Tuesday, October 25, 2022


halloween cemetery tour

From the mid-1800s through mid-1900s, Pontiac, Michigan was a vibrant civic center and industrial hub. Now a ghost town compared to its heyday years, a cemetery on an oak tree covered hill which marks the highest point within the city provides a haunting reminder of the community's prosperous past. This history geek inspired by the Halloween season took a walk-through Oak Hill Cemetery to explore its eye-catching architecture and spooky atmosphere.

Opened in 1822 as a municipal cemetery, Oak Hill is the final resting place of both wealthy elite and paupers. It is filled with mausoleums and monuments in Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architecture styles honoring veterans, influential politicians and some of the state's richest residents who lived and died between the Revolutionary War and World War II. Pontiac also was the site of a state asylum from 1878 to 1997 filled with developmentally disabled, criminally insane and severally mentally ill individuals. A corner of Oak Hill cemetery was devoted to burying deceased patients from the mental hospital. Walking through this place there is a sense of days gone by and a haunting ambience. 

The cemetery has a charming chapel building filled with exquisite stain glass windows. Built in 1898, the Buckland Memorial Chapel is an Old English style structure built of Berea sandstone and German mottled tiling. Three solid bronze plaques are set in the rear wall of the chapel memorializing its benefactor Don C. Buckland along with his wife and daughter. They are buried at the highest point of the hill overlooking the entire cemetery.

oak hill cemetery

buckland chapel

Nearby the Buckland Memorial Chapel is David Ward's monument. A surveyor who was compensated by being granted 1/3 of the land he surveyed, David Ward became wealthier than the lumber barons he served and his tomb at the cemetery is meant to exemplify that prestige. At the time of his death in 1900, David Ward was the richest person in Michigan with a fortune of around $15 million dollars.

david ward

A cannon was placed within the cemetery in respect to all the veterans located there. It was situated near the graves of two of the most prominent veterans in Oak Hill Cemetery. Israel B. Richardson and Moses Wisner graves are a few paces away from the cannon.

Israel B. Richardson graduated from West Point in 1841 and fought in the Seminole and Mexican Wars where he earned the nickname "Fighting Dick". He practiced law in Pontiac after the Mexican War. In 1862, he rejoined the military where he advanced in promotion from Colonel to Major General. He was wounded and died at the battle of Antietam.

In 1859, Moses Wisner became Governor of Michigan. His Pontiac home served as the governor's mansion during his term in 1860 and was a hotbed of political activity when it came to the state government's operations. Commissioned as a Colonel, Wisner commanded the 22nd Michigan Infantry in the Civil War and died of typhoid fever while they were in Kentucky.


While it may seem scary to walk through a cemetery, especially an old one like this which looks like a place you may see in a horror movie, the place was very peaceful and interesting to explore. Every monument and marker has a story and examining the physical details of the place is like stepping back in time. You can tell they took pride in their community and wanted to leave a mark. What do you think the people of the past would think of our future today?

historic cemeteries

Have you been to a cemetery other than for a funeral or to visit the grave of a loved one? There can be architecture to appreciate and history to explore. The fall colors also make the Halloween season a nice time to do a walk-through and there is an element of spooky fun this time of year. Just be respectful on how you conduct yourself on the grounds and touring a cemetery isn't a big deal. Would you find a trip to a historic cemetery like Oak Hill interesting or would it creep you out?

haunted places

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