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If attorney Greg Bean has his way, one of the most memorable soirées in town this year will bring new life to the kind of place that most people make it a point to avoid.
His group’s ‘Night at the Mausoleum’ fundraiser is just one of the special events expected to bring hundreds of new visitors to Glendale Cemetery this Memorial Day.
Get past the obvious jokes – people are just ‘dying’ to go there, or the vistas are ‘breathtaking’ – and you may find yourself among the growing number of people exploring the grounds of this curious local gem that only seems to get better with age.
>> Not just for history buffs
As president of the cemetery board, Bean is working with his group to spearhead a full day of celebrations to coincide with Memorial Day (called ‘Decoration Day’ in the aftermath of the Civil War.) His group will recreate the funeral of a Union soldier, complete with a horse-drawn carriage procession, actor reenactments at the cemetery and lunch served on the lawn for the community at large. That night, they’ll host a more intimate gala to raise funds to restore Glendale’s bell tower so it can ring again both daily and for significant events.
History buffs aren’t the only ones drawn to Glendale Cemetery these days.
St. Vincent-St. Mary High School Coach Dan Lancianese has been using Glendale Cemetery as a training ground for the past 21 years. This season, he’s taking 45 distance runners from his track team there at least once a week. They love the picturesque, peaceful setting.
“They get what they want: an easy 30 to 40 minute run. And I get what I want: a great workout for them because it’s hilly,” he says.
Local mom Doreen Vanchoff says she used Glendale to teach her kids to drive before setting them loose on the roads with other cars.
“I could relax with a cup of coffee. We even practiced parallel parking there,” Vanchoff says.
Hundreds of locals flock to the Grand Meadow on warm, summer nights for free outdoor performances by the Akron Symphony and The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. The West Hill Neighborhood Organization and Akron Digital Media Center started hosting an annual outdoor movie night there in 2012. And each October, the University Park YMCA hosts the Jack-O-Lantern Jog, a certified 5K race, and Kiwanis Club of Akron’s one-mile fun run through the cemetery to benefit its annual giving campaign.
>> The Grand Dame of local history
Glendale, founded in 1839, is what’s known as a rural or garden cemetery. Created as part of a movement that shifted burial grounds away from small, urban plots and overcrowded church graveyards to sprawling, pastoral settings, it is the first chartered rural cemetery of its kind in Ohio. More than 20 years before the Civil War — before there were botanical gardens or art museums in American cities, these cemeteries (a word that comes from the Greek, meaning ‘sleeping place’) became what many historians describe as our first public parks — gathering places for all kinds of outdoor events.
The idea for the Akron Rural Cemetery Association (Glendale Cemetery’s legal name to this day) came from Dr. Jedediah Commins, who also started the city’s first drug store on South Main Street. After his son died in 1837, Commins kept the remains at home in a cask of alcohol until finding inspiration for a proper burial grounds in the summer of 1838 at Mount Auburn Cemetery, outside Boston. Mount Auburn, founded in 1831, was the country’s first rural cemetery with classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain.
>> Tourist attraction in the Gilded Age
Commins’ idea to create a rural cemetery in Akron caught on. Soon, it became the final resting place of choice for the area’s most affluent families. And by the late 19th century, it became a tourist attraction noted in 1880 in The Valley Railway Travels and Tourist Guide for “its grand old forests, shrubbery, hills, dales, groves, drives … and magnificent monuments and tombs.”
“No visitor should leave the city without visiting this cemetery,” the Guide advised.
Grand monuments and mausoleums on Glendale’s grounds bear the names of turn-of-the-century industrials and business leaders like Mustill, Sisler, Yeager, Bierce, Saalfield, Werner, Conger and Richie. Local luminaries including John R. Buchtel, Simon Perkins, O.C. Barber and F.A. Seiberling are buried here along with hundreds of veterans from every war – including the Revolutionary War.
>> Something old, something new …
The Civil War Memorial Chapel at Glendale has been the backdrop for a handful of piano recitals and weddings in recent years. Built in 1875, it is one of four architecturally-significant buildings in the park that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Arica and Adam Neill were married there in 2009. She says the couple was looking for a unique and intimate setting for the wedding when her mother, Pamela Buchtel Andrella, suggested the Chapel at Glendale. Descendents of John R. Buchtel, Neill says her family history made the chapel an intriguing venue “but I didn’t think Adam would go for it,” she says.
When the couple visited the grounds, they liked the character of the building and thought it would make a good backdrop for photos at their vintage-themed wedding. When they stepped inside and saw the cozy interiors and the light streaming through the stained glass windows, they were sold.
Andrella says when she walked inside the chapel, she was taken aback by its uncommon beauty and profound significance. Names of all the local people who died in the Civil War are inscribed on the windows or carved into the chapel’s stone walls.
“To me, this is the ‘Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall’ of the 1800s,” Andrella says. “I think it’s remarkable that Akron has this historical best-kept-secret right in the heart of downtown.”
// Writer Jane Day dedicates this article to her mom, Agnes ‘Aggie’ Willis. Born Oct. 4, 1925, Aggie passed away on March 25, 2014. Her memory lives on.