1502 West Central Avenue
Toledo, Ohio 43606
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Should you find yourself in Toledo, Ohio, you may feel that, as a taphophile, there is little chance of making any noteworthy forays to cities of the dead. Surprisingly, such thinking would be incorrect. Indeed, Toledo actually has two cemeteries of sufficient merit to have won mention on Bella Morte! The first, and most notable, is historic Woodlawn Cemetery which is located in the Western suburb of the city. The second is Forest Cemetery, which lies about three miles to the west.
Designated a National Historic Site in 1998, the necropolis boasts a surprising number of impressive private mausoleums (42) dating from the 1880s through the 1950s, several breathtaking water features and a rather remarkable number of
impressive family monuments. This, coupled with rolling topography, lazily winding roadways, hosts of stately trees and interesting plantings makes Woodlawn a comely and inviting place to pass one’s time.
Two miles of black iron fencing serves to mark the boundaries of the burial ground. Just inside the main gate is the Romanesque Administration Building. Constructed in 1903 of Ohio limestone, the structure is both imposing and strange. Its most notable architectural detail is the centrally-located bell tower which is said to be the remnant of a windmill which formerly stood on the site. If one happens to be on the grounds when a funeral procession enters the front gate s/he will be treated to the solemn, evocative sound of the bell being tolled to honour the deceased. This tradition, begun when the building was constructed, has continued with unbroken faithfulness ever since.
Also of architectural note is the old Conservatory Chapel. Sadly, the building is no longer used, but its rich history deserves notice on this site. The original structure was erected directly over the cemetery’s former Receiving Vault. [The vault was employed as a place for temporary storage of corpses during winter months when the ground was too hard to dig in]. Initial plans called for a greenhouse to be part of the chapel; however, for reasons unknown to these writers, that part of the scheme never materialized. Strangely, the designation as a conservatory did, however, “stick,” and so remains to this day.
By 1923, technology had become sufficiently advanced as to allow for winter grave digging and thus, the necessity of the receiving vault was no longer present. It was then that Woodlawn installed one of the first (and finest) crematories in Ohio. The crematorium was in use until 1994 when a newer facility was built elsewhere in Toledo. The years of heavy useage left its mark in the form of heavily soot-stained interior walls which eventually necessitated the addition of brick veneer over the original stucco to conceal the discoloration. Sadly, the chapel has not been well-maintained, in spite of several attempts at restoration. The building has been sloppily modified over the years and it now lacks virtually all of its original charm.
The cemetery’s Main Bridge, which spans Woodlawn Lake, is another (admittedly weathered) gem in Woodlawn's crown. With its graceful arches and glittering water to reflect them, it affords excellent photographic opportunities in all seasons.
One could easily spend a day exploring Woodlawn...and, we assure you, it would be a day well-spent. What the cemetery lacks in size, it makes up for in natural and man-made beauty. One area of particular note is also one easily missed. We refer to Section 14 which can be accessed in one of two ways. The first is to enter the main gate and turn left at the office. Park and walk towards the lake. You will discover a lovely pathway at the head of which is the Robert A. Stranahan family mausoleum which is notable for the bronze figure of a woman who graces the door, her slender figure bent as she reaches to enter the tomb. The Stranahan brothers (Robert and Frank) founded Toledo's Champion Spark Plug Company. Aside from making their fortune, the company also secured their position as true innovators in the automotive industry. The other means of access is to enter the gate and follow the main road straight back until it terminates and you are forced to turn either right or left. Go left and park before crossing the bridge which stands before you. Again, on your left, you will find a delightful paved walk which extends along the lake shore on one side and a particularly scenic area of Woodlawn on the other. Take your time and examine the many interesting stones. If you look very carefully, you will find a marker with a serene Buddha engraved on its face.
There are many exquisite and notable monuments at Woodlawn and we will mention only a handful here, leaving the rest for you to discover on your own.
The first, like Section 14, is easy to miss if one isn't paying proper attention. We are referring to the grave of Samantha Ludwig (née Sherman). Samantha was the first wife of oil tycoon, Leroy McIntyre Ludwig). Her memorial is located in Section 2, very near the cemetery entrance.
At first glance, the rather imposing monument appears remarkable only for its grand scale. A large granite base rises to a flat surface upon which rest four pillars. These, in turn, support an enormous, pyramidal "crown." But closer inspection will reveal something strange indeed...the "crown," is, in fact, a granite easy chair! Legend has it that Mrs. Ludwig had a morbid fear of death and, following the demise of her husband, refused to lie down in order to avoid succumbing herself. Accordingly, she spent the last 25 years of her life in the chair! Alas, a legend is all it is, but, thanks to the valuable information provided to us by one of Samantha's descendants, Michael Sherman (whose name we use with his generous permission) we can now offer you, Dear Readers, the real story.
Mrs. Ludwig did spend many years primarily seated in her easy chair...but the reason has nothing to do with fear of death. Instead, the poor woman was plagued by a disease modern medicine might have diagnosed as Crohn's or, perhaps, colitis. It was pain, not fear, that drove her to seek respite in the chair. She died in 1899 at the age of 46. Tragically, Samantha and Leroy's son, Theodore, died from the same malady that very year and his body was laid to rest alongside that of his mother.
But to the monument itself...
It was commissioned by Leroy in 1900 and finished some time the following year under the watchful eyes of famed memorialists, the Lloyd Brothers. The stone was modeled after the breathtaking statue of Queen Victoria in Kensington Garden and was initially intended to be occupied by a figure of Samantha; however, this plan was eventually abandoned. In any case, the monument is fashioned from granite quarried in Barre, Vermont which, as Fate would have it, happened to be the birthplace of Samantha's father, Royal Sherman. Upon its completion, the carved granite was packed and shipped by rail to Toledo. Transported to the gates of Woodlawn by a specially-modified trolley car, the designers had to lay track into the cemetery in order to get the large base and chair to their final resting place where they stand to this day.
Further back in the cemetery (Section 44A) stands a 26' pyramid comprised of 10,000 rocks gathered from Toledo as well as locations around the globe by Toledo citizens and the city's school children. This unusual monument was erected in honour of Mr. John Gunckel, founder of the Toledo Newsboys Association. A bronze plate at the base of the pyramid bears the following inscription:
The Newsboys' Friend
John Elstner Gunckel
"'There was a man sent from God whose name was John"
A citizen without reproach
A friend without pretense
A philanthropist without display
A Christian without hypocrisy
This monument was erected by the citizens of Toledo, in a movement
inaugurated by the Toledo ex-newsboys, from stones contributed by
the school children of the city.
Elsewhere on the grounds, a red granite ledger faces the open sky. Upon it are words composed by the deceased's son. We transcribe it here for your review:
1910 ~ 1973
Dark deep and forbidden chasm
Lies beneath the stars
For a spectral mockery of life.
The setting sun do lie
Marking the bane of human life
The lands of shadow lie
Far beyond the call of
Mortal man's life
The eternal dark
Of man's splendid hopes and
Dreams of eternal salvation.
By his son Silvio Laszlo Emery
Who wrote this poem
At the age of 13 in 1967
Erected by his lovely wife
And by his two loving sons
Edward Silvio and
Silvio Laszlo Emery
Admittedly, not the best poetry we have ever read, but it is heartfelt and accomplished for a child of 13. Beyond that, there is a poignant sense of hopelessness and desolation which renders the memorial truly moving.
As mentioned earlier, there are 42 mausoleums to explore and many other lovely stones and sights to enjoy during a trip to Woodlawn. The cemetery, like nearby Forest, is most worthy of exploration should one find him/herself in Toledo, Ohio with sufficient time to spare. Similarly, if an overnight stay is involved, the remarkable Toledo Museum of Art is nearby and open when cemeteries have closed themselves to the living. The museum is well-known, and with good reason. Its collections are impressive and definitely worth perusing.