One of the state’s oldest cemeteries is in Detroit on the near eastside. It’s called Elmwood Cemetery, and it was established in 1846. The site features rolling hills, many giant trees, and a natural creek that runs through the west side of the property. There are a series of winding, hilly roads that follow the slopes of the land, making for a peaceful, leisurely bicycle ride. It was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and New York City’s Central Park.
Along the winding small roads are thousands of headstones ranging from simple, small granite markers, to large, ornate marble monuments with beautiful statues incorporated on the tops of them. There are also large family mausoleums built into the sides of the natural rolling valleys found there. The historic cemetery is the resting place for many of the city’s most prominent families, local politicians, as well as former governors and senators.
Elmwood is a great place to visit year around, but for me one of the best times of the year to check out this park-like cemetery is mid to late-spring. Not only have the leaves just populated the tree limbs, but the grass has turned a vibrant green creating a pleasant contrast against the darker colored grave markers.
Another reason I like visiting the place in the springtime is because of Memorial Day. It’s a day when many of the tombstones have American flags mounted on sticks that are stuck in the ground next to them. The flags mark the graves of those that have served our country.
Memorial Day is an exceptional place at Elmwood. Not only because of who is buried at the site, but because the holiday originated there. According to the Cemetery’s website, “History books state that Memorial Day, originally designated as Decoration Day, was first celebrated in Detroit in 1869. However, Detroit’s first observance of the holiday actually occurred one year earlier on May 30, 1868 at Elmwood Cemetery.” I never would have guessed Memorial Day started there.
What also makes this place special to me is the Civil War burial area. That is a dedicated burial area for those who fought in the Civil War, one of our country’s most relevant wars. There appears to hundreds of the old Civil War markers in that section, all dated in the mid-1800s. It is also one of the few places in the United States where the American flag is flown continuously as a memorial to those patriots.
The old historic cemetery a good place to spend a little time and reflect on the history of this country and to think about those who have died in the line of duty. Not only war veterans, but police officers, firefighters, EMS technicians, and others that risk their lives on a daily basis to keep us safe. After all, cemeteries are memorial parks to all who are buried there.