2615 Francis Street
Jackson, MI 49203
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Woodland Cemetery was established in 1890 when a 25 acre plot of land was purchased from James C. Wood, a landowner and Jackson Michigan’s first mayor, for whom, presumably, the cemetery was named. Its first inhabitants were the reinterred remains of Jackson’s pioneers who had formerly resided at the town’s original cemetery located on Michigan Avenue. Over the years, additional land was purchased so that the cemetery now encompasses 93 acres. Interestingly, Mr. Wood is not buried at his namesake cemetery. Rather, his remains rest peacefully at nearby Mount Evergreen.
In 1919, Woodland erected a community mausoleum. Unhappily, as with many of these structures, time has seen the passing of family members who once visited the crypts. As a result of this, as well as the sad but ever-present threat of vandalism, mausoleums once open to the public are now locked or restricted to access provided by cemetery personnel.
Accordingly, though we were able to photograph the alluring exterior of Woodland Abbey, the delights inside were constrained to the limited view we were able to gain through the windows on the front doors. This afforded us a look at impressive stone supporting columns, archways leading to the tomb’s corridors, and several marble-fronted crypts. Although the abbey probably contains nothing extraordinary, it is yet a pity we could not explore further.
In regard to Woodland’s grounds, they are pleasant enough, featuring quite a bit of greenery and hilly terrain. The exception is the roadway at the rear of the cemetery which borders Saint John’s, a totally uninspired graveyard which looks surprisingly similar to a golf course overtaken by neat little rows of stone anthills!
Of note in the rear corner of Woodland is an area of small, identical white stone markers which bear no names, only numbers. These are the graves of prisoners from the old Southern Michigan Prison Cemetery. When a new incarceration facility was built on the grounds, the remains of inmates from the old prison cemetery were relocated to Woodland. Curiously, we noted two exceptions where newer stones were set in front of the older ones. One was placed by a young man in memory of his grandmother. Another, probably placed by a distant relative, marks the grave of “Baby Marion Summers” who exited this earthly realm on the day of her birth, 19 May, 1916. A call to a very helpful cemetery staff woman revealed the answer to the mystery of “civilian” stones amongst the graves of former prison inmates. Apparently, individuals residing in a welfare home also found their ultimate rest in this tiny section of Woodland.
We also tried to discover the story behind an odd stone in the shape of a lighthouse nestled among a group of pines just in front of the aforementioned prison/welfare plot. Approximately eight feet in height, painted white and surmounted by a flagpole which disappears into the branches of the trees, the “lighthouse” is a curious site. Woodland staff were not able to provide any information but speculated, as did we, that it might be somehow related to the prison and/or welfare burials which lie behind it.
At this point, you may be thinking Woodland sounds pleasant enough, yet still be wondering why it has earned a spot on Bella Morte. Knowing the Proprietors, however, we hope you trust there is indeed a reason. In fact, there are two.
The first is the utterly magnificent and awe-inspiring bronze which marks the grave of William A. Foote, founder of Jackson Electric Light Works (now Consumers Energy). Entitled “Memory,” the sculpture was commissioned by Mr. Foote’s wife, Ida, following her husband’s death in 1915. The image was crafted by famed American sculptor, Lorado Taft. Taft himself so favoured “Memory” that the area where his own ashes were scattered in Illinois’ Elmwood Township Cemetery is now marked by a small bronze casting of the sculpture.
Although she has no wings, “Memory” is known as the “Foote Memorial Angel,” owing perhaps to the wing-like appearance of her upswept cape. She was molded in bronze in New York after having first been cast in Vermont granite. She is at least twice life size and sits atop a bench from which she leans forward as if about to rise. Her left hand clasps the edge of an unfurled scroll which lies across her lap. In her right hand she holds a stylus. Although her size and general beauty endear her to one immediately, her most captivating feature is her face. Gentle and serene, her head wreathed in laurel, gaze focused in the distance, she appears to hold within herself some happy secret. Perhaps she pauses to reflect on the deeds of the gentleman she memorializes before recording those deeds on her scroll. Or perhaps her gaze is focused on a vision of a beautiful world beyond this one. One wonders over the talent of Mr. Taft…and over the inspiration that must have enveloped him as he sculpted this amazing work of art. It must have been a proud day for him indeed when he attended the dedication of this acclaimed monument.
Now to Woodland’s darker side. Namely, the Dr. William H. Palmer mausoleum.
From a distance, the Palmer mausoleum impresses. With two stone angels standing sentinel outside the entrance, its façade and roof covered in ornate carvings, the structure seems a Victorian vision. As you approach, however, that vision becomes somewhat disquieting.
Two metal signs outside the building declare:
Do not climb on
or around building
Indeed, a missing stone in the mausoleum’s cupola offers easy passage to the ravages of the elements. One can only imagine the havoc this has wreaked on the building’s interior. Meanwhile, a crumbling foundation has caused the façade to pitch forward at an uneasy angle, subjecting those who stand before it to the disquieting notion that the whole thing may collapse at any moment.
Perhaps the structure’s decay is the manifestation of a spirit not at rest within. You see, though the mausoleum bears the name of Dr. William H. Palmer, his remains are interred at nearby Mount Evergreen Cemetery where they lie beside the body of his first wife, Mary Redpath. Upon her demise, the good doctor remarried, this time to one Mary Wolcott. Notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Palmer predeceased his second wife, he is buried beside the first Mrs. Palmer. Perhaps this unsettled wife number two, Mrs. Wolcott Palmer, to the extent her unhappiness followed her beyond the grave. Of course, her spirit may also have been left ill at ease by the fact that she met her death at the hands of her own son-in-law, John Carson, who shot her to death on Francis Street in 1915 owing to a dispute over cattle!
Whatever stories one might conjure, the sad reality is that the once grandiose Palmer mausoleum has now fallen into a dismal state of disrepair. Some believe that money left for the upkeep of the structure was placed in a general fund long since used for other projects around the cemetery. Descendants do not have the money to pay for the repairs themselves. Cemetery staff stated that an estimate, given twenty years ago, calculated the cost of repairs to be upwards of $500,000 as it would require the dismantling of the mausoleum, stone by stone, the completion of the requisite repairs, and the labour-intensive reassembly.
Sadly, it seems this impressive monument is doomed. All the more reason to visit while it still stands. Of course, “Memory” alone is cause enough to place Woodland on one’s list of cemeteries to visit while in the area.