Kathleen Marcaccio is one of a handful of Preservation Detroit volunteers who guide tours of four historic Detroit cemeteries — Mount Olivet, Mount Elliott, Elmwood and Woodlawn — throughout October.
Though Halloween is around the corner and cemeteries bring a chilling, unnerving sentiment to some, those things have nothing to do with the timing of these tours.
“Preservation Detroit’s regular summer walking tour season runs May through the end of September,” Marcaccio explained. “And so, back about 10 years ago, one of our directors suggested that we offer cemetery tours, and it made sense to do them after our regular season was done — and to just extend it and do something different. Even though they’re in October, there’s no haunted spin that we put on them. The tours are during the day … There are a couple of stories probably that tour guides may tell in particular cemeteries, but most of them, to my knowledge, don’t have any real haunted nature.”
Tour guides might mention the Battle of Bloody Run, which took place in 1763 where Elmwood Cemetery would be built. The creek that runs through the grounds is noted for that conflict.
Marcaccio, who is partial to Woodlawn because that’s the tour she leads, talked to Team Detour about what tourists can expect.
Note: This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Outlier Media: Why should people sign up for a cemetery tour?
Kathleen Marcaccio: I think for a variety of reasons. I mean, first of all, the history. Not just of the cemetery itself — and some of them have great stories behind how they came to be, especially something like an Elmwood. There were so many cemeteries in the city of Detroit earlier than that associated either with the Catholic Church like Saint Anne’s Cemetery or the city cemeteries. And as the city grew, they all had to move out. So, Elmwood really has that type of history. Woodlawn Cemetery, it was businessmen that decided that they needed to create a cemetery and establish one that was north of the city — because Elmwood was east, and Woodmere was west. Some of the people that were involved were notable businessmen at that time, back in the late 1800s. But the people who are buried in the cemetery, that’s where the real stories are.
So, who can people expect to hear about on the tours?
Marcaccio: You’ve got politicians. You’ve got sports figures. You’ve got Motown. You’ve got other Detroit music legends in them. A lot of automotive (figures) in several other cemeteries. So, we tell the stories about the people behind these as we walk from site to site within the cemetery. And I think also there are people that come out to see a little bit of the art in architecture, beautiful stained-glass windows, beautiful statuary in some cases. And some of the architects that designed the actual mausoleums at some of the cemeteries are notable — either Detroit architects like Louis Kamper or an Albert Kahn as well as national architects like Daniel Burnham and Stanford White. You may find those in any of these cemeteries. So, people come for various reasons. I think some people also just like the idea that they can go on a nice day, in a beautiful setting. The (leaf) colors are turning. You get your yellows and your oranges through the cemetery sometimes, depending on how the weather’s been. And it’s just beautiful to look at.
What should people wear to the tour?
Marcaccio: Dress for the weather. It could be beautiful, and you still need more than a sweater or sweatshirt on some days, but I’ve been there when it’s been pretty chilly, almost frigid. I’ve been there when it’s rainy. So, check the forecast and wear comfortable shoes because another nice feature of the cemeteries is the rolling terrain that was Detroit before things got built up and everything seems flat as a city. But in these cemeteries, you can actually see the hills and the valleys and such in between.
Is this a tour for people who may have physical disabilities or need assistance moving around?
Marcaccio: These are walking tours, and you have to watch your step for sure. They’re mostly outdoors. There’s a couple of instances where we take people inside, whether it’s a mausoleum or the Rosa Parks chapel at Woodlawn, or a chapel at Elmwood. By and large, we’re outdoors. So, people do have to be aware, but I’ve had people that have challenges getting around. And in some cases, we can work around it. They just don’t climb the hill, perhaps, and they may miss a few words.
The tours start at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays throughout October — with the Elmwood tour being on a Sunday. How long do the tours last?
Marcaccio: Generally, it’s at least two hours. Some of them run maybe two and a half hours. It really does depend on the cemetery and how much ground you have to cover. Mount Elliott is a small cemetery, compared to an Elmwood or Woodlawn or Mount Olivet. But Mount Olivet has a pretty tight circuit that they cover there. So, it’s between two and three hours, depending on the cemetery.
Tickets for the cemetery tours are $25 per person for Preservation Detroit members and $30 per person for non-members. For information, go to Preservation Detroit or Eventbrite.