WHITE CHAPEL MEMORIAL PARK CEMETERY
621 West Long Lake Road
Troy, MI. 48098
Established: circa 1920
Official Web Site
Bella Morte Rating: 1 Tombstone
Seeing the words, “memorial park,” taphophiles everywhere might be filled with a sense of aesthetic dread when encountering the name of this particular burial ground. Indeed, its 200 acres are very nearly flat with a few “punctuation marks” in the form of stock outdoor columbaria complete with similarly-stock names like “Guardian Angel,” “Garden of Peace,” or “Fountain of Eternal Memories.” Throw in a handful of unremarkable statues (there is one gorgeous exception about which you shall soon learn), a few trees, several “gardens” and a flagpole and that pretty much sums up ninety-percent of White Chapel.
The cemetery’s most notable feature is the “Temple of Memories,” a sprawling white marble mausoleum that also houses a crematorium numbered among the country’s earliest.
Upon entering the building, we found ourselves in the “Great Hall.” The sheer size of it is, admittedly, impressive as are its artistic features, including bronze appointments and, at the ceiling, the lovely “Window of Destiny.” This depicts the Fates: Clothe, Lachesis and Atropos who (respectively) spin, fix the length, and cut, the “thread of life.” These are surrounded by the symbols of the Zodiac.
Other examples of beautiful stained glass can be seen throughout the Temple and include a series with the following names: Hope, Justice, Temperance, Forgiveness, Liberality, Love, Purity, Truth and Knowledge.
At regular intervals, the rather pedestrian halls of crypts are punctuated by soaring bronze columbaria. Unfortunately, most of the niches are simply sealed with bronze nameplates, but those with glass fronts are things of exceptional beauty. Several, capable of containing the cremains of a number of family members, are still available for sale. Were one in the unenviable position of having to choose White Chapel Memorial Park for his/her place of eternal rest, we can think of no better choice than one of the glass front niches in the Temple of Memories.
The sameness of hallways in the Temple is also occasionally broken by a series of private family crypts. Though none were particularly awe-inspiring, several did feature attractive stained glass or some other distinguishing feature, the most surprising of which was a faux-fireplace complete with mantel, hearth and Victorian screen.
Elsewhere, we were surprised to find a wall containing 35 crypts reserved exclusively for the entombment of deceased infants and children. This was the first time we had ever encountered a “Babyland” comprised of mausoleum crypts. All are faced in pink and white marble and many, as one might suppose, feature parents’ words of endearment permanently affixed beneath the names and dates of their dead children.
After winding our way through the long corridors, passing through several unremarkable chapels, noting the beauty of the windows, columbaria and certain private crypts, but similarly observing the sadly-dated furnishings that seem to be omnipresent in older community mausoleums, we descended to the basement. There, at the mausoleum’s center, we encountered two large wooden doors above which bronze letters proclaimed: CREMATORIUM.
The room within is one of simple elegance. Beautifully polished marble floors reflect the slightly-yellowed light cast by two torchiers set at each side of the crematoria. These are guarded by heavy bronze double-doors that lend an added air of dignity to the already-comely room. In the opposite corners, two large vases, illuminated from within and decorated with the face of a man who might be on of the gods-of-old, cast a soothing, golden light.
Just beyond the crematorium, a short hallway connects to a newer addition which contains a number of glass-front niches.
Following a visit to the Temple of Memories, looking out across the flat, grass-covered plane that is White Chapel, anyone interested in the Victorian aesthetic might be tempted to flee. Alas, that would be a mistake, for the cemetery does have one truly spectacular sculpture which should not be missed. It is a larger-than-life bronze depicting the Norse god, Odin, as he leads a group of six male and female mourners toward the grave. On their shoulders, but also supported by the massive wings of a female angel facing backwards at the rear of the procession, is the corpse of a beautiful woman. The base of the sculpture bears the words: “Until the Dawn: By Odin’s will, life's virtues, keeping watch through peaceful sleep, await the dawn.” The piece is truly breathtaking.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves unable to discover anything about its designer and how it came to be in such a dismal place as White Chapel. Of course, keeping in mind the beauty of the Temple of Memories it may well be that White Chapel’s origins were far more glorious, and the hopes of its founders more seemly, than those who came after and, in the interest of “efficiency,” turned it into a golf course.
Speaking of which…though the cemetery appears to be well-maintained and the grass mowed constantly, it seems the grounds-keeping does not extend to trimming the grass so that it doesn’t grow over the multitude of flat stones. In many places we walked, there were large spaces which appeared to be empty of graves, but a little exploration revealed buried markers.
Finally, for those who are sympathetic to the cause of alleviating misery at the request of those who are suffering, a stop at Dr. Jack Kevorkian’sgrave may be in order.