DETROIT: Mt. Olivet Cemetery

10 Nov

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Today we are taking a walk through Detroit’s largest cemetery, Mt. Olivet; opened in 1888 it’s part of the Mt. Elliot family of cemeteries. Located on Van Dyke, straddling Outer Drive, 300 acres of lawns and gardens are the final resting place for both notable and ordinary citizens. The names of cultural, political and business leaders are carved into headstones, mausoleums and monuments; Polish, Italians, Germans and Belgians are grouped together. Military burials date from the Civil War to Vietnam. 

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The sheer beauty of an old cemetery in Autumn makes it an extremely appealing place to take a walk. Massive Maples and Oaks are dressed in their finest colors giving us a grand finale before Winter takes hold. It’s like wandering through a park filled with stories, art and tranquility. The grass is deep green, relishing the recent rain and cooler temperatures, fallen leaves litter the ground, deep red begonias are still hanging on. Near the entrance a towering statue of Jesus on the cross overlooks the grounds, this was originally a Catholic cemetery. We traverse the uneven ground going from one private mausoleum to another; here’s a name we recognize, Albert Fisher, pioneer of the auto industry and uncle to the 7 Fisher brothers who founded Fisher Body. The simple structure has lovely ornate doors, look straight through, there’s a beautiful stained glass window with an angel.

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Most of the mausoleums are fitted with lavish doors or grates, many with unique stained glass in back, some have simple Doric columns, others look as if they’re constructed of rough rock, a few look Egyptian. Live plants still occupy urns, burning bushes are just starting to turn, squirrels run about like this is their playground. There are large family plots with one big headstone bearing the family name, blooming roses embellish the Healy family plot. The Thomas Grant obelisk is unusual in that it is rounded; time, weather and probably pollution have created an attractive shadow to the carved areas. Long, flat gravestones look like concrete doors into the Earth. There are numerous statues throughout, more so than most cemeteries I think. In many cases, it’s a group of statues, like an entire family is mourning the deceased. It’s sad to see missing hands, fingers, heads.

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We get back in the Jeep taking the narrow private road through the tunnel under Outer Drive, we’re now on the opposite side. We are greeted by the Garden Of The Rosary surrounded by finely manicured shrubs. Again we walk. We take our time, look at every detail; the ornate patterns carved into the stone, stained glass windows set into glossy white marble walls, expressions on the faces of statues, stone robes that seem to flow over the pedestal their mounted on, the way the lavish wrought iron has taken on a certain patina through the decades. There is a peacefulness here, I feel like I can just keep walking.

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Some of the more well-known people laid to rest here include Major League Baseball players Jimmy Barrett, Joe Lafata, Cass Michaels and Maurice Van Robays. Pianist Joe Hunter, 3-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers and actor Tom Tyler who played ‘Captain Marvel’ in the 1941 movie with the same name can also be found here. Politicians include congressmen Robert Clancy and senator Patrick McNamara. Race car driver William “Shorty” Cantlon was killed during the running of the 1947 Indy 500. I found this especially interesting, Rose M Gacioch, a player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball  League is here. She pitched for the Rockford IL Peaches, Rosie O’Donnell played her in the film A League Of Their Own. There is also a number of notorious crime figures here, including members of the Detroit Mob; really fascinating stuff.

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We have reached the Garden Mausoleum, the field-stone structure was constructed some time in the 1950’s. Concrete pathways lead us through the courtyards, annuals are still blooming, shrubs a perfectly shaped, this section has a statue of St Matthew. We peek into the chapel, hallways are lit by skylights, they lead us past stained glass windows, crypts and colorful mosaics. We pass from one area to the next; St Peter, St Anne, St Catherine, St Thomas and on it goes. Here and there on the walkways antique-looking jars hold lit candles, fresh flowers lay nearby; a tribute to those gone but not forgotten.

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The Polish Army Veterans Monument is situated between trees, the inscription is in Polish. We find names of other Poles in the immediate area. Meandering further we see mausoleums constructed of thickly veined marble with Art Nouveau accents–gorgeous. I see a gravestone in the distance I must get a closer look at, the large stone face is intricately carved with an entire scene; a woman prays at a grave site surrounded by towering trees, it’s amazing. These days cemeteries are much more open to the idea of people coming to enjoy the peacefulness, going for a walk, taking in the beauty. Mt Olivet even hosts the annual Sunrise Run and Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time to eat.

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It’s just a hop and a skip to Hamtramck, Polish food sounds good, our favorite Polish restaurant is Polish Village Cafe. It’s between lunch and dinner so getting a table is easy. No need for a menu, we know it by heart. We start with bottles of Zywiec Porter, so smooth, so good. Next we eat cups of dill pickle soup, I like to dip pieces of sourdough bread in mine. We divvy up the Polish Plate and Potato Pancakes eating under white lights wrapped in leaf garland draped from beam to beam, the decor changes with the season. What never changes is the deliciousness of the food, the warmth and hospitality of the staff. It always feels like home. 

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One Response to “DETROIT: Mt. Olivet Cemetery”

  1. Mike Ricketts November 10, 2016 at 10:19 pm #

    All my mom’s older relatives are in there.

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