Michigan cemeteries' purchase snag: They're not for sale | Michigan Radio
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Michigan cemeteries' purchase snag: They're not for sale

Jul 5, 2018

There's a problem with a deal Michigan officials tentatively OK'd for a company to buy more than two dozen cemeteries in the state: None are for sale.

Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery, where several well-known Detroit figures are interred, is among 30 cemeteries whose sale the Michigan Strategic Fund has preliminarily agreed to help finance, despite the owners of the properties having no knowledge of any potential sales.
Credit Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Detroit Free Press reports that the owner of 28 cemeteries allegedly involved in the proposed sale says he's had no contact with the would-be buyer.

The Michigan Strategic Fund gave preliminary approval June 26 for a $26.5 million tax-exempt bond issue to help the nonprofit Cathedral of St. Augustine's purchase 30 cemeteries. Owners of the other two aren't aware of any sale negotiations either.

The newspaper reported that officials from Southfield-based St. Augustine's declined interviews.

Christopher Cook is director of the agency overseeing the strategic fund. He says if St. Augustine's doesn't obtain purchase agreements for the cemeteries, there's no bond issue.

Among the 30 cemeteries listed in the deal is Woodlawn Cemetery, located on Woodward Avenue across from the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Several well-known people from the Detroit area are interred in Woodlawn:

  • Albert Cobo, the former Detroit Mayor and namesake of Cobo Center;
  • Brothers Horace and John Dodge, the co-founders of Dodge Motors;
  • African-American politician Daisy Elliott,  who, during her time as a Democrat in the Michigan House of Representatives, co-authored the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in Michigan based on “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status”;
  • Several members of the Ford family, including Henry Ford’s son, former Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford, and grandson, William Clay Ford, Sr.;
  • J. L. Hudson, the founder of Detroit-based department store Hudson's;
  • Civil rights activist Rosa Parks;
  • Singer and actress Barbara Randolph, who played Dorothy in the 1967 movie Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, alongside Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Katharine Hepburn;
  • David Ruffin and Levi Stubbs, the lead singers of The Temptations and Four Tops, respectively;
  • George Trendle, co-creator of both the Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

The 28 cemeteries (including Woodlawn), now managed by Midwest Memorial Group, have twice been involved in multi-million dollar fraud scandals that resulted in prison time for at least two men.