Woodlawn Cemetery (Detroit)
March 30, 2018
By: Cassandra Litten
Cemeteries have never frightened me. When I was a kid, driving along the interstate with my family, we would pass the cemetery where my dad's brother is buried (and now both of my grandparents) and I remember feeling a strange sort of comfort.
That's the place where Uncle Danny is, why would I ever be afraid of it?
But it wasn't until I ventured into Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery that I realized how much there is to discover and appreciate in these sacred places.
Nestled against the Green Acres neighborhood at 8 Mile and Woodward, Woodlawn was established in 1895. Over a century on, it is one of the most well-known cemeteries in the city, hundreds of local and national legends buried within its hallowed walls, including Rosa Parks, Edsel and Eleanor Ford, and Levi Stubbs.
Designed by civil engineer Mason L. Brown and horticulturist Frank Eurich, Woodlawn is a masterpiece of trees, hills, hidden lakes and marble mausoleums. Upon entering the gate, you are met with the office, a gothic-revival structure that sets the tone for the rest of the cemetery. A fork in the road allows you the choice of going left or right, but the circular pathways will end up taking you to the same places. Personally, I always choose the path to the right because it's more cinematic and my melodramatic side loves that. Instead of a basic section of headstones, you are faced with a beautiful, imposing mausoleum at the end of the path.
The crypts are undoubtedly the most memorable part of Woodlawn. They are abundant, unique and situated in a way that is reminiscent of an real life neighborhood. The names etched into these forever homes are easily recognizable, particularly to those in Detroit: Dodge, Ford, Hudson, Couzens, etc. To some, these may appear ostentatious - an unbelievable show of wealth, even in death. But to someone like me, who has had their entire death plan figured out for almost a decade (plant my body in the ground so I become a tree and then erect a stunning monument in my honor - Pinterest board of examples will be forthcoming. If that doesn't work out, just throw me in the trash.), they make perfect sense.
A sprawling 140 acres and certified arboretum, Woodlawn is more aesthetically pleasing than most ordinary parks. The grounds crew keeps meticulous care of the landscape, making it a worthy place to visit any time of year. In the spring, trees and flowers are blossoming, in summer the cicadas are humming, in the fall, the muted orange and red trees and the low fog surpass your spookiest Halloween dreams, and in the winter, blankets of fresh, often untouched snow cover everything in sight.
What I appreciate the most about a place like Woodlawn is its peace. Apart from the honking of geese or the occasional car tires creeping slowly along the pathways, it is utterly silent. A cemetery satisfies both my desire to be outdoors and my anxiety-driven need to be away from too many people.
The funny bit here is that, of course, I'm surrounded by people in a cemetery.
Luckily they are, for the most part, very silent companions.