Friday, June 4, 2021

A Visit to Avondale Cemetery in Flint, Michigan

Located on the edge of downtown Flint nestled between an empty National Guard Armory and boarded up buildings lays one of Flint’s oldest cemeteries, Avondale.

Aventine Cemetery is also there, so close they look like one cemetery when you walk around the grounds. Aventine is the burial site of several area Civil War Veterans as well as Veterans from other eras. It is located on a portion of the grounds of Camp Thomson, a Civil War era rendezvous and training facility named after Colonel Thomson of Flint. The cemetery was abandoned by the city of Flint and left in disrepair. The Brothers of the Gov. Crapo Camp No. 145 decided to "adopt" the cemetery as a project and they keep it minimally maintained.

It is hard to tell where one cemetery ends and the other begins so I’ll just refer to the entire site as one location.

This sad, haphazard cemetery is full of crumbling headstones and toppled monuments that no one cares enough to repair. In recent years the cemetery has been vandalized repeatedly. These vandals not only damaged physical stones but destroyed parts of Flint’s history and heritage. Many of the stones damaged were over one hundred years old.

"Avondale represents people of all walks of life from Flint, from the mayor to the working person," said David White, president of the Genesee County Historical Society. "It's very unnerving to see the damage because it's so disrespectful to the buried and so costly to repair." (The Flint Journal May 7, 2015)

During my visit I noticed a large tree had split and fallen on top of numerous grave sites sometime recently because it was still full of leaves that had not completely dried up and crumbled yet. The tree branches and leaves conceal countless headstones and gravesites. Yet no one has made an effort to remove it.

The cemetery has been mowed but that seems to be the only maintenance occurring in this sad and lonely place.

This was my first visit to Avondale.

I knew of the cemetery but had never seen it before. Its location is on the outskirts of downtown Flint, an area where the gentrification has not yet reached, perhaps it never will.

Modern cemeteries are carefully planned and mapped out. Avondale is a scattered mess. Plots and stones are everywhere with no rhyme or reason.  Some of this may be due to the old Flint Cemetery residents being disinterred and reburied in Avondale in the 1950s when the city moved roads and a hotel was built on top of the old cemetery grounds.

During my visit I was on high alert, mostly due to being in a bad part of town, but something sinister lurked in the shadows that were everywhere in this cemetery even though it was a bright, hot, summer day.

Most of the cemetery was historically interesting yet sad. Nothing overtly creepy, not even the eerie crypts and mausoleums that were becoming one with the natural surroundings, until we drove to the back of the cemetery to circle our way out. I think I discovered the source of the cemetery's sinister subtext.

Photo by Ari Napolitano
Photo by Ari Napolitano

A derelict shed stood in shadowed darkness with pile of debris in front. Trees and vines had almost swallowed the structure whole. Only one garage door was visible and it hung open, darkness reaching out from its depth. Fear and trepidation filled me. Though it would have been a great subject for photos I would not get out of the car nor would I let my children get out. Something evil lingered in that old shed and I had no desire to face it.

My daughter snapped this photo through the car window

After that we hustled out of Avondale and made our way to the opposite side of downtown Flint to Glenwood. (More on Glenwood in my next cemetery post).

Here are more photos from Avondale by Ari Napolitano

Interestingly, right before setting up this post I read an email from Atlas Obscura  with a link to an article about Tree Stump Gravestones

I had to check it out because I knew there were several tree stump gravestones in Avondale that we snapped photos of. 

To the best of my memory Avondale is the first place I have ever seen tree stump gravestones. If they are in a cemetery I have visited before I just didn't pay attention.

According to the author of Tree-Stump Tombstones, Susanne Ridlen, tree-stump tombstones can be found in graveyards all over the US.  They date mostly from the 1880s to the 1920s, when funerary art was moving away from the grand mausoleums and obelisks and turning the focus of death back to life. A tree is a powerful symbol of both eternity and humanity, recalling the tree of life and tree of knowledge.

The tree-stump tomb stones qualify as folk art. They also have ties to secret societies, fraternal orders, and unions.

Haunted Flint
Haunted America Series
Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani 

Publisher: The History Press

Release Date: September 2, 2019

ISBN-10: 1467143049
ISBN-13: 978-1467143042

Book Description:

Sinister Secrets in Flint’s History

Home to ancient burial grounds, unsolved murders, economic depression, and a water crisis, Flint emits an unholy energy rife with ghostly encounters.

Colonel Thomas Stockton’s ever vigilant ghost keeps a watchful eye over his family home at Spring Grove, where guests occasionally hear the thump of his heavy boots.

Restless spirits long separated from their graves lurk among the ancient stones in Avondale Cemetery.

Carriage maker W.A. Paterson’s spirit continuously wanders the halls of the Dryden Building, and something sinister and unnamed resides in a Knob Hill mansion waiting to prey on impressionable young men.

Join authors Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani on a chilling tour of Flint’s most haunted locations.

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