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New management at cemetery works to restore it

New management at Crystal Springs Cemetery in Benton Harbor works to restore it

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A grassy area with a surprise pool and fountain under it.

A stone chair partway down the ravine with a large “M‘‘ on it.

A sculpture of a girl hugging a cross, almost totally hidden by trees and bushes.

These are three of the jewels at Crystal Springs Cemetery in Benton Harbor that are waiting to be uncovered and restored, according to The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph (http://bit.ly/U5tEoD )

“We never knew it was a pool,” said longtime groundskeeper Demarious McKinney of the grassy area near the entrance.

While going through records on a recent rainy day, he said cemetery workers found plans for the sitting area called the “Ella G. Sheffield Memorial Garden 1924” next to the entrance.

“We thought it had just been a flower bed until we found the plans in the back,” he said.

The plans show not only the pool with a fountain, but exactly how many of each perennial plant was to be placed around the pool.

All that could be seen of the memorial was the curved stone bench overlooking the grassy area that covered the pool.

Michelle Hart, office manager and grounds supervisor, said since they dug out the pool last week, several people have stopped by to thank them.

“One lady said she remembers playing by the fountain and the pool when she was a kid,” she said.

Hart said the grounds crew wants to restore the fountain and install lights to light up the flag pole, but they need money to do that.

Hart said people who donate money can specify what it is to be spent on.

Hart said she started working at the cemetery after Bert Edquist took over management of the city-owned Crystal Springs and Morton Hill cemeteries Oct 1. Before that, she said she worked at one of his other cemeteries, North Shore Memory Gardens in Coloma.

In addition to the fountain, McKinney said he wants to restore other elements around the cemetery to their former glory.

“We want to bring back some of the memories of the people who used to come here,” he said.

There are several areas where flower beds used to be kept, including a memorial donated by L.B. Schmuhl of Chicago “as a living memorial to his mother, Hulda Schmuhl 1869-1927.” Another area states it was donated by Maud and Ida F. Walls of St. Joseph in 1929.

All that can be seen of a large pool towards the back of the cemetery is the concrete border. The rest is filled in with dirt and grass.

The Memorial Tower that at one time sent music throughout the cemetery in memory of Lillian Bishop, 1902-85, is now silent and the cannon next to it is rusted.

Hart said Boy Scouts can earn the Eagle Scout rank by doing projects around the cemetery. She said one scout from Berrien Springs is making a new plaque for Morton Hill Cemetery as his Eagle Scout project.

Along with restoration, Hart said she would like to uncover some mysteries, such as why there is a stone chair partway down the ravine with a large “M‘‘ on it. She said they speculate it may be connected to the large monument for the Morrill family atop that section of the ravine, but they are unsure.

A picture from an undated brochure shows the ravine in its glory, with well-manicured, tiered terraces flanked with stone that slope down to the edge of a “crystal-clear stream.” The brochure, which was made when Herman C. Vogt was cemetery superintendent, states that the cemetery got its name from that stream. He was superintendent from 1921 to 1953.

Hart said the terraces of stone and stone steps are still there but are overgrown by vines, weeds and trees. The “crystal-clear” stream is non-existent in some places. In other places, it’s more of a muddy wetland.

“People used to picnic down in the ravine,” Hart said. “This used to be a nice, quiet place. This was all open. You could walk down the stairs.”

A walk down the stairs today entails battling thorny vines and low tree branches.

One section of the cemetery along the top of the ravine rarely sees daylight and the ground and headstones are covered with moss.

Hart said they plan to cut back the trees to let in the sun.

“I want grass there,” she said. “We’re slowly working on it.”

An island in the middle of a portion of the former stream has on it a sculpture of a girl hugging a cross that at one time was plainly visible from a bridge that goes over the stream. Today, people can catch a glimpse of the sculpture only if they know where it is.

“Some people think we’ve moved her, but she’s still there,” Hart said.

Since Edquist assumed management, Hart said the staff has doubled from one to two office workers and from two to four groundskeepers. In addition to working in the office, she said she mows the grass and uses the weed trimmer.

She said that in the spring two additional groundskeepers from other cemeteries helped Crystal Springs get ready for Memorial Day.

She said mowing and weed trimming take up most of their days. But on rainy days when they can’t mow, they work on projects such as the fountain.

Information from: The Herald-Palladium, http://www.heraldpalladium.com


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