Lake View Cemetery alive with historic tales and beauty
By Deanna Adams
If you’ve never had an opportunity—or desire—to visit a cemetery when you don’t need to, you are missing out on a grand experience in history, beauty, and wonder. At least that’s what you’ll get at the Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, the largest and most significant burial ground in Ohio.
Lake View spans 285 acres and contains more than 100,000 graves, with approximately 700 added each year. However, it’s not purely about those who are buried there, it’s also about the thousands who visit, some multiple times, each year. The cemetery’s motto is “A Place for the Living,” and one trip there will convince you how true that statement is. This serene place boasts a beautiful pond with fountain, an amazing array of artfully designed plants, and creative headstones, along with tall monuments that are statuesque, captivating and impressive.
You won’t get an eerie feeling here, but rather a tranquil emotion that you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else, at least not in a grave yard. “I love the architecture, symbolism, and overall feel of the place,” says Willowick resident, Diane Campbell Taylor, who visits regularly. “Its serenity and beauty recharges my spirit every time I go. I’m also fascinated by Cleveland history and there is so much of that there. Every monument, every stone, has a story behind it.”
The stories began with its opening in 1869 and continues to take visitors on a rich excursion through Cleveland’s fascinating history that is not without its scandals and mysteries, along with the many triumphs. Depending on the time of year, The Lake View Cemetery offers walking, trolley, and self-guided tours. Tour topics include geology, architecture, horticulture, nature, animals, and history. There are also picnic sites and hiking trails for all to enjoy.
“I have three generations of relatives buried here, from both sides, so it’s always been a special place for me,” says Katharine Goss, who became president and CEO of Lake View Cemetery five years ago. “Most cemeteries are just rows and rows of headstones, but Lake View was designed after the Civil War, known as the Romanticism period, and specifically created as a wonderful place for the living to come and visit loved ones. The founding fathers chose this beautiful piece of land with its canopy of trees, and winding roads that meander through the hillside. It’s truly lovely.”
Although you’ll find much more there, here is a brief overview of some of the notable sites you can look forward to upon your visit to this famous and historic cemetery.
Notable Historic Figures
James A. Garfield – Our 20th U.S. president—whose former Mentor home is now a museum—resides in this cemetery, inside the 180-ft. tall Garfield Monument, one of the centerpieces on the grounds. In the circular chapel stands a life-size figure of Garfield, and his tomb, along with wife, Lucretia, is downstairs. A staff member is on hand to discuss the President’s life as schoolteacher, statesman, and president, as well as showcase the beauty and history of the building that combines Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine styles of architecture.
John D. Rockefeller – This famous Clevelander became one of the wealthiest men in U.S. history when he developed his company, Standard Oil. There are many controversial stories attached to this man who rose from working as an assistant bookkeeper for a Cleveland merchant to becoming a renowned industrialist and philanthropist. His resting place is easy to spot with its striking 70-ft. towering monument.
Eliot Ness – Ness served as Cleveland’s legendary Safety Director in the 1930s. He ultimately became the inspiration for several TV productions and movie, The Untouchables, based on his life as an incorruptible crime fighter, and named for his team of law enforcement agents. While he does have a stone at these grounds, Ness’s ashes are actually buried in the pond behind the Wade Memorial Chapel.
Alan Freed – The man known as the 1950s disc jockey who popularized the term, “rock and roll” is a fairly newcomer to Lake View Cemetery. Although the famous disc jockey died in 1965, the urn containing his ashes spent a unique time encased in a wall in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum until 2014 when it was moved to Lake View Cemetery. His headstone, designed my rocker, Stevie Van Zandt, is a large granite jukebox-shaped monument, depicting Freed on side and the front of a jukebox on the other.
Fannie Lewis – Cleveland’s most famous councilwoman began her political career as a staunch advocate for the Hough neighborhood during its most turbulent times. Lewis was renowned as a feisty and outspoken politician who often clashed with many powerful politicians in the city. Her headstone is a bench that notes that she served her city proudly from 1980 – 2008, the year of her death.
Harvey Pekar – An underground comic book writer, Pekar, is best known for his autographical comic series, “American Splendor,” which was made into a movie of the same name. He was also a music critic, and media personality, due to his controversial appearances on the David Letterman show. He is buried, ironically, right next to Elliot Ness.
Ray Chapman – This young man may not be as well-known as the others above, but he has a notable place in Cleveland sports history. Chapman was a baseball player, playing shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. In 1920, he was struck by a pitch and died from that injury—the only baseball player ever to be killed on the field. His stone is decorated by fans who place baseball hats and other sports memorabilia on top of it.
The stories abound in Lake View Cemetery—of famous people, as well as those you may have never heard of. However, two monuments stand out among the many in terms of history. One honors the 172 elementary school students and the two teachers who died in America’s worst school fire. Known as The Collinwood Fire, the horrific disaster took place in 1908 at a school, coincidentally called Lakeview. The other standout memorial is a tribute to 9/11, with a quote by then-President G.W. Bush.
Wade Memorial Chapel
High on a hill is the Wade Memorial Chapel, built in memory of Jeptha Wade, founder of The Western Union Telegraph Company and the first president of Lake View Cemetery. Completed in 1900, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The glorious structure inside is one of the few interiors left in the world designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his studios. A Tiffany window illuminates, and represents the Christian hope of resurrection after death. While the chapel is open daily, spring through fall, it may be closed to the general public for funerals or weddings.
Horticulture lovers will be in heaven, so to speak, upon gazing at the amazing trees and gardens that are everywhere you look. Which of course adds to the work involved in upkeep. “The cemetery is very high maintenance, which is a constant challenge,” says Goss, who spends much of her time raising money to sustain the exquisite grounds.
If any place on earth that can possibly make you feel good about death, The Lakeview Cemetery accomplishes that. It is also a creative haven for writers. “Lake View Cemetery is awe-inspiring, humbling, beautiful, peaceful and continues to fascinate,” says local author, Casey Daniels, whose Pepper Martin mystery series began from her fascination with the cemetery. “So many names and backgrounds there that intrigue and interest me. Walk through any section, read the names etched in stone. Lake View is all about history and the people who made our city great, from the rich and powerful to those everyday people whose hard work made it all possible.”
For more info visit www.lakeviewcemetery.com or call 216-421-2665.