Ghosts and Ivy-Covered Homes: Growing Up in 1950’s Woodland Pt. 1

Marjorie didn’t really want to move into Woodland Cemetery back in 1948. Her father, Arthur, was Woodland’s manager from 1947 until 1967. “We didn’t have any choice,” Marjorie said, “we just packed up and left. We had a nice, comfortable house on Gerrard Street in Old South and friends and everything. Anyhow, I had to sort of leave that and move on.”

Marjorie Rand lived in the cemetery’s house in the 1950s. She told us the only ghost story we’ve heard to date.

Welcome to another Woodland Cemetery blog post! Meagan and I have been hard at work entering data, but we managed to sneak away to the heart of Old South to get you this story. We were tipped off earlier in the summer that a woman who lived in the old house in the front of the cemetery would like to talk to us about her life and tell us some cemetery stories. We rushed to meet Marjorie once we had time.

We bussed over to Marjorie’s home and found her sitting on her porch enjoying the breeze of an otherwise hot August afternoon. She had been planning to garden that day but hadn’t gotten around to it yet – it was much too hot. She welcomed us into her home and told us about life in our cemetery.

A yellow brick house with a few windows, white paneling, and an awning over the door.
This yellow brick house sits just to the right of our cemetery gates. Marjorie moved here just after the house was built in 1948.

Marjorie didn’t really want to move into Woodland Cemetery back in 1948. Her father, Arthur, was Woodland’s manager from 1947 until 1967. “We didn’t have any choice,” Marjorie said, “we just packed up and left. We had a nice, comfortable house on Gerrard Street in Old South and friends and everything. Anyhow, I had to sort of leave that and move on.” Marjorie was about to enter grade nine. That’s a turbulent time for anyone. Now imagine switching schools and moving into a cemetery at the same time.

Marjorie was nervous to let anyone know where she lived. She had a few tricks up her sleeve to keep her cemetery house from friends and teachers. “In school we had to fill in a lot of records back then,” Marjorie recalled. “I always put my address as 493 Springbank Drive. Sometimes Woodland Lodge, but never Woodland Cemetery.” Marjorie admitted that calling it Woodland Lodge didn’t work out for her. Teachers would often question her about what the Lodge was until she admitted that it was really a cemetery.

She was so secretive because living in a cemetery could take a toll on her social standing. “Take yourself back to when you’re a gangly kid and very conscious of what people think of you. The girls particularly in high school could be devastating. But you grow out of that.”

It was a haunted cemetery (well, sort of).

Description of the house vs what’s there today

Marjorie’s old Woodland house is hard to miss when you come through the front gates. We even used that building as our office space until the current red brick building was built in 2004. But Marjorie recalls a house that was there before either of those buildings existed. “The old house that was there was scary,” Marjorie admitted. “It was covered with ivy and was a gothic thing like you might see in a movie.” Marjorie notes that the building was far away from the cemetery gravestones, but the house was still eerie.

A framed photograph of a two story ivy covered house. Trees frame the house and a family poses in front of the door.
You can find this photo of the pre-1958 house on display in our office. You can hardly make out the family in front of the door through all that ivy!

This current house was constructed for Arthur and his family once he took over as the cemetery manager. It looked and felt less creepy than the old house. “The new house was quite nice. It was much bigger than the one that we lived in. And we each had our own bedroom which was good.” Marjorie lived with her two parents, two brothers, and a sister, so more room was much appreciated.

The house wasn’t the only spooky thing about the cemetery. Marjorie told us the only ghost story I’ve ever heard at Woodland, and she tells it best:

“As I got into my teens, I was in the young people’s group at St. Paul’s. And they loved coming out after church and just hanging around. One fellow had a car but the rest of us just biked all over the place. It got to be sort of a club with people coming out and then we’d just walk around the cemetery. Sometimes we’d go out at night and that was a little scary. But when you’re with a crowd of people it doesn’t seem to matter.”

“My brothers would throw a towel or a sheet over themselves and pop up. Now they have all those solar lights out there, but then there was nothing. It was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything. Well, except brothers in sheets. They would just jump out and say, “Boo!” or something and retreat.”

Marjorie notes that her brothers scared her just that first time. Every time after that one was just annoying.

The cemetery grew on Marjorie over time despite the pranks and the secrecy at school. “I liked the cemetery once I got used to it. My sister and I would roam all over the place and check things out.” Marjorie was married in 1954 and was out of the house by then, but she still came back to visit her home in the cemetery from time to time.

Any questions?

I hope you enjoyed reading about this glimpse into Woodland’s past as much as we loved hearing about it from Marjorie! We’ll have some more stories about speedboats, military funerals, and trains coming next week. Comment any questions you have for Marjorie below and we’ll do our best to ask her the next time we visit her.

Uncovering Chinese Gravestones: First Gravestone Restoration 2019

Hi everyone! This is the first blog post from Robyn and Brienna, the 2019 Monument Conservators here at Woodland Cemetery. We hope you enjoy following along with our work this summer, as we work to restore and conserve many of Woodland’s historic gravestones.

We decided to start out the summer working in the northeast corner of the cemetery, where several Chinese tablet markers were visible, scattered across the area. There was some semblance of rows, and while none of the existing stones were very close together, there had to be more that had sunken below the surface. How do gravestones sink, you might be wondering? Well, there are a number of factors that could cause it! If the casket or coffin below ground has collapsed, or the walls of the grave have been disturbed in any way, it can cause ground slumping, which often pulls the gravestone with it, causing it to lean or fall over. Natural sediment deposits and foliage growth will also collect on top of fallen monuments, eventually burying them underground.

Illustrated Cemetery Map
Map of Woodland Cemetery. The Chinese immigrant section is located on Cedar Rd, Section U.

The northeast end of the cemetery, as you can see on this map, is very close to the Thames River, which runs along the north boundary of the cemetery. There is quite a steep cliff here (stay far away from the cliff edge when you are visiting Woodland, the ground is not stable!) and the continued rain and hill-slumping in this area may cause quicker soil erosion and movement throughout the areas closest to it. There are many fallen and sunken monuments in this area…see if you can spot them when you’re walking through the site!

20190521_114429
Pin flags are used to mark potential buried markers

In order to find the sunken monuments, we have been using T-shaped rods, affectionately called ‘pokey sticks’, to carefully (carefully!!) prod the ground at an angle to see if we come in contact with anything buried below the surface. You can’t push too hard or the stones will be scratched! Once we notice something below the surface, we carefully dig towards the point to see if it is a natural rock…or an inscribed grave marker, if we’re lucky!

On our very first day, we uncovered not one, but two Chinese burial markers. These markers had not seen the light of day for many years, and it was exciting to bring them to the surface again for visitors to see. While we had spent the morning prodding the land, we actually found the first marker sitting on the ground and noticing a flat corner (too flat to be natural rock) poking through the earth. After uncovering, lifting, and cleaning the marker, we probed next to it, where we hit the second stone.

To clean the marker, we started by wiping the loose dirt off with paint brushes, and scrubbing the crevices with soft bristle brushes and water. We then sprayed the marker with a mixture of D2 and water. If you are attempting to clean a monument of your own, it is important that you only use these natural substances. If not, the stone will deteriorate much more quickly. For example, using soapy solutions will result in the chemicals seeping into the pores of the stone, which will expand and destroy the stone over time.

Also, any powder you pour onto a marker to read the inscription to make it more legible will help the monument erode more quickly. If you would like to read a marker with a nearly ineligible inscription, you can wash it as best you can, and take a photo, which you can zoom into or lighten to read.  Furthermore, if you hold a flashlight on an angle close to the marker, you can also illuminate parts of the stone that you might not otherwise be able to read.

After cleaning the markers, we reset them back in the ground on a bed of shale. This helps to prevent future sinking, and allows the water to drain underneath the marker. You can’t see it but it’s working to help keep  the markers visible and preserve this precious piece of history!!

We’re off for more digging probing, but stay tuned for more updates on these markers, and our future uncoverings!