Detroit Michigan


Those who frequent the heart of the city of Detroit tread upon the dust of a forgotten population. Three hundred yards back from the river, between St. Antoine street on the east and Cass street on the west, lie the bones of hundreds of former residents. The old cemetery of St. Anne's church adjoined the edifice, and the spot whore Griswold street and Jefferson avenue intersect was in the very center of it.

Nearly all the Detroiters who died during the first century of the city's history are buried there. A few of the graves were marked with stones, but the majority were not. In 1817 the governor and judges granted the parish of St. Anne a new plot, bounded by Cadillac square, Larned, Bates and Randolph streets, on condition that the original site of the church and cemetery be dedicated to the town. Some of the dead were removed to the new cemetery, but many were left to be exhumed by the workmen who afterward laid the foundations for buildings in the old ground. It is even asserted that some of the tombstones were broken up and used in the foundations of buildings now standing on Jefferson avenue.

During the British regime in Detroit the space on the east side of Woodward avenue, bounded by Congress, Bates and Larned streets, was used as a burial place for the English and other Protestant residents. Some of these remains were removed when the English cemetery was granted by the governor and judges to the First Protestant Society for church purposes, and the others were removed from their resting place by the builders of the churches, which were erected on that block between 1820 and 1830.

To provide more room for the dead, as they were crowded out by the living, the city purchased a plat of two and one half acres from Antoine Beaubien in 1827. This Beaubien purchase lay between Beaubien and Hastings streets. Its southern boundary was about on the present line of Clinton street, and its northern boundary was perhaps 100 feet south of Gratiot avenue. The ground is now occupied by the Municipal Court building, St. Mary's Hospital, the Detroit College of Medicine, the Health office and Clinton part. Antoine street was extended through the plat. This cemetery was divided into two equal parts, which were separated by a fence. One-half was used by the Protestant residents and the other by the Catholics, This burial place was kept in a respectable condition for the first time in the history of city cemeteries. In 1850 this cemetery was found to be too close to the center of the town, and another purchase was made on Russell street, a short distance north of Gratiot avenue. This was supposed to be sufficiently remote for all time, but the Eastern Market and the Detroit House of Correction now occupy the ground. The bodies were removed to Elmwood and Mt. Elliott Cemeteries on the bank of Bloody Run, and Woodmere Cemetery on the bank of the River Rouge. In addition to the cemeteries already mentioned there was another hastily improvised cemetery on the west side of Woodward avenue. After the battle of the Thames, as already stated, a force of 1,100 men were gathered at Detroit to prevent any attempt at recapture on the part of the British. Of course the accommodations were inadequate for such an army, and a little village of cabins was erected for the soldiers. It was located on the north and west sides of Fort Shelby, That winter a deadly epidemic attacked the camp and before it subsided several hundred soldiers died. As there was not room for them in the English burying ground on Woodward avenue, between Larned and Congress streets, the dead were buried in the ground to the west of the military cantonment. Some of the dead were removed in 1826, but it was too soon after the epidemic, and the soil being saturated with the germs of disease, another epidemic broke out among the citizens, and the work was stopped. One of the victims was Henry J. Hunt, then mayor of the city. The greater part of these dead bodies are still lying beneath the basements of the buildings between Michigan avenue and Fort, Cass and Griswold streets.

Mt. Elliott Cemetery was established in the eastern part of the city and opened in the fall of 1841. The dead were transferred there from St. Anne's churchyard and the Catholic plot in the city cemetery during the war of the Rebellion. Mt. Elliott contains fifty-three acres, lying between Waterloo and Macomb streets, Mt. Elliott avenue and Elmwood Cemetery, and in it are the remains of 38,000 persons.

The Catholic parishes have begun improving; a new burial ground of 225 acres, situated at North Detroit, which is known as Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

When the Russell street cemetery was discontinued a number of citizens banded together and purchased forty-one acres of land, which now fronts on Elmwood avenue, lying along the banks of Bloody Run. It was opened in 1846. A few of the bodies in the old city cemetery were removed to Elmwood, as the new cemetery was named, but the city removed 17,000 bodies to a tract of cheaper land on the banks of the Rouge River near the old shipyard of Revolutionary days. The ground was afterward called Woodmere Cemetery. Later purchases increased the Elmwood Cemetery tract to eighty acres, extending from Waterloo with 150 feet of Champlain Street. In this cemetery 33,000 bodies have been interred up to date (1898).

In the early days religious distinctions were rigidly observed. If a Protestant married a Catholic wife, the wife would be buried in the consecrated ground of Mt. Elliott and the husband in Elmwood, but the old prejudices are dying out, although neither Catholic or Protestant have lost any of their grace. Occasionally a good Catholic is laid beside husband or wife in Elmwood, and the officiating priest consecrates the grave. Since the two have dwelt together during life under different creeds in peace and happiness, the church, which has grown kinder, gentler and holier than of old, does not like to part husband and wife in the grave. In connection with the removal of the bodies from the cemetery on Antoine street, the persons in charge met a singular obstruction. In ground which is now occupied by St. Antoine street, immediately in front of St. Mary's hospital, stood a rude slab of slate, weather stained, moss grown and sadly out of plumb. It marked a sunken grave which was surfaced with cobblestones. The inscription, borrowed from that on Shakespeare's tomb but somewhat altered, read;

"In memory of Nathaniel Hickok, who died of cholera October 6, 1832:

" Good Friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust interred here;
Blest be the man who spares these stones,
And curse be that moves my bones."

The grave diggers engaged in the work would sidle up to the grave, spell out the inscription and then move away to some other lowly mound to dig. In a short time every workman on the job had read the inscription and had accepted it as a personal injunction. In vain the bosses ordered them to the task of opening the grave; the men refused to disturb either stones or bones, and for weeks that lone grave stood in the way of public improvements. According to the traditions of the Elmwood grave-diggers, a gentleman of the spade and mattock, who was fond of stimulants, was induced to undertake the task by the promise of extra rewards, but it is probable that the removal was obtained by keeping the workman in ignorance of the inscription. Nathaniel Hickok's hones lay for thirty years in the city cemetery, and they have rested peacefully in Elmwood for thirty-five.

In 1869 Woodmere Cemetery, on the banks of the Rouge River, was opened for interments, and, as already stated, it started with the transfer of 17,000 bodies from the city cemetery. The tract covers 202 acres, and is divided in halves by a bayou of the sluggish river. Since 1869 the original interments have numbered 30,000, making a total of 47,000.

Forest Lawn Cemetery is a new burial plat of 100 acres opened at North Detroit.

Most recent of all is the Woodward Lawn Cemetery of 130 acres, located on the west side of Woodward avenue, beyond the Seven Mile road. It is the intention of the promoters to make this cemetery one of the most beautiful spots about Detroit,

The Lutheran Cemetery, situated on a tract of ten acres on Mt. Elliott avenue, between Palmer and Earnsworth avenues, was dedicated on Pentecost day, Sunday, 1868. It was owned by Trinity German Lutheran church, and governed by a cemetery board. Provision has been made for the perpetual maintenance of the cemetery after all the lots are filled.

The Jewish (orthodox) Cemetery is located on the north side of Smith avenue, west of Chene street. The Sha'are Zedek congregation purchased the property, consisting of one find one-half acres, on June 22, 1862, for $450. In 1881 a tract of 60 by 132 feet, facing on Smith avenue, was sold to the Casher Shell Barzel Society for $200, and the latter society sold it to the Congregation Beth Jacob in 1884 for the same price. On May 29, 1891, the Sha'are Zedek congregation purchased 53 by 113 feet of adjoining land, facing the south side of Harrah avenue, for $1,000.

The Beth. El(reform)congregation commenced a cemetery of land adjoining Elmwood in 1830. In 1873 the congregation acquired a section of Woodmere Cemetery, and its deceased members have since been buried there. The Free Sons of Israel have also a plot in the same cemetery.

The Detroit Crematorium, for the incineration of the dead, was completed in 1837. It is located on the south side of Lafayette avenue, between Govin street and Springwells avenue. It was erected by the Michigan Cremation Association, a society established through the efforts of Dr. Hugo Erichson, seconded by Moses W. Field, Dr. James F. Noyes, Frank Footc, Dr. Justin E. Emerson and others. The land, building and equipment cost nearly $7,500, and since its inception about 300 bodies have been cremated. The society is prosperous, having over $1,000 in the treasury.