Thursday, January 15, 2015

Gas Lantern Highland Cemetery Tours in Ypsilanti, MI

During the month of October and at the end of December (and possibly other times, as well) tours are offered of the sizable cemetery in the middle-north of Ypsilanti, just northeast of Depot Town, Highland Cemetery. Here is what the info page on says about it:

Highland is an outstanding example of the “garden” or “rural” style of cemetery design, popular in this country during the 19th century. The garden cemetery movement sought to create tranquil places where visitors could find solace in the beauty of a natural setting. A masterpiece of landscape architecture, Highland’s rolling hills contain original plantings of oak, pine, cypress, willow, and cedar, making a natural habitat for wildlife.

What it doesn't say is that, at least for the December tours (the one I went on), each person on the tour carries a gas lantern since it's pretty darn dark at 7pm in December. I didn't find that my lantern shed a whole lot of light given just how dark it really is out there, but the atmosphere it gave was fantastic. Kind of spooky, kind of creepy, and very period.

The information given on the tour is also somewhat varied. It is definitely not a ghost tour, though it shares some elements of the many ghost tours I have been on. We were taken around to some of the oldest graves and told about the people who were buried or entombed, about their lives, famous exploits and contributions to local history and the current city, etc. Some people were builders of the community having given money to build some cornerstones of the city that still stand today but have largely been forgotten. Others were more notorious. 

We heard stories about the only Civil War general who was, I think, relieved of duty. I can't recall his name and I can't find his story anywhere online, which is very annoying. His brother was in the navy and did considerably better. His grave had a beautiful engraving of a sailing ship. I tried to take a picture. Sadly, it did not turn out well, but I have included it here anyhow. (Click the picture to make it bigger.)

There was also a story about a young Detroit woman who, in 1936 or 1939, shot her mother and little brother, left them dead in their car on the road from Detroit to Ypsilanti (where they had a cottage), somehow got back to Detroit, then shot at another brother as he was entering their apartment. He ran for it, and she shot herself as the building was being stormed by police. The family is buried in Ypsilanti. I couldn't find any information on that incident online either. I guess Detroit has seen too many murders. 

If you are in the area and are into this kind of thing (there were people of all ages on our tour, including some children in strollers), check VisitYpsiNow for future tour dates. Our guide was a member of the local historical society, so they would probably have info, as well. And if you aren't in the area and are still interested in this type of thing, check with your local historical society and see if they run similar tours. 

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