Sunday, September 9, 2012

Oak Hill Cemetery Tour - 9/8/12

The Grand Rapids Historical Society offers the occasional cemetery tour, and today it featured the southern half of this historic place. It was led by the very knowledgeable Thomas Dilley who is a  veritable fount of information.
Upon entering the park-like setting, one is immediately struck by this almost outlandish pyramid, a dramatic tribute by a wife to her husband. The family mausoleum has space for 12 but holds 5, and is likely to remain in this condition as all family is now gone.
We all would have loved to get a peek inside but the entrance is chained (as are all the other mausoleums) because of breaking and entering by vandals.
This little mausoleum is unusual for two reasons, it's made of brick and no one knows anything about the family that resides here. Damaged by a tree fall, it's being repaired by volunteers.  
The face of the crowd listening, and kneeling to read inscriptions on a zinc marker. Here's one of them from Thomas Payne: "The world is my country. To do good is my religion."
The Morris mausoleum, mother and daughter shown in their sorrow.
Red sandstone structure, complete with bench.
Creeping shadows and rust, 
Just waiting...
Kendall is a well-known name in Grand Rapids and their family plot is graced with one of the most unique markers in the cemetery. It's covered with engravings that reflect the family members' interests and also lists some of their Mayflower relatives.
Towering markers, 
The one that towers over everything, however, is the Melville Bissel monument. Bissel famously invented the Bissel carpet sweeper and now lies here with his family.
A small, marble headstone marks the grave of a child. Marble does not weather well and many old, marble markers everywhere are now illegible. 
This is a very sad family plot that signifies the premature death of children by the branches cut off of the limestone tree trunk. Small logs lie nearby to mark the graves.
I don't know the White family story and our tour didn't include it, but I found it to be a most impressive building.
Another perspective of the pyramid, and just another perspective.
The most sordid story that emanates from this section of the cemetery is that of the Peck family. When they met the Grand Rapids native, Dr. Arthur Waite, he changed their lives forever, mostly by shortening a few of them. Look up his story (and theirs) by searching for the Playboy Poisoner.
At our last stop, Mr. Dilley was expounding on the contributions made by John Shaw and also on the intricacies and significance of the finely detailed Celtic cross that marks his grave.
He then introduced us to the Grand Rapids City Archivist, Bill Cunningham, who had joined us on the tour (man in the middle with dark hair).
As the two hour tour stretched into its third hour, people started to peel off and this guy just decided to check out.
There were so many people on the tour (I read the next day that there were 400 of us) that photo opportunities of the markers were almost nil. I picked most of mine up after the tour was over. On the whole people were friendly and polite but there was a lot of jostling and crowding, especially in the beginning that made it slightly uncomfortable. 
Ability to hear our tour guide was at times difficult, depending where the portable speaker was facing and how much talking other people were doing (including the tour guide's assistant). Without the wireless microphone, it would have been impossible to hear anything. 

So overall, kudos to Thomas Dilley and the Grand Rapids Historical Society for an interesting and educational tour that included fascinating historical and architectural information. 

Taking its last bow on the way out is this dying Elm tree, set against a gorgeous blue sky and the pyramid. All of the elms will be removed by the end of the year, thanks to the pernicious elm borer. Take a drive through this historic site sometime and definitely catch the next tour.
Ah, and one last note. If you're looking for paranormal activity and stories, Dilley is not your man :)  He received one question in that regard and quickly disposed of it. 

Here's a link to a previous posting regarding searching for ghosts in a cemetery: Looking for Ghosts in Nunica. Send me your stories!

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