Friday, March 27, 2020

Artists in the Time of Coronavirus

In March 2020, two weeks into quarantine lockdown of COVID-19, Artblog Philly sent out this announcement:

OPEN CALL for Virtual Exhibition ‘Artists in the Time of Coronavirus’
By Artblog March 19, 2020
ARTBLOG IS CALLING ALL ARTISTS, yes ALL makers and creators with a connection to Philadelphia, to participate in our online community project: "Artists in the Time of Coronavirus."
Assuming we haven’t all died by the time you read this, you can hit their link here.

I submitted a 250-word piece with some photos and I don’t know if they’ll publish it (I’m not pithy or squee, a doomsayer or a highbrow artist), but I figured I’d publish my submission here so at least you can see it. I’m adding a bit to it, so don’t count the words. Of course, if you can’t buy toilet paper in this corona-era, you probably don’t care much about wordcount anyway.

So, “Art in the Time of Coronavirus…." 

I’ve been a practitioner of social distancing since before it was a thing - I photograph abandoned sites and graveyards. Sometimes I even explore abandoned graveyards. Truly isolated locales. Some of these images were made during such an exploration this past week - the six-foot social distancing rule is rather easy to achieve in a graveyard.

For me, creating art is a personal and solitary experience, but I’ve learned that sharing it with others is vital. Years ago when I began exhibiting my photographs of cemetery angel statues, people would tell me why they were purchasing certain pieces. It scared me that others could find meaning in my work. Greater meaning than what I thought was there. So I appreciate the effort Artblog is making to create an audience for artists at this trying time.

We may think ourselves insular, that we create art only for “ourselves,” but I don’t believe that is true. Creative people in this day and age rely on an audience – and increasingly, that is a web-based audience. If COVID-19 continues, that may be our ONLY audience. Pre-Internet writers, composers, and painters may truly have created work mainly to please themselves. If they had received instant feedback (in the form of Internet silence), some of the “great” work may never have seen the light of day (think of Ulysses or The Great Gatsby, neither of which was well-received at the time of publication, by either the critics or the public).

Death and decay are concepts I gravitate toward, whether denoted by abandoned buildings or made more tangible by cemeteries. These latter reminders of our mortality have seen an upswing in popularity - cemetery visits by “normal” people have increased this past week! The government has issued a “no public gatherings” order and most people don’t have to be at work, so why not enjoy a beautiful spring day in a Victorian sculpture garden? Just enjoy nature - you don't even have to contemplate mortality ...

When you think about it, this was the original purpose of nineteenth century “rural” cemeteries – beautiful getaways from the grimy, noisy city. Philadelphia’s luxuriant garden cemeteries, Mount Moriah, the Woodlands, and Laurel Hill were the go-to open-air art galleries and parks of the Victorian era (there WERE no art galleries or parks back then!).

John and Olivia
My daughter Juli told me she saw at least fifty people in Philly's Woodlands Cemetery last week when she was there walking her dog. I saw several people with little kids at Laurel Hill Cemetery when I stopped by. Last weekend, I happened on my neighbors walking through the graveyard of the Old Swedes’ Church – Gloria Dei – near my house in South Philly. Here’s their little girl running among the gravestones. Graveyards - a last vestige of greenspace.

Currently, all the stores and businesses are closed. Some are even boarding up, expecting the worst. What’s the worst that can happen? Amazon closes all its distribution centers and widespread looting begins? As we look to create Art in the Time of Coronavirus, consider the words of John Lennon: “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” Public gatherings have become non-existent with COVID-19, and so the city’s wonderful graveyard greenspaces have taken on greater value. Visit them – imagine them to be your next artistic muse – their residents are six-feet-under, a safe social distance. Now is a good time to contemplate life in general – not one of us is getting out of this alive. 

You can see a new post every day on my Instagram page:

Saturday, February 8, 2020

How Laurel Hill Cemetery Can Teach Us About Beer in Philadelphia

I would like to introduce my friend and guest blogger, Mike Lewandowski. Mike graciously offered the following article about Philadelphia brewers buried in the city's famous Laurel Hill Cemetery. I went on a photo excursion with my friend Frank Rausch, to locate and photograph the gravemarkers of the people Mike writes about. With the help of Frank and David Gurmai from the front office, we found them all! Please enjoy responsibly!

How Laurel Hill Cemetery Can Teach Us About Beer in Philadelphia

Fairmount Water Works designer Frederick Graff

Cemeteries are more than places where we mourn our loved ones upon their passing.  They are also places where an area’s history is remembered.  Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is no exception.  Many aspects of Philadelphia’s history can be found at Laurel Hill.  Even the history of beer in Philadelphia flows through the cemetery.

Water is needed to make beer.  Laurel Hill resident Frederick Graff played a key role in developing Philadelphia’s water system, thereby allowing Philadelphia to emerge as a leading source of beer in the 18th century.

On April 1, 1805 Frederick Graff was appointed superintendent and engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works.  The works were located at the modern site of City Hall and run by steam engines which frequently broke down.  Additionally, all of the city’s pipes were wooden, which limited the pressures they could carry.  To overcome these limitations, Graff advocated the construction of a new water system of his own design.

Frederick Graff designed the Fairmount Water Works and a system of cast iron pipes (and the associated fittings like fire hydrants) that were revolutionary. In 1815, the new water works was constructed at the site of the current Fairmount Water Works. A steam engine pumped water up to a large reservoir located at the site of the current art museum. Subsequently feeding water to the city by gravity overcame the mechanical limitations of early steam engines and provided the city (and Philadelphia brewers) with a truly reliable source of water.

In addition to water, malted barley is the second largest ingredient in beer.  Laurel Hill resident William Massey was a brewer and malt producer in the 19th century.  At one time, his malt house produced 100,000 bushels of malt per season. 

Massey was born in England, where his father was a successful brewer in a small town near Stoke, England. William emigrated to Philadelphia at a young age and found work at Gray’s brewery on Sixth Street.  He had great success in several aspects of the brewing industry and was offered a partnership in what was renamed Poultney, Collins & Massey.  By 1870, William Massey was the sole owner of the brewery, and sales took off.  By 1877, Massey’s brewery was the 11th largest in the United States.

Massey was also a philanthropist who donated large sums of money to the Philadelphia House of Refuge (a home for Philadelphia orphans).  Without William’s leadership after his death, the brewery fell on hard times and closed by 1894.

For most of human history, the role of yeast in beermaking was not well understood.  However, advances in microbiology have revealed the importance of how yeast turns malt sugars into alcohol.  Modern lager brewing didn’t start in Bavaria until the late 1820’s and early 1830’s.  Philadelphia brewers were the first in the United States to adopt their brewing to include the new yeast.

John Wagner brought the first new-world cultures of lager yeast from Bavaria to Philadelphia in 1840.  A historical marker at 455 St. John Street in Philadelphia commemorates this revolution in brewing.  Wagner attempted to run a brewery out of his house, but the endeavor did not succeed.  It is speculated that the lack of brewing capacity limited his commercial viability.

An associate of Wagner obtained a sample of the yeast and convinced Charles Wolf and Charles Engel to begin lager brewing in their sugar refinery.  Engel and Wolf were successful and established the United State’s first large scale lager brewery (the Engel & Wolf Brewery).  Eventually, the brewery moved to the Fountain Green section of Philadelphia in 1849.  The Fountain Green location allowed the brewery to excavate the large deep caverns needed to allow lager beer to age at a low temperature without refrigeration.

In 1870, the City of Philadelphia expanded Fairmount Park and bought the site of the Engel & Wolf Brewery.  The brewery was then demolished.  At this time, Charles Engel dissolved his partnership Charles Wolf and merged with Gustavus Bergner to form the Bergner & Engel Brewing Company.  Bergner & Engel constructed a new brewery at Thirty-Second and Thompson Streets in Philadelphia. At one time, this brewery employed 180 men.  Bergner & Engel ceased production as a result of Prohibition.   

Bergner and Engel family plots in Laurel Hill Cemetery

Bergner and Engel are now more than business partners; they are partners in death.  Their grave plots are located adjacent to each other at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  

(And check out this fascinating piece of brewing history:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"Chicago Eternal" Book Review

About twenty years ago I discovered a book that got me so interested in cemetery monuments and cemetery photography that my new endeavor quickly became an all-consuming passion. The book, "Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity," by writer and photographer Douglas Keister, was an epiphany for me. It really got me interested in the art of the Victorian cemetery. It is a wonderful coffee table book full of fascinating photographs and interesting prose. Honestly, until Larry Broutman's "Chicago Eternal" was published in 2018, Keister's had no equal. I have read, and own, scores of cemetery books and I must say that Broutman has pushed this art form to a new level. I am excited to present to you my review of this wonderful book.

From the publisher, Everything Goes Media, LLC:

“In Chicago Eternal, the Windy City’s rich history springs to life through illuminating photographs of gravestones and monuments. This full-color, hardcover book explores thirty-two Chicago cemeteries, shedding light on the famous, notorious, and long-forgotten. Each image is accompanied by text detailing the deceased’s cultural contributions. Chicago Eternal is a must have for professional and hobby genealogists, tombstone tourists, history buffs, and photography lovers. All author proceeds are donated to the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled and Access Living.”

3D image from Chicago Eternal
Chicago Eternal is grandiose venture, a true labor of love. It is about memory, respect, and the way we choose to mark the lives of those who have gone before us. It is a coffee table book in a very literal sense – it is so large, it could almost double as the coffee table itself! Measuring 9x13 inches and 1.25 inches thick, this is a serious and weighty tome. True, size isn't everything. Happily, Broutman's book has much more to offer – wonderfully composed images, insightful text, celebrity graves, exhaustive coverage of all of Chicago's  major burial spots, and .... 3D glasses. Yes, those blue-and-red lensed glasses, to be used to view the fifteen 3D images of grave markers in the final chapter of the book! What a wonderfully clever surprise!

My daughter enjoying 3D glasses
About the Photography
As a photographer, I realize that it is challenging to make an artistic, aesthetically pleasing photo of a cemetery monument. Most such images are either clich├ęd or what I call "snap shoddy," a snap shot that really is nothing more than a post card photo at best. So I may hold up cemetery photography books to a more rigorous standard than do most people ‒ the photos have to do more for me than provide documentation. The funerary architecture and stunning Victorian-era mourning art sculpture in Chicago’s cemeteries are worthy of documentation for sure, partly because time and the elements wear down these unique objets d'art. I am happy to say that the majority of Broutman’s intriguing images are successful photographs themselves, while providing visual accompaniment to the text. As my tastes run more toward black and white photographs, color work has to really stand out to get my attention ‒ and these images stand out.

Why do Broutman’s images stand out, you may ask. Well, for me two of the most appealing atmospheric conditions under which to photograph cemetery statuary are in the snow, and under cloudy skies before a storm. Oddly, many of Broutman’s images were made under just these conditions. To my eye, this makes the subject ‒ the architecture and statuary ‒ that much more interesting. Shooting under these conditions is unusual. I would like to know what kind of cameras Broutman uses, how he made some of these images, and WHY he chose to make many of the photographs while there was snow on the ground (I assume the winters are longer in Chicago, so he may not have had a choice!). I would think a short essay explaining such technicalities would have been enjoyable to read. His discerning use of depth of field and limited use of HDR make the images quite pleasing to the eye. Possibly because the color images are so striking and the print quality so high, the few black and white images in the book seem to have less punch. It’s unusual for me to say such a thing, because I do prefer black and white to color.

Like many people, I am intrigued by celebrities. Visiting the Chicago grave of Howlin’ Wolf or Jesse Owens makes us feel closer to the person, physically, than we ever could have in real life. Visiting Al Capone’s or ‘Big Jim’ Colosimo’s grave is certainly safer than it would have been to visit the actual people when they were alive! Many of the people in Broutman's book were players in Chicago’s colorful past, people we learned about in history books, such as Mayor Daley, Jack Ruby, and Detective Allan Pinkerton. Standing at their graves makes history more tangible. Broutman provides informational text and supplemental historic photographs to flesh out his stories, making them that much more interesting. Who knew that Oscar Mayer (buried in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery) patented sliced bacon?

Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago

Never having been to Chicago, there is the mystique of novelty here, for me. My guess, though, is that even if you HAVE been to these Chicago area cemeteries, you will get even more from Broutman’s book than I have. Such nationally historic events are marked in Chicago’s grand graveyards, for example, the Showmen’s Rest railway disaster at Woodlawn, the Haymarket Riot in Forest Home, and the Irving Park graves of the victims of 1929’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Broutman puts flesh on the bone with his images and text, bringing history to life in ways that a simple history book cannot. It was truly inspiring to see the grave of Emma Goldman (Forest Home Cemetery), the Jewish political activist whose memorial bears the engraving, “Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to liberty.”

On a lighter note, it was a treat for me to see and read about the actual grave markers that graphic artist Scott Larson brings to life (literally) in his indie comic book series Visitations. In Larson’s world ‒ a steampunk version of Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century ‒ very specific cemetery monuments come alive to protect the living. One of his characters, “Piper Boy,” is seen below in Broutman’s 3D photograph. (Read more about Larson’s work here.)

Grave of Christopher Manual, 3D image from Chicago Eternal

The design and layout of Chicago Eternal are simply stunning. The front and back covers do what covers are supposed to do – make you want to buy the book! If you are so inclined, the publisher has graciously offered a discount code to readers of The Cemetery Traveler:

Your exclusive coupon code is CEMTOURS10 which will give readers $10 off at Everything Goes Media (

One of the things I enjoy most about Chicago Eternal is the fact that it rekindled my interest in exploring cemeteries. Not that it has waned, exactly, but after twenty years, you think you’ve seen it all. Broutman reminds us that there is a unique person’s life behind every gravestone ‒ a life worth learning about, in many cases. He also put ideas into my head for making photographs. I learn from other photographers’ work, and Broutman shows us that even a documentary photograph can be artistic. Like the book I discovered twenty years ago that got me so interested in cemetery monuments and cemetery photography, Chicago Eternal will likely become a similar catalyst for a new generation of photographers.  

Photographs in this article are used by permission of the publisher, Everything Goes Media, LLC.

About the Author

I do not know Larry Broutman personally, but we do share more than a love of graveyards and photography. Broutman is a plastics engineer, which I find quite intriguing. I am a biomedical engineer, and one of the most notable pieces of research I published was in partnership with a plastics engineer (click here to read). What is it with engineers who are also artists? Left and right brains in action! 

Author Larry Broutman donates all of his profits from Chicago Eternal and his two other coffee table books of photography, Chicago Monumental and Chicago Unleashed, as well as his soon-to-be-released children’s book, Chicago Treasure, to The Chicago Lighthouse and Access Living.

The Chicago Lighthouse
The Chicago Lighthouse is a world-renowned social service organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veteran communities. Recognized as a pioneer in innovation since 1906, The Chicago Lighthouse provides vision rehabilitation services, education, employment opportunities and assistive technology for people of all ages. Larry Broutman is a Lighthouse Board Member. His upcoming book, Chicago Treasure, features photographs of students from the Judy and Ray McCaskey Preschool at the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled.

Find more information about The Chicago Lighthouse at:

Access Living
Established in 1980, Access Living is a change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables Chicagoans with disabilities to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. Nationally recognized as a leading force in the disability advocacy community, Access Living challenges stereotypes, protects civil rights and champions social reform. Their staff and volunteers combine knowledge and personal experience to deliver programs and services that equip people with disabilities to advocate for themselves.

Find more information about Access Living at

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

So would Detroit have such a thing as a Victorian-era cemetery? I was headed there on business, so I wanted to find out. Detroit in the dead of winter didn’t sound all that enticing, so why not just visit the dead, you know? If San Antonio, Texas had a Victorian cemetery (which surprised me when I was there some years ago), Detroit must too, I supposed. A cursory search on the Internet turned up the gem, Woodlawn Cemetery.

A few miles north of downtown Detroit (on Route 1, Woodward Avenue), sits this amazing, star-studded cemetery (which has been in existence since 1895). Seriously, for star-power, this place ranks up there with the best of them. Notables buried there? Berry Gordy’s family, Edsel Ford, The Dodge Brothers, Rosa Parks, George Trendle (creator of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet!), various Motown musicians, Albert Cobo (Mayor of Detroit after which famed Cobo Hall is named – c’mon, you remember the movie Detroit Rock City, where the teeners were trying to get to the KISS concert at Cobo Hall …?). Anyway, I was quite looking forward to my visit.

The visit itself was wonderful, but getting there was quite tense. My flight from Philadelphia was due into Detroit at 3 pm and Woodlawn closed at 5 pm. At best, I would have an hour inside the cemetery. At worst, I’d never make it. But I aimed high, and wanted to try.

Abandoned buildings along Detroit's Woodward Avenue.

I flew out of Philly in my green “Underdogs” T-shirt the day after the Eagles won Superbowl 52. Riding high! That is, until I hit the airport and saw that my flight was delayed, and I would now be arriving in Detroit at 3:40 pm [Expletive Deleted]! Still worth trying? You bet. My back up plan was a pet cemetery near 8 Mile Road (yes, the one made famous by rapper Eminem).

I call Woodlawn on a whim (that’s how my mind works, whims and misfires, basically). I ask whether the office closes or the gates are closed at 5 pm. The kindly woman tells me that “The office closes. The gates are closed at dusk (heart races).” This being winter (early February to be exact), I offer, “So the gates are closed around 6pm?” “Well, she says, “between 5:30 and 5:45.” Oh well, better than 5 pm. I just bought myself a half hour, perhaps.

My plane touches down, taxis forever to the terminal, and finally pulls to a stop. 4 pm. I get up to stretch my legs; can’t go anywhere as I have to wait for twenty-two rows of passengers ahead of me to exit. Then I realize former vice president Joe Biden is sitting in the seat ahead of me. Autograph seekers are murmuring. I’m sensing a log jam soon. I tell Mr. Biden that my wife saw his lecture in Philadelphia recently and she enjoyed his book. He says, “Thanks for saying so.” Not much else you can say to a celebrity at close range. Finally the line is moving! We get up to the cockpit …. and the pilot asks for the Vice-POTUS’s autograph! DAMN!

Vice-POTUS Joe Biden on the plane
To baggage claim, then to the Enterprise Rental Car shuttle bus. 4:15 pm. When the bus dumps ten of us at the auto pickup spot, all the counters are open and we all immediately get a customer service agent! The smiling young man behind the desk asks me if I’m in Detroit on business or pleasure. I stare blankly at him. People come here on vacation? I say I need to be at Woodlawn Cemetery by five and he drops all the mushy stuff and gets me into my car in about seven minutes. All the while, thrilled-to-be-there Enterprise employees are offering us all bottles water and bags of popcorn. Something’s up here, but I’m not sure what ….

I’m doing 80 mph heading east on I94 toward Detroit in my rental mid-sized, watching for cops in the rear-view. I get off I94 onto Route 10 North, and its 4:45pm. I claw my way up Woodward Avenue, past mile after mile of abandoned commercial buildings. Warehouses, movie theaters, fast-food joints, etc., boarded up, graffitied, missing roofs, doors, windows. If you’re an abandoned site photographer, this is the place to be. Woodlawn Cemetery is across from the Fairgrounds, just south of 8 Mile Road.

As I write this, I realize that you already know that I made it to Woodlawn – you see the photos here! But, allow me to continue my story. Fact is, until I pulled up to the property and saw the open gates at 4:55 pm, I really was never sure I’d get in.

The cemetery was covered in a blanket of pure white snow, it was quiet and cold - twenty degrees. I pulled up to the grand granite office building and went inside. No one at the desk. Heart races. I walk into the anterooms saying, “Hello …?” A gentleman sees me and tells me someone would be right with me. I go back to the waiting area and he returns shortly with a woman who sits behind the desk. I blurt out something like, “Hi, I’m visiting from Philadelphia and I know you’re closing soon but I’d like to get a map or something that shows where certain people are buried …” I try not to sound rushed. They ask me which graves I’d like to visit. First and foremost, Rosa Parks. The gentleman says, “2-4-6-8 ….. and if that doesn’t work, try 0-2-4-6-8.” No idea what he’s talking about. Then it hits me, "The combination to a community mausoleum?" “Yes. Her crypt is in the Rosa Parks Freedom Chapel, just across the driveway.” The woman tells me where inside to find her crypt, adding, “She’s buried with her husband.”

Inside the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel and mausoleum

She spent another five minutes with me, giving me maps showing where the Fords and Dodges and Hudsons are buried. She seemed happy that I asked where Berry Gordy’s family plot was (Gordy, founder of Motown Records, is still alive). I thanked her, grabbed the maps, and headed to the chapel. 5 pm. Maybe I’ve got a half hour.

"By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus in 1955, black seamstress Rosa Parks (1913—2005) helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States." 

I made up the security code for the chapel, by the way. If you want the real one, you need to ask the people in the office. Crypts line the walls leading to the central chapel area. Rosa’s crypt is to the right. Someone had left a rose in the vase, so I plucked a petal from it to take home to my eight-year-old daughter Olivia, who has studied Rosa Parks in school. February being Black History Month, it felt right to visit her first. Respectfully, I left the chapel, being careful not to slip on the ice as I hurried to my car.

I needed to at least drive through Woodlawn, to get the general feel of the place. It is rather lovely in winter. Curved roads, a beautiful lake, ornate mausoleums and with some grand Victorian statuary sprinkled throughout. On my left up a hill was a hauntingly beautiful white marble statue in a glass case. Snow was about eight inches deep, so I opted not to climb the hill. I drove most of the way around Section 10, hoping I would see Berry Gordy’s marker without getting out of the car. 

Mercifully, the sections are not square, and are not large, so you can see most of the monuments without much difficulty. The Gordy family plot came into view rather suddenly as I drove around the other side of the section. I got out of the car to see the red granite sculpture up close. Gordy, founder of Motown Records and producer to the stars, is still alive but a few of his family members are buried here. (Gordy discovered and developed recording artists Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and on and on and on!) He owns a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California, which may end up as his final resting place. (There is a rather amusing debate as to whether Michael Jackson is buried here in the Gordy plot - see link).

Ironically, the site I had the most difficulty finding is arguably Woodlawn’s largest funerary structure – the gigantic Dodge Brothers' Egyptian-themed mausoleum. This final resting place of the automotive pioneers is the only monument in Woodlawn that I located ahead of time on the Internet, so I knew what I was looking for. My map showed the name “Dodge” in both Sections 10 and 13, so I drove around both, but in vain. How could I miss something so large? Light was fading and I drove up toward the entrance gates to make sure they were still open. 5:15 pm. Still open. Lights on in the office. Cars still parked behind it. Did a U-Turn and headed back to Dodge. The beautiful bronze statue you see here with the sunflowers diverted my attention. I pulled over, got out of the car and spent about ten precious minutes photographing her from many angles. This sculpture is one of the most beautiful cemetery monuments I’ve ever seen. Such emotion, such sadness.

I should add that my main camera for this trip was my iPhone 6, with a chemical handwarmer packet rubber-banded to it! Ever since I’ve had it, cold temps drain a full battery to zero in about ten minutes and the fun is over. I also had my Canon G11 with me, as it is small and easy to pack.

I hopped back into the warm, running Hyundai and headed back into the center of the cemetery, realizing I had not tried driving around the lake in the opposite direction. Maybe I’d find the Dodge mausoleum that way. It was then that I realized I was not looking at two maps, one Section 10, the other 13, but two versions of the same map. Dodge was in lot 13 of Section 10. But then two deer diverted my attention.

One of three identical Ford family crypt covers in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

I drove after them, thinking I might get some video of them near the bridge over the small peaceful frozen lake. Except, I was distracted by the three large black marble crypt covers labeled, “Ford.” I pulled over and walked through the crunchy snow around the back of them to see the inscriptions. Edsel Ford and his wife Eleanor are buried under one. I’ve heard that their mansion in Detroit is quite a sight to see. The three family markers are elegantly understated in their beauty, nothing elaborate at all. I wondered if there was one or three underground mausoleums.

I turned around to take the serpentine road in the opposite direction around the lake, for one last attempt at the Dodge Brothers. I knew I only had minutes left. As I crossed the main center road of the property, I noted with comfort that the gates were still open. 5:30 pm. Always know when your gates will close - being locked in a cemetery is not a pleasurable experience. It has happened to me, and I’ve had many close calls over the years.

Mausoleum of the Dodge Brothers, Horace and John

And then I saw the massive granite structure with twin sphinxes flanking the entrance. It had a set of inner and outer bronze doors, cast with the Egyptian winged deity, Horus, symbol above (sphere with wings) - I assume "Horace" Dodge helped choose the design!

Egyptian funerary style was quite popular in the Victorian era, people no doubt placed heavy emphasis on life after death. On many surfaces of the Dodge brothers' mausoleum, we also see the twin rising cobras, or uraeus, which symbolize protection - guardians of the gates of the underworld. 

Wikipedia describes the sphinx is a powerful Egyptian deity "viewed as benevolent but having a ferocious strength." This quite amused me after reading the biographies of Horace and John Dodge, as this describes them to a "T" (a Model T, perhaps, as you'll read in a moment)! Maniacal innovators and cutthroat competitors, the Dodges treated their employees amazingly well for the times (1920s). The Dodge plant had a “fully staffed medical clinic, a department to look after workers’ social needs, and, perhaps most significantly (and a fore-runner of Silicon Valley and 3M), a machine shop called “the Playpen” where men could fix or invent things after hours. Employees were served huge platters of sandwiches and pitchers of beer at lunch hours, paid for by the company” (ref.).

Like the twin sphinxes, the Dodge brothers were inseparable - they dressed in identical tailored suits and would not even open mail unless it was addressed to both of them! If not for automotive pioneers Horace and John Dodge, Henry Ford’s company would have disappeared in 1903. They redesigned the Model T to make it more reliable and marketable, and built all its parts for Ford, bailing Henry Ford out of near-bankruptcy! - read their fascinating story here.

What struck me as very distinctive to their mausoleum was the giant (I can’t even estimate its size) stained glass window in the center of its back wall. Pyramids! What an amazing design! Pyramids rise from the earth to the heavens, as the Egyptians expected would happen to them after death.  

It really was time to leave. Very cold and the light was fading. I rolled out of the gates at 6 pm (Thank you Woodlawn!), pulled the car over, got out and made this final photo of the illuminated “Woodlawn Cemetery” sign (that’s the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel/mausoleum in the distance, at bottom left). I turned back for one last look at the imposing granite gatehouse just as a woman was closing the main gates behind her. I immediately thought of the Victorian notion of woman, the designated mourner.

I expect to return to Woodlawn at some point, as I now do business in Detroit. There is still the Hudson mausoleum to find, Michael Jackson's memorial (he's not buried here though), and the grave of George W. Trendle, creator of The Lone Ranger. I kind of felt like a Lone Ranger myself during this visit. No one (in their right mind) was out on the grounds this day except for me and the stellar ghosts of our collective past. All silent in the snow, with frozen beauty all around me.

Please see links below for further information:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mom Loved to Fly

Elizabeth Jones, c. 1930
My guest author for this blog post is my Mom's cousin, Cheryl. With all the media focus lately on Amelia Earhart, I asked Cheryl Owens Fox if she would write a memorial blog about her Mom, Elizabeth Esther Jones, my great aunt. She was an airplane pilot at the same time as Earhart, which was astounding, really, as women were seldom allowed in "men's" professions. Hope you enjoy! (PS. I must point out the great photo Cheryl provided of her Mom with my grandfather, Daniel Jones!)

Mom loved to fly.  For as long as I can remember, whenever she heard an airplane overhead she would stop and watch it, smiling, until it flew out of sight.  I don’t know when she was first attracted to flying. Perhaps it stemmed from her admiration of Amelia Earhart, an adventurer and a strong supporter of equal rights for women who refused to be confined by convention.  Mom certainly did her best to be unconventional!  Or maybe it was when she fell in love with an aspiring pilot named Woodie.

Elizabeth with Daniel Jones
My mother, Elizabeth Esther Jones, was born in 1914 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Welsh immigrants who had arrived in the US in 1905. Her father was a coal miner in Wales, so his skills enabled him to find work in the Anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania. Working in the mines provided a good living for his family, but it also took away his health.  He died in 1920, when Mom was only 6, just a month after his eldest daughter had passed away because of heart problems.

Mom watched her mother struggle to provide for herself and her 3 children, working as a cook and a maid as she had in Wales before emigrating.  When she was 14, Mom quit school to work and help support her family so that her two brothers could continue their education.  She and her best friend Marion found work in the Wilkes-Barre Lace Mill.  As the mill was owned by a Mr. Smith, they jokingly referred to it as “Smith College.”  Years later, they would still laugh about it.  They both worked at the mill through their early twenties. Apparently wages were reasonably good, as Mom was able to pay for flying lessons and was earning more than my father when they married in the late 1930s.

"Woodie" - Woodrow B. Evans (c. 1935)
I don’t know when Mom first met Woodie, but by 1935, they were engaged to be married.  Woodrow Baden Evans was an electrician at Dorrance Colliery, a coal mine in Wilkes-Barre where Mom’s father had worked years before.  Woodie was learning to fly, and on April 24, 1935, he earned his private pilot’s license.  Sadly, it was only 4 months later that he was electrocuted at work.  He was only 22.  I know Mom mourned him for a long time, as I have found notes among her papers that she had written about him after his death.

By early 1937, Amelia Earhart had already flown solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific.  Just two days before Earhart began her ill-fated trip around the world, Mom took her first flying lesson.

Elizabeth Jones' flight log

I still have her pilot log book, one of my most precious possessions, so I know her lessons were in a Taylor Cub.  She flew out of Wyoming Valley Airport, a small airport just a few miles north of Wilkes-Barre which is still in use and still offering flying  lessons.  She also joined the Wyoming Valley Flying Club which was led by her flight instructor, Bill (Roland) Klisch.  Mom’s friend Marion occasionally accompanied her to her flying lessons, and eventually Bill and Marion fell in love and married.  The three remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

Taylor Cub, like that flown by Elizabeth Jones in 1937

Amelia Earhart’s plane was reported lost in the Pacific just one month after Mom’s first flight.  She was my mother’s idol, and for years Mom saved the many newspaper clippings she had accumulated about Amelia.  I remember reading them when I was young and dreaming about having adventures like she had.

On Sunday, December 12, 1937,  mom flew her first solo flight.  Her flying club newspaper wrote “…She experienced a little difficulty with the stabilizer adjustment on the first landing and as a result bounced around a little, but all who witnessed the second landing agreed it was perfect.”  She was so proud of her “wings”.  When she was older, she had them mounted on a disk that she could wear on a chain around her neck.  She never took it off.

One of mom’s stories about her flying days involved a famous boxer who she had met at Wyoming Valley Airport.  She talked about how big he was, and how her hand disappeared in his when they shook hands.  I had forgotten his name until recently, when I was flipping through her pilot’s log and noticed something handwritten on the second page.  It was an autograph:  “Good luck, Jack Dempsey”. She had met the man who was boxing’s world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926.

Boxer Jack Dempsey's autograph in Elizabeth's plane manual

My family moved to Florida in 1958, about a year before my grandmother passed away.  Although she enjoyed her new home, Mom always missed her family in Wilkes-Barre.  She also never forgot Woodie, her first love.  It was over twenty years after my father died that I lost my mother.  She had given me careful instructions that she was to be cremated and her ashes returned to Wilkes-Barre, where I was to spread them on her mother’s grave and on Woodie’s.  I knew my grandmother was buried in Mount Greenwood Cemetery in Trucksville, just a few miles outside of Wilkes-Barre, along with my grandfather and step grandfather.  But where was Woodie buried? Mom couldn’t remember the name of the cemetery.  When I was young, we had visited his grave several times, but I had no idea where it was located.

Elizabeth Jones' mother, Elizabeth's (1880 -1959) grave, Trucksville, PA
Finding Woodie’s grave was almost an impossible task.  I spent many hours on line trying to find him, and even convinced a dear cousin who lived near Wilkes-Barre to help me visit all the cemeteries in the Wilkes-Barre area.  I could not find him.  I spread half of my mother’s ashes on her mother’s grave that year, but, hoping I would find Woodie one day, I saved the rest and returned home to Alabama.

Several years later, I was looking through some of my mother’s papers that had been in storage when I came across a small, yellowed newspaper clipping.  It was about Woodie’s funeral at Fern Knoll Burial Park in Dallas, Pennsylvania, and told how his friends from Wyoming Valley Airport had honored him by circling above and dropping flowers during the ceremony.  I discovered his grave was just a few yards from the graves of my father’s father and step-mother.  That was why I remembered visiting it when I was young.

When I finally stood in front of the Evans family’s tombstone, tears began  streaming down my face.  I had never met Woodie, but I knew how much my mother cared for him for all those years.  I placed a photo of the two of them on his grave marker, along with Mom’s ashes, and told him that he had never been forgotten.  In my mind, I could see Mom smiling.