Fiting the Decay of Woodland Cemetery
I was alerted by the following email exchange to efforts on a number of days this autumn by the Board of Managers of Woodland Cemetery to arrest the decline of that capacious public "garden cemetery", which is just south of the Home Depot in central Newark. In this exchange, my communications begin with BLOCK CAPS. Moreover, dates in this exchange differed in format as recorded by AOL, between those I received (all numbers and (forward) slashes — remember when we had only forward slashes, so didn't need to specify "forward"? —) and those I sent, which have the month abbreviated in letters.
I'm writing to let you know about a large community event happening at Woodland Cemetery in Newark, NJ, tomorrow, Saturday, September 28, from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Woodland Cemetery is a historic burial ground, and one of the largest in Newark, founded in 1855. In recent years, the cemetery been vandalized and neglected. The grass was recently four feet high, and many headstones have been knocked down and destroyed as a result of vandalism to the cemetery.
A new Woodland Cemetery Board of Managers, consisting of individuals who have family members buried in the cemetery, has partnered with Christ the King Preparatory School (in Forest Hill, northern Newark), and several elected officials (Ra[s] Baraka and Darrin Sharif, both running for Mayor in Newark). A large group of Christ the King's faculty and students, volunteers from the Friends and Family of Woodland Cemetery Group, and Investors Savings Bank (who donated food), as well as other donors and volunteers, will be onsite tomorrow cleaning debris from the recently mowed cemetery as part of the Woodland Cemetery Revitalization.
The Star Ledger, Newark Patch, and several television and radio stations have expressed an interest in covering the event. I wanted to pass this on to you as well. The Board of Managers is building momentum with the individuals and group volunteers, and was able to put together tomorrow's effort as a result of the press we've received so far. We are hoping for an additional push to get other volunteers and community groups to help the cemetery.
We will have a Press Kit on hand tomorrow, which is also available via email. We hope to see you there this would be a great human interest story for a Saturday afternoon/evening....
Woodland Cemetery Board of Managers
I replied [Sep 29, 2013]
I NEED much more lead time than 1 day, esp. since I do not presently have Internet access at home, so am using libraries. I have shown pictures of Woodland Cemeter[y] in the past, and would have liked to take pix of the restoration work, but did not get your email until today, Sunday the 29th.This time I got there.
I wanted to let you know that we are having another event on Saturday, October 19, with Christ the King and our other volunteers. Are you interested in covering this [i]n your blog?
[Oct 22, 2013]
SORRY, but October 19th was during the second Open Doors arts weekend, and I could not make a Woodland Cemetery event.
[10/22/2013] Hi Craig,
Are you interested in covering Christ the King and Woodland at a later date? If so, I can let you know our plans. Thanks!
[Oct 22, 2013]
SURE, if I have enuf advance notice. Is Christ the King a church in that area? I have an occasional feature, "Church Sunday", into which pix of that would fit.
This is just an email to let you know that the group will be back in the cemetery photographing and transcribing headstones on November 23 from 9 to 1. We hope to see you there.
On September 8, 2009, I showed fotos by Julius Spohn (affiliated with the Old Newark Group) and by me of Woodland Cemetery. The fotos today show that it is in substantially worse condition now. The gatehouse is a ruin. Melissa told me and a couple of other people who came by at the tail end of the November 23rd event, that NJIT (I suppose I should spell that out: the New Jersey Institute of Technology) will be working to stabilize the gatehouse so it doesn't just fall down! As to whether NJIT or anyone else will attempt to restore that gatehouse to its former glory, I cannot say.
I wanted to make a screenprint of this geograffic area from the Newgin website (an online service by which people, and esp. potential movers and shakers in Newark real estate development, might see a detailed map and measure distances and ca;cu;ate areas for potential projects), but that website is presently (and for how long now?) out of order. It says "Under Construction", but was fully operable years ago, so that cannot be true. Why is that invaluable resource no longer available? Unforgivable. I had to go instead to the present, unbelievably crappy version of MapQuest (an America Online service) to show that a number of roads on the northern side of 18th Avenue from Jacob to Bergen Streets were obliterated to create a contiguous plot big enuf for our Home Depot big-box store. The original MapQuest was great. The newer version is appallingly bad. I can't even find a way to maximize the map box. But some idiot at AOL ordered the termination of the far superior original MapQuest, and we are stuck with the astonishingly stupid newer version. Shouldn't websites get better with time, not worse? Here we have two websites that are much worse now than several years ago. How does that happen ? It's almost enuf to make one despair of the human race.
Someone else (a middle-aged white guy) came in to see what was going on when he saw (living) people in the graveyard as he was passing by in his car, and I heard Melissa tell those three visitors that the Board of Managers comprises people whose family members are buried in Woodland. Some of the Managers live in Newark, while others are scattered across other Essex County municipalities. One of the Managers from Newark bears a striking resemblance to TV sitcom star Tim Allen (presently appearing in Last Man Standing on ABC Fridays at 8pm, tho he is best known as "Tim the Toolman Taylor" in the sitcom Home Improvement, which also aired on ABC, from 1991 to 1998). The Newark gent is, however, better-looking.
Then a sad incident occurred. A (black) man, perhaps 35 years old, started to walk thru the cemetery (probably taking a shortcut to wherever he was headed), when he thought to stop a moment and ask the group he passed if they happened to see a white dog. At first, they said no. Then, on reflection just a moment later, one of the men asked if the dog was a pit bull, not solely white, and was told yes. They then informed the dog owner that they had found a pit bull, largely white, just off the roadway, dead, and buried it. They directed the owner to the location of the fresh grave, and mentioned that it was marked by two pieces of wood, more than just freshly disturbed soil. (Were those two pieces of wood formed into a cross? That would seem nice, but some rabid Christians might argue that 'mere animals' are not entitled to be buried under a cross. I would respond that human beings are also 'mere animals' — and not necessarily as nice as some other animals.) The Managers said it didn't look as tho the dog was crushed by a car, but it might have been hit by a vehicle, then crawled, fatally injured, to the side of the road, and expired.
Dogs should not run loose in the streets of any city. Roadways are dangerous. A lot of human pedestrians in Newark seem not to understand that, and Newark accounts for a large portion of the pedestrian deaths and serious injuries in the entire State of New Jersey, a point I made in one of my first posts to this blog. If one of those stupid human pedestrians had been found at curbside, the Managers would have had more to do than just dig a hole and bury him respectfully.
In any case, the Managers near the gatehouse then started to investigate whether they could get into the basement of the main structure, then use a ladder within it to move higher up.
At least large parts of the floors in the main building (two above ground level) had, alas, collapsed (I suspect from dry rot, which is actually produced by funguses that require wetness, but which act upon wood that had once been dried before being used in buildings). The windows that might have kept the floors safe from dry rot had long ago been broken, so rain and snow were able to soak the flooring.
I could not, myself, see anything of the interior being plumbed by the Managers. I did hear the men outside the basement cautioning the man who ventured inside to be very careful.
I'm not even clear as to what they hoped to find in that exploration, in that they seemed not to be professional building inspectors or construction contractors. Nor did they appear to have a camera to record what they found, to compare to what professional inspectors might report as to the state of the structure and potential costs of stabilization, repair, and reconstruction. The bulk of the main building might indeed be so badly ravaged as to require razing and starting all over. ("Razing" is a very peculiar term for tearing everything down. The English language, he is very weird, no?)
The architecture of the gatehouse is churchlike, with an entrance archway and some pointed arches in the walls of the gatehouse. This next foto, of the driveway arch itself, has two crenelations, one midspan, the other at the side of the main portion of the gatehouse.
This next foto shows the view thru a pointed archway of one type, to a portion of a pointed archway of a different type.
This is the other archway seen in the foto above, not a window but a doorway.
I hadn't realized that the Cemetery was still interring people well into the 1930s, which seemed to me (given that I was born in late 1944) quite recently. But as I reviewed my fotos and saw the following reference to 1933, I realized that that is 80 years ago, not recently at all as most people regard things.
This other gravestone, however, refers to what most people would regard as a recent year, 1998. That's only two years before I moved to Newark. I would not have thought, from the condition of the cemetery nine years later, that Woodland had still been accepting burials that recently.
I asked Melissa if the Cemetery might take on new burials, as a way to raise funds for maintenance or restoration purposes, but she said that the place is pretty much full-up, with some 80,000 graves! Still, might not a mausoleum of relatively small 'footprint', be it for entire bodies or for the ashes of new 'permanent residents' stacked in several vertical levels, be doable? Fairmount Cemetery has a large mausoleum, which supplements its spacious grounds.
A lot of tombstones have fallen over, or been knocked over. I don't know if that is all from vandalism or in part from the intrusion of water that then froze and broke the two parts of the memorial apart. What possible reason would anyone have to knock over tombstones?
I saw this one flag in the ground, but a press package sent to me by the Board says that there are some 350 Civil War burials in a part of Woodland Cemetery not near the gatehouse. I would hope that veterans organizations see to it that those graves are marked by flags on either or both of the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays. Fairmount has a large area given over to Civil War burials, which includes a towering stone marker.
There's another part of the Cemetery, about which there is some uncertainty about the meaning of the abbreviation "Col" as used there. A black(?) Manager said that the people who pondered the issue thought it might stand for "Colored". We all know about the various terms that have been used in this country for "Negroes", "coloreds", "Afro-Americans", "blacks", "African-Americans", etc. Each has been driven out of favor by the "euphemism treadmill", in which no term can be stable because of sensitivity not to the term but to the thing the term refers to. As long as blacks/Negroes/you-name-its were not actually regarded as equivalent to whites, no term to refer to them would be regarded as respectful, because the disrespect attached not to the term but to the people covered by the term. To make two admittedly unfortunate comparisons, "retards" became "retardates" became "intellectually challenged" or "mentally handicapped" — or whatever; and "cripples" became "handicapped" and then "disabled", except that "handicapped" parking spaces and permit-parking remain.
Conversely, it doesn't matter what people are called if they are respected. "White" people have never felt insulted by that term, even tho of course very few of us actually have anything like white skin except perhaps in the 'dead' of winter. (That would include me, however. I strongly dislike expressions that dredge up death, but there are times — albeit very few times — when the commonplace expression seems best.) In the age of segregation, the Latin-music maestro Xavier Cugat sat down with some of his black musicians in a booth within a restaurant in the South. A manager approached to say that Cugat could not eat there, because that section was reserved for colored people. Cugat said "I am colored. I am peenk!"
So was there a "Colored" section in Woodland Cemetery? Maybe, even in the North. Remember that Newark was founded by Puritans from Connecticut. They weren't exactly what would today be deemed "Progressives", but many might have disregarded race to see everyone as "God's children", the great equalizer in pious eyes.
If "Col" were not short for "Colored" (and why would anyone abbreviate so short a word?), what alternative would fit? "Colonial" had then been suggested, and is shown at the bottom of the Board's handout map below. In that the Cemetery didn't start accepting burials until 1855, that seems unlikely, altho a tiny number of veterans of the Revolutionary War might have lived till then. Still, 1855 minus 1781 (the end year of the Revolutionary War, and thus of our Colonial era) = 74 years.
Tho trounced in the Revolutionary War, thanks to generous and indispensable help from our oldest and best friend, France, and from the Netherlands and Spain (points only inadequately stressed in U.S. history classes), the Brits did not fully evacuate our realm until 1783, but lingered on, making deadly trouble for us with the Indians in the unorganized territories to the west of the 13 original states, until finally expelled in 1814, at the end of the War of 1812.
If a veteran were 17 or 18 at the end of the War (which was not exactly unusual), he would have been 91 or 92 at death in 1855, a time when, however, few people lived that long. No, it seems extremely unlikely that there would have been enuf ancient RevWar vets to fill even a small corner of a big cemetery.
Since there is no present-day Newark neighborhood that is abbreviated "Col" (no "Columbia Heights" or "Columbus Downs"; and the public-housing project, "Columbus Houses" wasn't built (nor razed) until long after Woodland Cemetery was opened); and "Col" seems an unlikely family name; it would seem most likely that there was indeed a "Colored" section of Woodland Cemetery a long time ago. Is that offensive? When I was young, in the 40s and 50s, "colored" was a polite and respectful reference. As I say, "white" people aren't offended by the term "white", and haven't insisted on one after another euphemism. "Caucasian" is a (pseudo)scientific term, mainly in police usage today. "Honky" never caut on outside of a small group of antiwhite black militants — in part because white people weren't offended at being called "honky" or anything else, since they were never touchy about being white, in turn because they were always the majority and cared only about what the culture of which they were the dominant force, felt was important.
In any case, remember that Melissa said that at one point the grass in parts of Woodland Cemetery was four feet high. It's not today. Certainly the grounds don't look as overgrown, in vines and weeds more than just grass, as I had thought they might be, so perhaps the Board and volunteers have done a lot of hard work to good effect in recent months. There was one (black) guy working with what I thought might be a golfclub-like weed or grass whip a couple of hundred feet from the gatehouse, but before I could get over there, my camera batteries conked out due to the cold. (They later bounced back once I took the camera into my relatively warm home office.) But I was unable to take more fotos that day.
I did go into the nearby Home Depot once I left the Cemetery, to see if they had the Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries that work best and last longest in my camera. The store did have some, but at $2.25 apiece in the most cost-effective package, which seems to me an awful lot of money for an AA battery. I held off to see if I could find such batteries for less at, say, the Ivy Hill Radio Shack or elsewhere, so had to settle, for this post, on the fotos that I managed to get before the cold knocked my batteries out.
The foto above shows what appear to be three giant metal pots filled with concrete to block vehicles from passing under the gatehouse arch on a driveway of narrow, beige bricks. I don't think those barriers were in place when last I was there.
Woodland Cemetery is, compared to refined Mount Pleasant Cemetery in northern Newark and grand Fairmount Cemetery little more than a half mile northwest of Woodland, quite modest and undistinguished, tho there are occasional statuary angels and (artistically-)broken columns. The entire concept of cemeteries might be challenged by people who find them bizarre misuses of space on a crowded planet, esp. in the case of cemeteries that are rarely or never visited by family members or the general public. (Jay Leno said in his monolog on November 26th that by the year 2100, planet Earth is expected to have 11 billion people. Of course, no one is doing anything to prevent that.)
One visitor asked about corruption in the administration of Woodland Cemetery in earlier times, as had apparently happened in at least one Jersey City graveyard. One of the Managers admitted that there was one scandal in part of Woodland. It seems that infants had been buried in that section, but after some time, those graves were covered over with adúlt burials. That is, the same space was sold twice! That disgraceful practice did not, however, apply to any substantial portion of Woodland's grounds.
NJ has a despicable tradition of municipal corruption. Not as bad as the Boss Tweed era in NYC, perhaps, but indefensible anyway. We have to be grateful that the State and Feds have intervened to crush the culture of corruption that dogged Newark and other municipalities in NJ for entirely too long. Our area is not as horrendously corrupt as the bulk of the Third World, but it is still galling that some people regard a public trust as a private trough.
I asked the Managers who were on hand if anyone famous was buried in Woodland, and was told that a well-known jazz musician was buried close to another entrance than the one we were near. I did not recognize the name stated, but he was probably the gentleman noted in the Board's press kit as "Ike Quebec a.k.a Ike Abrams (1918-1963), Blue Note Recording Star from New York City and jazz tenor saxophonist.") Given that I love (the Province of) Quebec and have always felt that it should be a State of the Union, I find it odd if that was the name mentioned but I didn't recall it. Moreover, some members of the Krueger brewing family were also interred in Woodland, altho the magnificent Krueger tomb is in Fairmount Cemetery. (I was recently contacted by a present-day member of the Krueger family, but have not yet tracked down all my fotos of Krueger things that I thought he might like to see. When you have over 10,000 Newark fotos online, 1,950 blogposts already uploaded, and thousands and thousands of other fotos not (yet) used to sort thru, it's not always easy to find a particular foto when you need it. I can search within Google Blogger for key terms, but what term would I use to find things like a Krueger serving tray in Julius Spohn's house in North Newark?)
How much restoration will be accomplished by the present Board of Managers, Christ the King student volunteers, and NJIT? I hope quite a lot can be done, including some handsome landscaping to make this spare graveyard more like the lush "garden cemetery" it was intended to be. A PBS documentary several years ago spoke to the development of major public cemeteries in place of small churchyard burial sites. Those great, beautifully landscaped cemeteries became, for a while if not into the present, destinations for family outings and even picnics. No one would today want to hold a picnic in Woodland Cemetery. But it occurs to me that the tradition of the picnic, in any setting, may have vanished from our culture entirely. Aside from tailgate parties, does anybody hold picnics anymore? I see picnic tables, and even standalone grills, in various parks in this general area (notably in Hawthorne), and hope that the picnic remains part of American culture. But I don't really know. Anyone?
Will the Board of Managers, the volunteers they have enlisted, and NJIT right all the fallen tombstones, restore the gatehouse, and do some landscaping — scattered large but elegant evergreen trees and shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, and some flowering perennials, can go a long way to dignifying and humanizing an empty field — as to remake the present dreary graveyard into a place of restful beauty? We can only hope. No, people who care about the condition of Woodland Cemetery can do much more than only hope. If a mighty effort should restore Woodland's former dignity, what measures are now or will in the future be in place to see that the vandalism that knocked myriad gravestones over will not undo everything that people of good will manage to accomplish?
There is more information about Woodland Cemetery at its official website (tho, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the designer of the home page put green text on a background filled with greenery, so I for one found much of the text unreadable) and at the article about Woodland Cemetery on Wikipedia. You will find contact information at the Cemetery's website if you'd like to help with the revitalization of Woodland Cemetery.