2525 Washington Avenue
Houston, TX 77007
Bella Morte Rating: 5 Tombstones
Though relatively diminutive as compared to other garden cemeteries, upon whose design Glenwood was modeled, this Houston gem does not fail to dazzle. Utilizing every inch of its developed acreage to full advantage, Glenwood is a taphophile’s paradise.
Having exchanged the grasp of an Ohio winter for early Spring in Texas, The Proprietors were immersed in sensory delights from the moment we passed through the lovely ivy-entwined Washington Avenue gate posts. The 1888 fountain, set amidst bright blossoms, and the bridge over a little brook, beckoned us to further exploration – an invitation we readily accepted.
Glenwood’s immaculately-maintained grounds feature numerous statues and sculptures. Due to the relatively mild year-round climate, marble images – so often deteriorated by harsh weather in other areas of the country – are in remarkable repair. Memorial statues which seem to have suffered damage by vandals have been meticulously repaired, most probably due to the fine work of the Glenwood Cemetery Historic Preservation Society.
Just beyond the fountain off Washington Avenue is a lovely garden featuring Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s sculpture, “Roses of Yesterday.” The sculpture depicts a young girl clasping a bouquet of flowers in her right hand. In her left, she holds a sundial. A note from Sotheby’s Auction House when one of the castings of the sculpture came up for auction in May of 2006 reads: "’Roses of Yesterday,’ wrote Frishmuth, ‘I think is my best sundial, originally designed in 1923 as a memorial to Mr. Walden, great lover of children and flowers, the gnomon on the dial is a butterfly symbolizing the fleeting hours.’ The sculpture was cast in an edition of five or six. A cast originally at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens was deaccessioned in 1997 and is now in private hands. Other examples can be found at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart, Indiana, and Mount Evergreen Cemetery in Jackson, Michigan. The location of a fifth cast, previously deposited at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx on behalf of the Wise family, is unknown.”
At Glenwood, the sculpture is the centerpiece of the Sharp Family Plot. Walter Sharp was a partner of Howard Hughes, Sr. Together, they created the Sharp-Hughes Tool Company. Sharp made his fortune following his invention of a tool used in drilling mud which opened the door for him to become one of the Texas oil barons.
(Note: Another of Frishmuth’s sculptures, the awe-inspiring “Aspiration,” can be seen in stone in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery and in bronze in Buffalo, New York’s, Forest Lawn Cemetery.)
The central section of the grounds at Glenwood is predominantly flat, though it does feature a few little valleys which have been used to great advantage by some of the property’s families. Of particular note is the stunning John O’Neil mausoleum tucked gracefully into the sloping hillside, while, across the roadway, the monument of Henry Russell Pitman stands atop the next slope and proudly proclaims its inhabitant’s literal and figurative location “On the hill of forever.”
Flanking the cemetery’s east and west sections are newer areas resembling upscale neighbourhoods. Here, stunning individual family plots have been cut into the hillsides with brick borders and stairways covering the terraced slopes. The Hughes family estate, comprising the final resting places of billionaire Academy Award-winning producer and director, aviator and businessman, Howard Robard Hughes, his mother, Allene Gandi Hughes, and son, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., is surprisingly humble in comparison to some of its Glenwood neighbours.
Not all of Glenwood’s monuments, humble or grand, however, are the work of human hands. Mountain laurel, crape myrtle and other stunning specimen trees dot the grounds. By far, the most magnificent of these are the live oaks - and the queen of them all is the monolithic Cemetery Oak. Tucked in the section of Glenwood furthest from the Washington Avenue gates and abutting Memorial Drive, the Cemetery Oak towers sixty-four feet above the landscape. Her massive branches, each the size of a typical tree trunk, stretch over tombstones lying peacefully in her quiet embrace. Metal supports hold the weight of her low-lying branches while steel cables help to lend stability. The Cemetery Oak is estimated to be at least two hundred years old, a relative youngster by live oak standards. No trip to Glenwood would be complete without a visit to this venerable tree. Be certain to seek her out when you are there.
As regards the history of Glenwood, a plaque outside the Washington Avenue gate, placed by the Texas Historical Commission in 2009, outlines the cemetery’s past:
HOUSTON CEMETERY COMPANY
The Houston Cemetery Company was one of several chartered and private associations promoted by Houston business leaders for the purpose of effecting civic, cultural and economic improvements following the Civil War. Houston Cemetery Company was chartered as a private cemetery company by the state of Texas on May 12, 1871, and the company set out to establish a rural cemetery with beauty and integrity. Several names for the new cemetery were considered, but stockholders and directors finally chose by ballot the name “Glenwood.” The first burial at Glenwood Cemetery occurred on June 19, 1872.
Glenwood Cemetery is an early Texas example of the country cemetery plan first used in the Eastern and Northern United States in the 1830’s. Directors selected property situated between Buffalo Bayou and Washington Avenue interspersed with springs and gullies to achieve the desired pastoral setting. The intended park-like landscape design is reflected in the rambling walks and drives that follow the curvilinear sections situated around a wooded glen and a bridge over a spring-fed gully. The beautiful setting drew Houstonians to Glenwood Cemetery as a place of relaxation and recreation prior to the 1899 establishment of Houston’s first public park, Sam Houston Park.
The Houston Cemetery Company reorganized as the Glenwood Cemetery Association in 1904, and the association was succeeded by Glenwood Cemetery, Inc., in 1969. The Glenwood Cemetery Historic Preservation Foundation was formed in 1999 to preserve the historic heritage of the monuments and grounds of this important Houston landmark.
This summary does not make mention of some of the more colourful highlights of Glenwood’s past, including its horrific mismanagement by one Thomas Tinsley during the years 1893 to 1896. Tinsley, an attorney from New York, managed to obtain majority control of the property and replaced its Board of Directors with individuals who, like himself, were more interested in personal gain than the preservation of the cemetery. The grounds fell into disrepair to the extent that the Washington Avenue entrance bridge became impassable, forcing funerals to enter through the Kane Street gates.
Public outrage and a lawsuit finally forced the Courts to appoint William Christian as Receiver for the cemetery’s assets. Under his leadership, needed repairs, including replacement of the original 1872 bridge, were undertaken. Glenwood was returned to its former grandeur and new acquisitions, such as the lovely office building (1888) added to the cemetery’s charm.
We would be remiss if this review did not mention Washington Cemetery. Lying adjacent to Glenwood, Washington Cemetery, established in 1887 by Deutsche Gesellschaft von Houston (German Society of Houston) and more popularly known as the German Society Cemetery, is the poor step-sister of Glenwood. Glenwood assumed ownership of Washington Cemetery’s 21 acres in 1999 and has, since that time, undertaken repairs and restoration of the smaller cemetery. Glenwood and Washington cemeteries are joined by a road built in 2000 to connect the properties. While visiting Glenwood, a trek through Washington Cemetery would not be unwarranted; however, though the property is peaceful, be prepared to be underwhelmed.
A macabre tidbit: Ms. Leona Tonn, a former caretaker of Washington Cemetery, was found murdered in July, 1977. Ms. Tonn lived in a house located on the cemetery property from the 1930’s until her unfortunate demise in 1977. Her brother, Gus, discovered her lifeless body in the home. She had been suffocated and a pillowcase was tied around her head. The house was demolished in the 1990’s. Ms. Tonn’s murder remains unsolved to this day.
Back to Glenwood, though…
The Proprietors made the 1,300 mile air-trek to Houston with the primary goal of visiting Glenwood, a cemetery on our “Must See” list for a number of years. We were not disappointed. Wherever you may be coming from, your trip to Glenwood is guaranteed to satisfy.
Hint: While in Houston, don’t miss the fascinating National Museum of Funeral History located at 415 Barren Springs Drive, Houston, TX 77090 ~ 281.876.3063.