150 years of solitude at Lake View Cemetery

In 1869, garden cemeteries began to pop up in the United States. These rural cemeteries resembled landscaped parks and English estate gardens more than the usual urban lands used for burials.

Cleveland’s early leaders took notice of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston (the first such U.S. cemetery to copy the European trend) and decided it was time to create Cleveland’s own park cemetery outside of the city limits and replace urban graveyards like Erie and Woodland cemeteries.

“Jeptha Wade [Western Union founder], along with other prominent businessmen, came and looked for area around here and tracts of land,” Lake View President and CEO Katharine Goss says. “They liked the hilly, winding, wooded area and ponds, so they started buying up the land.”

With that, Lake View Cemetery began to blossom. Fast forward 150 years, and today Lake View sits on 285 bucolic acres just outside Little Italy. In honor of its 150th birthday, Goss and other Lake View officials are hosting a two-year celebration, honoring its roots and the Cleveland icons buried there while emphasizing the fact that, as always, Lake View is open to everybody.

Officials are still planning 150th birthday celebrations, so click here to stay up-to-date on special events.

Today, visitors to Lake View not only come to pay their respects, they come to walk the grounds, have a picnic, or even throw a party for loved ones who have passed.

FreshWater Cleveland looks at the building of Lake View Cemetery, some of the qualities that make it one of Cleveland’s most beautiful final resting spots, and the birthday celebrations planned for the next two years.

Open to everybody … and there are some characters

“Lake View is open to all walks of life, all of the time, and it always has been,” says Goss. “Historically, social rules in the late 1800s and early 1900s had specific cemeteries [for specific faiths]. We are a beautiful melting pot, just like Cleveland.”

And all honorably discharged veterans can receive a free plot in a special section of Lake View, complete with the same grave markers found at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. In fact, Captain Louis Germain DeForest (1838-1870), a Civil War soldier, is the first person to be buried at Lake View.

While most Clevelanders know that Lake View is the final resting place of business figures like Wade and John D. Rockefeller; crime fighter Eliot Ness; politicians Carl B. Stokes and Frances Payne Bolton; inventor Garrett Morgan; and philanthropist Zelma W. George, to name a few, everyday citizens and some quirky characters also are buried here.

The headstone for Ray Chapman, a Cleveland Indians shortstop, killed by a pitch in 1920.For instance, Raymond Johnson Chapman, a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians a century ago, is the only baseball player to die from an injury during a major league game. On Aug. 16, 1920, during a late afternoon game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds, Chapman, 29, was struck in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays. Chapman lingered for 12 hours before he passed. Visitors to this day leave baseballs at his grave as a remembrance.

The cemetery not only still has available space today—enough to last another century—but nice plots at any price, Goss says. “It looks full when you go through here, but there is a lot of newer space we have that is not obvious—it just hasn’t been developed,” she says. “The land is green and lush and beautiful with no fancy monuments. But it’s still gorgeous. There is land along the eastern edges of Coventry and little pockets that are woodsy and shrubby—areas that will eventually be future burial spots.”

Monuments and daffodils

Every detail was considered in creating Lake View. From sweeping views of the Cleveland skyline, downtown, and Lake Erie to the thousands of colors and blooms—even the stone monuments and mausoleums—the beauty and tranquility of the grounds create a natural peace.

As the cemetery was being built in 1869, Italian stonecutters came to Cleveland to help carve the many monuments in Lake View, as well as the homes on Millionaires Row along Euclid Avenue. Known for their talented craftmanship with stone, many of the Italians then settled in Cleveland.

One of those was Joseph Carabelli (1850-1911), a stonecutter and sculptor from Porto Ceresio, Como Province. He immigrated to America in 1870 at the age of 20 after completing his stonecutting apprenticeship and spent 10 years in New York before coming to Cleveland.

Carabelli established Lakeview Granite & Monumental Works and was one of Little Italy's founders, as more stonecutters came to the area and settled near the cemetery. “These families are still here,” Goss says. “I hear all the time, ‘My grandfather built that wall,’ or ‘My grandfather worked on that.’”

Carabelli’s descendants are still in Cleveland and still in the stone business as the Johns-Carabelli Company, and Joseph Carabelli is buried at Lake View.

This memorial for cremated remains rests next to the large pond behind Wade Memorial Chapel.The grounds were originally designed by renowned landscape architect Adolph Strauch, who was responsible for many famous garden cemeteries in the mid-1800s. He believed in “serving the living” with his designs.

A crew of about 20 full-time, year-round employees tend to the graves and the thousands of trees, shrubs, and flowers, while additional seasonal horticulture staff is brought on when needed. Masonry work, tree trimming, and other maintenance are outsourced to the experts.

The garden-like setting has always been a priority. In 1910 alone, 6,000 trees, plants, and shrubs were planted on the grounds. The flora is all part of the 19th century movement to make cemeteries a more social place, Goss says.

“It was very much the style in the Victorian years when this cemetery took off,” Goss says of the plantings. “In that era, they weren’t so freaked out about death. People died in their homes, and there were open caskets in parlors. They used to feel much more comfortable about death and come out [to the cemeteries] and spend time with their loved ones.”

Places in the cemetery, like Daffodil Hill, carry on that garden tradition. In 1964, Dr. William Weir, a home gardener who owned 175 varieties of daffodils, donated 10,000 of the flowers to Lake View, planted on three acres. Today there are 100,000 daffodils, which will be replenished this fall. “We’re probably going to boost that quite a bit because some of them have petered out,” Goss says.

This picture of the James A. Garfield Memorial was taken before it was shrouded in scaffolding for cleaning the exterior.Celebration of a President

James A. Garfield, the 20th U.S. president, was assassinated in 1881. His casket, draped with an American flag, is on full display. First lady Lucretia Garfield’s casket is also in the crypt, as are the remains of their daughter Mary (Molly) and her husband, Joseph Stanley Brown.

Some famous people came to Garfield’s aid when he was shot, Goss says. “Alexander Graham Bell was involved in trying to save his life by trying to use a metal detector to find the bullet which was lodged inside his torso,” she says. “Bell was unsuccessful. His invention picked up the metal in the bed springs, and they never located the bullet.”

The gunshot wound did not kill Garfield; he ultimately died about a month and a half later from infections caused by his doctors.

Garfield never actually wanted to be president, Goss says. “His peers put forward his name in the election of 1880, but he never sought the office,” she says. “As a boy, he wanted to be a sailor, but his mother discouraged that. He read both Greek and Latin and also taught those languages at what is now Hiram College.”

To celebrate 150 years, Lake View’s centerpiece, the James A. Garfield Memorial, is getting a facelift. The 180-foot, 1890 Ohio sandstone building will be shrouded in scaffolding until next summer as crews clean the exterior and do some tuckpointing. The building has never been cleaned before, Goss says.

“It’s really exciting,” she says. “It’s gone from jet black—stained from industrial pollution—to a buff color. It’s pretty fabulous.”

The memorial will be closed periodically throughout the cleaning period. Goss recommends checking Lake View’s website before heading to the memorial.

"Documenting the Night" is a photo from "Moonlight in the Gates: 150 Years of Lake View Cemetery in a New Reflective Light,” an outdoor exhibit by Michael Weil.Moonlight in the Gates

Photographer Michael Weil used to visit Lake View as a child. He initially approached Goss about six years ago with a somewhat strange request. The owner of Foothill Galleries in Cleveland Heights wanted permission to enter the cemetery after dark (the gates are locked every evening) to shoot some photos.

It wasn’t the first time Goss had been approached with such a request. “I said no, that’s not a good idea.” she says. “I didn’t know him, and I get a lot of weird calls.” She gets a lot of requests around Halloween, Goss says. She has allowed a motorcycle photo shoot, and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” filmed in the cemetery, though she doesn’t encourage these activities.

But years later, when Goss and Weil got to know each other better, and after Weil’s 18-year-old son was killed in a car crash in 2015, she reconsidered Weil’s request and let him spend late nights during the full moons in 2018 shooting photos.

Beneath each month’s full moon in 2018, Weil spent solitary evenings locked inside the gates of Lake View Cemetery (which is not lit) photographing its grounds, monuments, and mood. From frigid, still January nights to blustery snowstorms into blossoming spring and humid summer midnights and breezy autumnal crow-time (just before dawn), Weil roamed the extensive, dark, park-like grounds to experience the cemetery in a wholly unfamiliar light.

The result is “Moonlight in the Gates: 150 Years of Lake View Cemetery in a New Reflective Light,” a 45-photo outdoor exhibit that depicts the cemetery in a way most people never experience.

“I expected to be uncomfortable,” Weil says of being in a graveyard at night, during the full moon. “But it was brighter than I expected, and by the second or third night, I was not at all [uncomfortable].”

In fact, Weil says he found the experience quiet and peaceful as he wandered the grounds while Cleveland slept. “This began as creative curiosity, I didn’t have an expectation that I would create a body of work,” he says. “Then, after a few visits, I realized this would be beautiful and something worth sharing.”

The images are printed on a weatherproof Diebond aluminum composite material by Vista Color Imaging to stand up to the elements and will be on display throughout the cemetery through fall 2020. Weill will also sell limited edition prints at his Foothill Galleries, 2450 Fairmount Blvd., Suite m291, Cleveland Heights.

Favorite places

Goss says visitors to Lake View must not miss the 1901 Wade Chapel, one of the few buildings remaining in the world that Louis Comfort Tiffany designed entirely. “Every wall, ceiling, floor, and fixture was done by Mr. Tiffany in New York,” says Goss. “It was built by Jeptha Wade’s grandson for us, but in memory of his grandfather. It took about four years to put together.”

The interior of Wade Memorial Chapel at Lake View Cemetery was designed entirely by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

At practically every bend and atop each hill is another remarkable monument to a loved one. Some are simple, some ornate in their tributes.

“There isn’t any one stone that’s so unusual,” says Goss when asked if she has a favorite. “Everyone has a story, and even the simplest headstone can say a lot about the person. Perhaps their humility in the life of greatness or their devotion to their faith. It’s too difficult to single one out.”

But some places and monuments do stand out to the CEO who knows Lake View and its stories so well.

Goss says one comes to mind: a monument in Section 12 for the Peck family. They were involved in the shipping business and lost two children, she says. At the grave are the sculptures of two mourning women draped in shawls, one carrying an urn, the other weeping over a stone tablet.

“You see them up there, and they’re just haunting looking,” Goss says. “They’re just incredible, and it’s a beautiful lot. It’s not in the main drag, it’s tucked away on a hill. They are just so sad and eerie looking. I’m really mesmerized by them. They must express what that family felt in losing their children.”

Goss says her favorite spot at Lake View is at the top of a hill in Section 3: the site of Jeptha Wade’s grave.

“You can see the lake, downtown Cleveland, you can look down into the cemetery and see a lot of graves and a lot of flowering trees,” she says. “This is my spot. I can be found up there. It is the essence of Lake View because of the view of the lake.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.