Sunday, September 8, 2013

Greenwood Cemetery - A Historical Walking Tour

Yesterday, Glen and I attended a walking tour of the Greenwood Cemetery in the City of Grand Rapids, MI which is about 45 minutes from our house. I spotted the article about the tour in our local paper on Thursday. What made the walking tour a must attend event for me was the fact that is was being led by a Trustee of the Grand Rapids Historical Society.

If you have followed my blog for any amount of time you will know that I love cemeteries and I love history, so you combine the two at one event and I am in Heaven.

Now a historical, cemetery walking tour might not be on the top of Glen's list for a Saturday morning.

But being the wonderful husband that he is, he did it for me. Oh...he also decided to be my paparazzi.

In all seriousness,  I did learn a ton a great information and got a lot of great photos, and in the end I think that Glen enjoyed himself.

Cemetery Landscape Design
Did you know that there have been four stages of cemetery design? The first one was graveyards. Graveyards were generally located near and administered by a church or parish. The early 19th century brought about the change from graveyards to cemeteries, which were separate from a church or parish.

Monumental or Park Style - This was the second type. Typically noted to have larger headstones or monuments made of marble, granite or similar material. They rose vertically from the ground and generally were set in a "park" like setting of rolling hills and mature trees. 

The Park Style is by far my favorite.

Lawn Style - After the Park Style came the Lawn style. This style came about at the beginning of the 20th century. A lawn cemetery is covered in grass and each grave is marked with a commemorative plaque placed horizontally at the head of the grave, flush with the ground.


Lawn Beam - The most recent style is the lawn beam. Low (10-15cm) raised concrete slabs (beams) are placed across the cemetery. Commemorative plaques stand on these beams adjacent to each grave.

Natural or Eco-Cemetery - There is a brand new style of cemetery emerging. Where an area is set aside for natural burials (with or without a casket). Natural burials are motivated by a desire to be environmentally conscious with the body rapidly decomposing and becoming part of the natural environment without incurring the environmental cost of traditional burials. Glen is quite intrigued by this style, but that is not something I want to be taking photographs of.

The Monuments
I learned some interesting things about the monuments themselves:

White Bronze - A type of monument I had never seen before. They are a cast monument and not really bronze but made of zinc. They had no supporting infrastructure inside, so not the sturdiest if a tree branch fell on them, but they held detailing beautifully.

Tree Trunk - These monuments belonged to the Woodsmen of the World, they were members of a fraternal benefit society. They used the tree trunk design until the 1930's.

Jewish - I have not been in a cemetery that had a designated Jewish section before. 

The practice of putting stones on the headstones is a long held tradition.

Colonial Era - This headstone depicts the colonial era. All about the same size with a rounded top and a center motif with something either depicting death or the afterlife.

This was an excellent walking tour, and Tom Dilley did a marvelous job. As you can see it was well attended. 

I will definitely be going back to explore some more on my own. I also got the names of some other cemeteries to explore around Grand Rapids. 


  1. Fascinating - I like the old church graveyards in rural locations and the design detail and history you can discover I like ornate old stonework. I've never visited a city one - I've been thinking recently that it would be interesting to visit one in central Manchester.... must check that out.

  2. So interesting! I like history and old cemeteries as well so this is right up my alley.

  3. I am right there with you: this 'window' into human history - on an intimate scale - is fascinating, in a respectfully sentimental way. Like old photographs and family history.

    Glen is a good sport. My husband has a part-time job as a funeral director's he can tell you more than you will ever want to know about such things. Ever. He actually just helps out at the funerals...he's a people person, so he loves to add a personal touch by visiting with the families, learning about the deceased. It's best on a part-time basis...too much can be - well - too much at times.


  4. I did enjoy myself. The first picture I took of you is my favorite. You're beautiful. Great post!

  5. Here's another thing we have in common...cemetery photography and history. I need to see if any tours are offered in my area. That sounds interesting! I love the way you captured the overall picture and the details along your walk. I'm sure you'll enjoy going back and photographing at your own pace. Glen is right! You are beautiful!

  6. I have heard that, if you can convince someone to take you out into the woods and bury you (I mean after you die), that spot is then considered a burial ground and is protected. Have you ever heard that?

  7. wonderful photos-I grew up across from one of our cities graveyards (grandparents, aunts and uncles were buried there, we'd steal in and visit as kids -:)] and I have always been fascinated by them-I enjoyed reading of the cemetery facts...

  8. You got some great photos! I'm a little intrigued by the new Eco trend - hmmmm.

  9. I like the park style cemetery also the best. I am wondering why they put the stones on top of the headstones in the jewish cemetery. Thanks again for the interesting post. Seems like you have a wonderful husband.

  10. A couple of years back, Scott Kelby's World Wide Photo Walk was held in a "park-like" cemetery here in Chicago. The cemetery was a treasure-trove of those that built Chicago, each monument bigger than the other. But what a great day I had wandering thru the beauty and history. Looks like it was a grand day for you both.

  11. We have a cemetery in Phila named Greenwood also. I have ancestors buried there and spent some time researching there.

  12. What an event!!!!!! My mother and I, going back all the way to when I was in middle school, would go out on Sunday afternoons and stroll through old cemeteries. Then the genealogy bug well as loving all things historical as long as I can remember. Glenn should consider himself lucky. Edster and I spent the night in a van down by the river STUCK in the mud due to my enthusiasm to get to an old, neglected cemetery...

  13. Thanks for sharing I never knew there were so many different styles....

  14. Wow, these are great. I have a fascination with graveyards too - but had no idea of all the different styles. You got some great shots (and I love the shot of you by your husband!).

  15. Too cool, I'm going to send this to my step-mom. I'll bet she doesn't know all this. Now I'll be analyzing when I do my cemetery adventures!

  16. Awesome post! I really enjoyed this is for about a great walking place. green wood Buy a Greenwood wood boiler that saves 70% on your home heating bills. We offer the world-class wood gasification heating appliances on an affordable budget.


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