Friday, January 14, 2011

Cemetery Superman

It is quiet and peaceful in these surroundings. There are only the decomposing bodies of more than 104,000 who once walked among us neatly placed into rows, but they make no sound.  

Until, bounding out of the silence is a staff vehicle. The man driving is smiling, wild yellow hair disheveled in such a way as to make you believe it would not look quite right otherwise.  He looks like Kirk Douglas circa 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea without the distracting chin cleft.  He asks if I need help.  It amazes me that in a 285 acre labyrinth he always seems to know where everyone is and where everything should be.  Ask him where a grave is located or how to find a specific statue and he’ll get you there.

He appears ever vigilant, springing from out of nowhere to assist (or perhaps keep an eye on) the unfamiliar.  He hands out his card with instructions to call his cell if you notice any suspicious activity.  If this is Gotham City, he is Batman.

Lake View Cemetery is more than a final resting place. It is an arboretum, a historical center, a sculpture garden, and an art museum.  A cemetery with its very own Events Page, weddings are held here, as are trolley tours and school field trips.  Don’t know what to get Mom for Mother’s Day? Take her on Lake View’s Mother’s Day walking tour. 

Certainly far from a city of the dead, in this necropolis the past is alive and interacts with the living.  One can find a president, an oil baron, the leader of the Untouchables, and a chapel of Tiffany.  Peaceful lakes are flanked with botanical wonders and uncommon tree species, as deliberately carved statuary beckon you to take a closer look. And one man is there watching over it all.

Part caretaker part detective, the director of security and maintenance has caught thieves and thwarted criminal vandals.  His attentive surveillance over the outdoor museum spurs encounters with excitement rivaled by action movies. Dozens of military trainees repel down the cemetery’s 80 million gallon capacity concrete-filled dam one day, while heavily made-up gothic kids are discovered posing for a nude photo shoot atop graves on another.  When six of the ground’s shrubs turned up missing, you can bet the security director wasn’t far behind.  He followed the trail to a house where six perfectly sized holes dotted the front yard waiting for the stolen plants to take root.

Then there was the sting operation.  Someone was stealing old iron benches out of the cemetery.  Working with local police, Lake View’s head security officer photographed suspicious vehicles, made trips to a local antique dealer, and located stolen goods.  Threatening the owner with criminal charges for purchasing stolen goods, he learned where the cemetery’s own stolen antiques were.  He arranged a buy for more stolen benches, at which time the thieves were apprehended in the same vehicle he had photographed in the cemetery.  Following through to the end, the everyday crusader saw the perpetrators convicted and sentenced to the maximum for their crime. The antique benches are now all back in their familiar surroundings, where they are to remain.

Perhaps more interesting than the stoic history of those under the ground is the living history of those who visit them.  Lake View Cemetery staff customarily decorates an evergreen near the grave of Heinrich Christian Schwan, the “Father of the Christmas Tree,” during the holidays.  Although visitors may not leave minced beef on the grave of James Salisbury, the creator of Salisbury Steak, they do leave sports memorabilia on the grave of Raymond Johnson Chapman, Cleveland Indians shortstop killed by a pitch, and coins on the grave of John D. Rockefeller, who used to hand out coins to those he would meet with instructions to be frugal and save.  And watching over all of the comings and goings is Lake View Cemetery security, ever ready to leap into action when the situation calls for it.   

As a side note, when you visit Lake View Cemetery, stop into the office.  They are possibly the friendliest office staff ever encountered. It must be something about walking among the dead that makes the living happy.