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No ghosts, no goblins … Halloween tour salutes Woodlawn Cemetery’s history

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Weather willing, at least 25 history lovers will tromp through Woodlawn Cemetery on October 29  to learn more about the final resting place of Rosa Parks, the Dodge Brothers, Edsel and Eleanor Ford, Hazen Pingree and James Couzens, among other notables whose names represent schools, roads and buildings of Detroit.

Preservation Detroit offers its seventh annual tour of Woodlawn, which has the most personal mausoleums of any marble garden in the metro area. The tour starts at 2 p.m. at the Woodlawn Cemetery office. You have to purchase tickets in advance. There is also a tour on November 5. Click here to find out more.

“People find great history, architecture and art, especially those buried around what we call millionaire pond,” says Kathleen Marcaccio, tour leader for Preservation Detroit, the leading historical organization in Detroit.

Rosa Parks Final resting place

Rosa Parks Final resting place

Those who might expect Cole Turner, the handsome demon of the Charmed series to pop out of a mausoleum or Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker to float up on broomsticks as they did in “Hocus Pocus” may be disappointed on this Halloween tour. Marcaccio says it is all about history.

“This isn’t a haunted cemetery tour, it is a chance to see fall colors, the art on the headstones, the wildlife that populate the place all year long,” Marcaccio says.

The 140-acre site at Woodlawn was incorporated in 1895 and opened in 1896. It was developed by horticulturist Frank Eurich, who also developed Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio, according to the book, Detroit’s Woodlawn Cemetery by A. Dale Northrup.

Indeed, Northrup says, “Woodlawn can be viewed collectively as an outdoor museum, taking into consideration the very best and most beautiful of the architecture of past civilizations. He notes the mausoleums are above ground structures made of granite to withstand the elements for centuries to come and created by artisan hands in Greek revival, Roman revival and Egyptian styles.

One of the most famous crypts houses the remains of early auto pioneers John and Horace Dodge. The brothers died in 1920 and 1921. They reside in an Egyptian revival, pyramid-like structure with two matching sphinxes guarding the entrance, a majestic entrance with four papyrus-topped columns using the bold lettering found on Dodge advertisements.


Egyptian revival Dodge mauseleum

Millionaires Lake

Millionaires Lake

If there isn’t a ghost, there is a swindler, according to Norman Sinclair, a 30-year journalist for the Detroit News who broke numerous stories about a $70 million scam involving Woodlawn and 27 other cemeteries that eventually sent two individuals to jail on 39 counts of embezzlement.

The biggest culprit was Clayton R. Smart who pleaded guilty to cemetery trust fund scandals in Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Culprits stole the maintenance funds from Woodlawn resulting in green mold creeping up the family mausoleums, crumbling asphalt roads and disintegrating pillars in the late 1990s. Despite warnings of punishment in the after-life, grave robbers have plundered tombs for centuries. The maintenance continues to improve and new gravestones dot the landscape.

The author’s favorite is the Ernest and Josephine Kanzler plot. The 50-by-50 foot area is built to resemble an 18th century French garden with two marble urns and benches to sit and watch the ducks swim on the lake. Ernst was production manager of Ford Motor Company. Both he and his wife were patrons of modern art at the Detroit Institute of arts.

Come and see more if this beautiful place that speaks of a timeless rest, a salute to those who lived full lives and sought to make structures to live on and on. The tour is open to Preservation Detroit members at $16 and nonmembers at $20. Wear walking shoes to get the full experience of this beautiful place.

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