So what’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened on Nerd Trip? My mom and I attended the funeral for a woman we never met.
It happened during a visit to the President Garfield Memorial in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery.
When you visit the cemetery, they will remind you to be respectful as funerals still take place there – that is certainly true!
There were only a couple cars when we parked behind the memorial along a circular road. Walking around to the front, I was taken by the terra cotta panels depicting scenes from Garfield’s life and death. They look like something you would see at a much older, more ancient monument. While you are viewing these figures from the ground, they are actually life-size.
The monument is impressive (180 ft tall) – just look at the flight of stairs. The memorial has beautiful doors (see picture, below)
The woman behind the desk was named Margaret, which I clearly remember because that’s my mom’s name. Margaret was quite informed and very appreciative of President Garfield, sharing with us about the nation’s sadness about his death. She said many people had high hopes for his presidency.
There are images throughout the memorial of sadness and mourning. (As you may recall, Garfield died 200 days into his presidency. Seventy-nine days earlier he had been shot in a Washington train depot. He likely died due do to an infection and internal hemorrhage. Tales of the medical missteps in his case are well known. Medicine has come a long way since 1881).
However, for someone who was president for less than a year, our 20th president has an impressive memorial! He has one of the best-lit statues we have seen on a Nerd Trip – look at how cool it is! The lighting creates an awesome shadow.
If I thought panels on the outside harkened to ancient memorials, the mosaics inside confirmed it. It really reminded me of a Byzantine church (my art history minor was really kicking in, and turns out, it was spot on. The monument has Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine influences. You can see the Gothic with the stained glass windows).
I think what struck me was seeing American iconography (eagles, stars and stripes, etc) in stained glass windows and mosaics. It seems distinct from other memorials we have visited, which I guess you’d describe as federal or neoclassical in style (although we did some smaller mosaic scenes on a Nerd Trip to Grant’s tomb in New York City).
Back in Ohio, I went to the upper level to see the statue from above. Look at how decorative the floor is.
We did not venture to the outside balcony. Apparently, on a clear day, you can see 40 miles along Lake Erie, thus the name “Lake View.”
While my mom stayed in the main area with the statue, mosaics and Margaret, I descended to the lower level to see the Garfield crypt, where you’ll find the coffins President Garfield and his wife Lucretia as well as urns with remains of their daughter and her husband.
SAYING “GOODBYE” TO A NEW FRIEND
After getting our fill of James A. Garfield, we headed out with a plan to grab lunch and then a movie to escape the heat (We visited on a very humid July day; an online almanac confirmed a high temp of nearly 90 degrees).
However, when returning to our car, we saw we had a bit of a situation. There were now vehicles everywhere, and group of people gathered around a grave about 25 feet away.
There was no way we could start the car without disrupting the funeral – seriously, no way at all. And we thought about it.
So my mom and I sat on a picnic bench to wait it out. Luckily there were some trees, but it was still super hot. Margaret even came out and joined us for a little while to eat her lunch.
Let me tell you a little about the woman who passed away. Her name was Barbara, and she sounded like quite a character. Her pastor relayed a story about how Barbara always told him that he was her favorite minister as she left church each week. He later learned that she said the same thing to the other ministers when she went out the other doors.
Barbara seemed to be very loved, her service lasted about 45 minutes in the humid July heat (it may have been longer as we arrived when the service was underway). We knew we would miss our movie, so we lingered over a very late lunch where my mom and I raised our glasses in a toast to Barbara, we really felt like we knew her.
If you’d like to visit Barbara, President Garfield or see the other sites in Lake View Cemetery, check out the “On the Map” page for information about admission, hours and other details. You already know about the parking situation.
Along with our 20th president, there many other famous folks interred there, ranging from gangster pursuer Eliot Ness to Standard Oil titan John D. Rockefeller. With Barbara’s funeral, we did not have time to tour any other parts of the cemetery (except for the famous Tiffany window in the Wade Memorial Chapel). We’ll have to plan a trip back.