Mausoleum mess: Families want final resting places restored

Target 8

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When it was first built in 1923, the mausoleum at Graceland Memorial Park was said to be the most marvelous in the world.  

A century later, the grand building on Cascade Road houses the remains of hundreds of local families.  

Although the outside appears untouched, the inside of the mausoleum has suffered serious wear and tear over recent years. 

From holes in the ceiling to mold-infested floors, the disrepair has taken an emotional toll on families that come to visit the resting place of loved ones. 

“The outside is beautiful… but its what’s inside the doors that I find heartbreaking,” Sue Griswold said.  

Sue Griswold and her husband Bill have visited the mausoleum for decades, paying their respects to more than a dozen departed loved ones inside, until recently when things started getting in the way.  

During Griswold’s most recent visit, heavy machinery blocked the crypt holding her parents’ remains.  

“My family would be horrified to see the place that they’re laid to rest in this condition,” she said. “That’s not what they would’ve wanted, they’d be so disappointed.” 

Griswold says they’ve watched the building gradually deteriorate over the past five or so years. 

“The filth of it, the cobwebs, the ceilings,” she said, “When I was here in September, I saw seven windows with breaks in them.”  

The windows have since been repaired, but Griswold said everything else has only gotten worse. 

Damage to the Alten family’s private room at Graceland Memorial Park & Mausoleum in Cascade Township. (July 22, 2021)

The lower level has the most damage, including the final resting place of renown West Michigan artist Mathias Alten.   

The Alten family’s private room is covered with debris from the crumbling ceiling, while gnats swarmed around the artist’s precious self-portrait. 

“I just think it’s sad that such a talented, wonderful person has this,” Griswold said. 

Griswold and her husband recently took their concerns to management, but say the on-site office brushed off their complaint, blaming COVID-19 and staffing shortages.

Target 8 tracked down those in charge of the facility, only to learn Graceland Memorial Park and its 27 sister cemeteries across the state were recently acquired by Park Lawn Corporation, a Canadian-based company that owns hundreds of cemeteries and funeral homes across the U.S and Canada. 

Lawrence Michael, Park Lawn’s vice president of operations, said they acquired Graceland’s former parent company, Midwest Memorial Group, LLC., in 2016. 

“When we purchased the cemetery, we recognized there had been significant capital improvements that had not been done by the former ownership,” Michael told Target 8 over the phone. 

He said the company has come up with a long-term strategy to restore the mausoleum to its original beauty, starting with a new roof. 

“We believe that once that step is completed, we will be able to go inside and work on some of the other disrepair that’s unfortunately happened to the building after so many years of neglect,” Michael said. 

The plan is to start as soon as possible, as the company is in the process of finalizing a bid to a local contractor. 

In the meantime, he says staff will the do their best to keep the place in the best shape possible. 

“We are very optimistic that it will be fully restored to the beautiful mausoleum that the families of Grand Rapids have grown to enjoy over the years,” he said. 

If the restoration goes as planned, the Griswolds will consider keeping the plots reserved for them inside the mausoleum, otherwise they’ll look elsewhere. 

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