicken gravy, over-the-top good! Then there’s the LALA, it comes with a waffle, this one has tiny little squares that really hold onto the melted butter and syrup, 2 eggs, ours are scrambled and a cup of cheese grits, yum! I can see why the restaurant is so popular.

One Response to “DETROIT: Woodlawn Cemetery”

  1. Joe October 31, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    Wow! Incredible write up. Your knowledge of Detroit families and history is amazing.

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