Tours of Oakwood Cemetery Bring Out its 'Ghosts' and its History

Aug 18, 2014

The inside of the Oakwood Chapel Chapel is part of a tour of the grounds.  It's in need of repair.
The inside of the Oakwood Chapel Chapel is part of a tour of the grounds. It's in need of repair.
Credit Hannah Warren/WAER News

  Just down the road from our studio is a historic sculpture garden that used to be a hangout for the city’s elite. It just may not be the kind of public park you’d normally imagine.

In the early eighteen hundreds, Oakwood Cemetery – which is now just off Comstock Avenue – was where the wealthy gathered for leisure time and picnics.

“If you remember in this period of time there were no city parks yet.  The first city parks didn’t come along, I think, until 1868.  The high society people of the city came here on a Sunday and most of these people showed up and it was like a high society get together.” 

That was Karl Orlick, who’s on the board of the Oakwood Preservation Association.  He was there on Saturday with the Onondaga Historical Association to talk about some of those high-society types.

During the tour, Scott Peal took on the role of Elias Leavenworth, a lawyer and politician who was mayor of Syracuse in 1859, and gave the cemetery’s dedication speech. Back in its heyday, the old bridge you can see from route 81 was actually the entrance…

“People didn’t drive through anymore on a regular basis.  When it first opened, you had to have a permit to get in here.  You had to stop at the office, get a rule book and sign in.  they really treasured this cemetery.  (The Chapel) had a big glass greenhouse off to the side here.  It was a big deal.”

Scott Peal took on the persona of Elias Leavenworth, former Mayor of Syracuse, during the tour.
Scott Peal took on the persona of Elias Leavenworth, former Mayor of Syracuse, during the tour.
Credit Hannah Warren/WAER News

  The cemetery is now home to crypts and monuments for big local names, like the Crouse family, the Wilkinsons, Links, Leavenworths, and Yates.

The Historical Association and the Oakwood Preservation Association would love to see a time when the chapel, the front entry building, and the historic bridge are restored to their original glory… But that goal is a few hundred thousand dollars away.

So for the time being, they’ll settle for educating today’s public about the people who came ahead of them, in tour groups of about fifty history buffs at a time. You can catch their last tour of the season September twenty-first at 2:00 pm.