Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Desperately Seeking Minneapolis, Pt. II

I find my happy place.

So I found myself on a quest when I recently visited Minneapolis; I was determined to find “the place” that would make me fall in love with the city. (See “Desperately Seeking Minneapolis, Pt. I” to find out why I was so gosh-darned determined.)

My quest produced a brief glimmer of the sublime when I found a scenic spot on Lake Calhoun, but a cigarette-puffing intruder snuffed the purity of the moment. I resumed walking along the paved lake path, attempting to divine where to head next.

My eye caught a sea of white on the hill across the street, and I paused to scan a cemetery flowing down towards the lake. This was no ordinary cemetery with rows of boring granite squares; instead, towering statues of angels intermingled with varying heights of obelisks and monuments. I love old cemeteries; I examine the sculpture and typography of the tombstones, I read the personal sentiments engraved there, and I take note of the architecture of mausoleums. Thus I was torn. The cemetery had no obvious entrance on the riverside, so it was going to take some serious hoofing to find the gate. Should I leave the lake to explore the cemetery, or should I stay on the lake path and check out the beach and yacht house at the far end? Could I do both?

I waited for a break in the throngs of runner, bikers and rollerbladers and hopped across the fitness lanes towards the cemetery. I crossed the street and began the long climb up a sidewalked hill that crested in a quaint neighborhood with meticulously landscaped yards. The sidewalk ended at an intersection, to the right laid the entrance gates to the cemetery. “No cars beyond this point except for funeral processions,” one sign read. “Flowers in urns only,” another mandated. “No live plants on graves except between Memorial Day and June 4,” dictated the last. For cripes sake! Could I put live plants in the urns on Memorial Day? Could I put artificial plants on the graves before Memorial Day?

I forged past the gates and headed towards an unusual pink church/chapel with red terra cotta domes. Stone and bronze Celtic crosses adorned the structure on rooftop and wings. Was this a deranged attempt to unite Latin and Irish Catholics through architecture? The closer I got, the more intrigued I became. The elaborate front doors were locked, but a peek through their elongated windows revealed an arched, mosaic interior—curses! Was this fascinating structure only opened when the most venerated of the city kicked the bucket? As I stepped back to view the chapel as a whole, I noticed a brass plaque on the side steps. This magnificent building was on the National Register of Historic Places; “Lakewood Chapel” was constructed in 1910. Surfing the web later, I confirmed that I’d wandered upon a rare gem:
"The Lakewood Memorial Chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the architectural focal point of the Cemetery. The building was designed by prominent Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones and was modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The Chapel interior was created by New York designer Charles Lamb and is the most perfect example of Byzantine mosaic art in the United States."

It turns out I could have gone inside, alas, if I’d gotten there before 3:30pm. At the time, all I knew was that my heart was warmed and my brain was inspired by a glimpse of this grand edifice. I’d found my happy place in Minnesota; my quest was fulfilled!

Greedy for more good vibes, I scanned the grounds to see what lay ahead. I was drawn across the chapel path to a courtyard of sorts, surrounded by a boxwood hedge. A closer inspection yielded brass plaques in the ground and on surrounding marble slabs. These were the cremated remains of married couples, apparently. Most markers indicated that the deceased duos were intact, though a few displayed birthdates of a loved one yet to pass. I wondered if they were looking forward to joining their partners in the courtyard of eternal marriage? Noting that the sun would set in an hour or so, I decided to move on.

I was smacked in the face by another breathtaking view when I exited the courtyard: a glass-faced mausoleum loomed out of a sunken basin in the grass. Within the sunken grotto, a reflecting pool magnified the building’s gray-white gleam. The visual was a stark contrast to the graceful curves and colors of the chapel on the hill above. As I walked aside the reflecting pool towards the mausoleum, footsteps echoed periodically behind me. Oh no, not again! Was my peaceful reflection time going to be invaded by another smoking yokel? A quick look over my shoulder revealed…nothing. Nobody. My mood promptly swung from “annoyed” to “creeped-out”. Common sense and denial quickly took the reins as I convinced myself that I’d heard the echo of my own footsteps.

As I continued towards the citadel-like building ahead, the huge stained glass windows reminded me of the Lutheran church I’d attended as a child. Abstract forms in pale color flowed up and down the glossy panes. Inside, ambient light illuminated crypts stacked from wall to wall. The facility looked modern and formal--admirable for its beauty, but void of the warmth inherent in the chapel. The creepy sensation flowed back like icy water as I turned towards the reflecting pool.

I realized I was alone in a cemetery, in a sunken area, out of view. The sun would be setting soon. Visions of “Night of the Living Dead” came to mind as I imagined black and white zombies stumbling down into this isolated basin. I hopped onto the pristine grass and quickly scrambled up the tree-lined slope next to the mausoleum. (I thoroughly expected the Landscaping Police of the Dead to tweet their whistles and yell, “No walking on the grass, Ma’m!”) I emerged from behind a holly tree and stepped onto the meandering paved path, strolling casually as if I’d been on it all along.

I was in the cemetery proper, at this point. Ancient trees formed a dense canopy over rolling hills of elaborate monuments. I went from plot to plot, admiring the artistry in the carvings and the humanity of the inscriptions. Mysterious Masonic symbols graced some monuments, while others brandished military emblems or icons. There were more obelisks than you could shake a stick at. (Perhaps their heights and widths varied according to the prominence of the Minneapolis son or daughter sleeping underneath?) A wanly staring goddess appeared to be recycled on statuary from time to time; she grasped a wreath atop one grave while she waved an olive branch over another.

The serene beauty of the place was matched by a melancholy atmosphere. The shade from the trees created an artificial dusk in the cemetery despite the surrounding pinkish sunset. I couldn’t shake the notion that I was a sitting duck; fenced in and alone in a graveyard miles from any living soul. By the time I reached the iron-fenced perimeter and looked down upon Lake Calhoun, I had the overwhelming notion that someone was watching me.

Looking back, I must have looked like a right twit, whipping my mobile out to call my husband. (How pompous, chatting on a cell phone in this Place of Eternal Rest.) In my defense, I wanted to make it obvious to any onlookers that I had lines of communication. Granted, the undead wouldn’t be deterred by a 911 call, but any live aggressors might be... plus, I was truly moved by the beauty of the spot, and wanted to share my unique find. My husband answered and soon googled online photos of the place. I felt somewhat better as we chatted about the cemetery’s charm. By the end of the call my heebie-jeebies were sated and I strolled down the long paved path back to the entrance gates. I finally glimpsed another human being when I came across a security vehicle parked at the main drive. I shook aside my shy nature and strolled over to ask him about the best taxi-nabbing strategy. The cornfed security guard gave his advice and then chuckled, “You’ve walked quite a way, haven’t you?” His amused grin confirmed my suspicion that he’d watched me gracelessly galumphing all over his cemetery. My spidey-senses had been accurate after all.

But what about the footsteps? The security guard had conducted his surveillance from the comfort of a car. Did a more permanent Lakewood resident guide me around my favorite spot in Minneapolis?

It turns out that entertainer Herbert “Tiny Tim” Khaury is laid to rest in this cemetery. Who better to show off the wonders of Lakewood than the man best known for his rendition of "Tip-Toe Through the Tulips?"


Tiptoe to the window, by the window that is where I'll be
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me!
Tiptoe from your pillow, to the shadow of a willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me!
Knee deep in flowers will stray, we'll keep the showers away.
And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight, will you pardon me?
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me!