Glendale Cemetery at 175
“No ghosts,” J.R. Conti told me on a recent tour of 175-year-old Glendale Cemetery.
I had asked Conti for the tour because he’s a sometimes-golf-partner, but mainly because he was the superintendent of the fabled, old, burying ground for almost 10 years.
“Did anyone you know see any ghosts?” I pressured.
“Yes, one time my secretary heard something in the chapel’s belfry.” I avoided the obvious pun. “But, no ghosts,” he opined.
As you will read in this month’s feature story by Jane Day, Glendale Cemetery is celebrating its 175th anniversary. I’d always wanted to walk throughout the old cemetery ever since AkronLife, a couple of years ago, had its offices at 90 S. Maple St., a block from the cemetery. We moved, and I never really had a chance.
Glendale Cemetery is the third of its kind built in the United States at the time in 1839. Unlike the European model which had been used before, where graves are lined up in uniform rows 3 feet wide by six feet long, Glendale was of the park or country model where people might want to come to picnic, and graves were often in the gravity of a tomb or mausoleum orientated around it.
But in the 1970s, groundskeepers and picnickers alike were startled by a giant explosion that blew manhole covers 100 yards into the air. It seems a disgruntled worker in a Barberton rubber factory poured a barrel of chemicals down the storm sewer. The sewer snaked all the way to Glendale where something ignited the fumes. The perp was summarily caught and jailed, but the groundskeepers were on edge for several years.
“Why are some angels weeping and some angels smiling?” I asked after noticing several variations of the heavenly statues.
It turns out the angel statuary on the tombs reflect the times in which the deceased lived. If the angel is looking toward heaven and is weeping, the deceased is glad to be going to heaven because life here is so bad. But in good times or times of peace, we’re sad to be leaving such a great place, and the statuary reflects that also as the angel looks earthward and weeps.
That sounded reasonable, and as I looked at the dates on the bowed and heaven-bent statuary memorials, sure enough each one corresponded to some time in history that was at peace or at war, along with other things like the Great Depression. This not only applies to the angels, but to the statuary urns and vases as well. If the urn is draped, the deceased was not happy about leaving the living. If uncovered, the deceased didn’t mind kicking this mortal coil.
Two of the most prominent men in the cemetery (Simon Perkins Jr., one of Akron’s founders, and John R. Buchtel, founder of what became The University of Akron) built their mausoleums within spitting distance of one another, which was appropriate since they didn’t like each other very much in life.
Also, if you want your memorial — no matter the size — to last centuries, spend that extra amount of money and buy granite. It’s the hardest and most durable stone in the memorial business and lasts a long, long time. Marble is next hardest and will probably last a few generations, while sandstone won’t last your lifetime if you buy it now. Many Civil War veterans’ memorials that were government-issued sandstone or marble are now all but obliterated.
You can read the facts and figures of Glendale Cemetery elsewhere in this issue. I just wanted to share some things you may never glean from a cursory reading of its history.
And I’ll wrap up my column with this question: Which way is your angel going to look: toward heaven or earth?
Don Baker, Jr.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief