Cemeteries are part of city’s heritage

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – Friday, May 28, 1976

Cemeteries are part of city’s heritage

By Mike Hughes, Staff Writer

They are sprawling pieces of Lansing history.

There are 38,000 people buried there, including R.E. Olds and James Turner and J. W. Knapp and Howard Stoddard and E. W. Sparrow and a young drowning victim whose name is still unknown.

THERE’S A soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War and a soldier who fought with Sherman in the Civil War and long rows of soldiers who fought in other wars.

There are simple old headstones now marred and broken and unreadable. And there are giant memorials, shaped like houses and towers and trees and angels.

There are quiet, powerful signs of the devastation of war and disease.

LANSING’S city-owned cemeteries are all spruced up, ready to greet the rush of Memorial Day visitors.

This is the high time of the year for the cemeteries,” Parks Director Ted Haskell said. “I think it used to be just people visiting veterans’ graves, but now it seems like a general time for everyone to visit the cemetery.”

Howard Cannady, who is in charge of the cemeteries agrees, “We’ve had quite a crowd here already,” he said. “Tuesday, we had to empty the trash cans twice.”

NOT ALL of those visitors are there because of friends or relatives. Some are genealogy buffs. Some simply like to be near solitude and beauty and history.

Solitude? Well, maybe not a North Cemetery, a little old place that has been attacked by progress. Now it has an apartment building towering over one side, busy throughways and brash commercial strips closing in on other sides.

But at the other two, Mt. Hope and Evergreen, there’s a feeling of quiet serenity. There’s a total of nearly 200 acres, with rolling hills, woods and a rural mood.

BEAUTY? BOTH the landscaping and the monuments are often spectacular.

The history? Haskell began noticing that when he started working for the parks department 26 years ago.

His job then was to cut the grass and trim the trees, but he often found himself stopping to read the headstones. “It reminds you of the play ‘Our Town.’ You remember how that was set in a cemetery, with each one having its own story.”

THERE ARE plenty of those stories in the Lansing cemeteries.

Even if you’d never heard of him, for instance, you could tell that Ransom Eli Olds must have been someone special. His large, columned mausoleum is at the top of a hill. To get to it, you walk up a shrub-lined stairway with 17 stone steps. The building has stained-glass windows and a copper door.

By contrast, one recent headstone has no name on it. The young man’s body was found in a river and was not identified. Still, a woman comes and decorates his grave, apparently because she feels someone ought to. This year, she’s planning to bring a flower urn.

AND ANOTHER gravestone tells of a young family, with three children, that was killed in a car accident. At the top of the stone, there are statues of three angels.

The city bought new flags this year for each of the veterans’ graves in area cemeteries: 3,600 of them. “It’s only when all the flags are out like this that you see how great the local involvement was,” Haskell said.

Many of those 3,600 weren’t war victims. But many others were, and part of that story is told at the “Little Arlington” section of Evergreen.

HASKELL AND Cannady walk among the rows of flags there and read the dates on the gravestones – 1944, 1945, 1944. 1944, 1945, 1943, 1945 … on and on. “You know, you hear so much about taxes,” Haskell said. “I suppose this is another kind of tax that a community pays.”

It’s the Little Arlington section that receives the spotlight each Memorial Day weekend.

After World War II, Lansing people began looking for a special memorial. The city agreed to set aside a special hillside spot, with enough room for 125 graves. Some 11,417 people and groups contributed a total of $25,000 for a monument.

THAT MONUMENT, dedicated in 1950, is an imposing sight. It’s a 17 ½-foot, 36-ton spire of Vermont granite. Chiseled on one side are these words: “To those who served their country well and those who died that our ideals of freedom should not be forever lost, this memorial is sincerely and humbly dedicated.”

There will be a parade at 10 a.m. Saturday in downtown Lansing, followed by a quiet noon ceremony at Little Arlington. Then, throughout the long three-day weekend, thousands of people will come to visit.

The cemeteries that thousands will visit this weekend have come a long way since they were first developed more than a century ago.

THE CITY has had a cemetery even before it had any parks. The first one was in what’s now Oak Park, in the northern part of town.

Then, in 1873 the city picked out an obscure spot at what was then the southern city limit. “People thought it was just a hopeless old sand hill,” Haskell says.

With planning and care, that “hopeless sandhill” became Mt. Hope Cemetery, a stunning peace of landscaping. Now it stretches over 84 acres, with 27,500 people buried there. (The Oak Park burials were eventually moved there.)

EVERGREEN WAS added in 1922. It totals 104 acres, with 11,005 burials so far.

And North was added when the city annexed some land from Delhi Township in 1960. It includes 3.77 acres and 356 burials.

Mt. Hope and North are already sold out, although there are still some spots for families that reserved large sections. There are about 500 new burials a year and at this pace Evergreen will be sold out in another 30 years or so.

OVER THE years, the city’s cemetery division has grown into a $250,000-a-year operation, with nine people working full time and 19 other seasonal workers. The interest from the perpetual care fund alone comes to $90,000 a year.

The parks people are in charge, and Haskell says that’s a logical enough combination. The basic elements are the same as in the rest of the parks work – landscaping, maintaining and management.

Haskell, like previous Lansing parks directors, is a forestry graduate who had no background in running a cemetery. But he’s picked it up along the way, and has even written a nationally published pamphlet on cemetery management.

THE CEMETERIES reflect the fact that foresters have been in charge. They offer plush mixtures of different types of trees, shrubs and greens.

And the monuments also provide a visual feast.

At one point, near the entrance of Mt. Hope, huge markers reel off the names that have become famous in Lansing – Olds, Dodge, Turner, Sparrow, Potter, Ranney, Scott, Stoddard, Prudden, etc.

THE JAMES Turner spire towers into the sky. The Prudden mausoleum is huge and imposing. The Dr. George Ranney monument includes a plaque spelling out the colorful highlights of his life – surgeon and prisoner-of-war during the Civil War … Congressional Medal of Honor winner … founder of the state medical society in 1866 … wrote paper in 1874 that first showed the relationship between bad water and typhoid fever outbreaks … etc.

And then there’s the “Little Arlington” monument at Evergreen, towering and dominating. Another inscription there will be seen by a lot of people during the Memorial Day weekend.

By the grace of almighty God may all who pass this way hold sacred in their hearts the memories of those who fought and died that liberty might live.”

*

photo-1976-05-28-Cemeteries are part of city's heritage-Lansing, MI1976-05-28-Cemeteries are part of city's heritage-Lansing, MI

 

 

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