Monday, July 14, 2008

Cliff Cemetery

Joshua Schick, 1884, at the Cliff Catholic Cemetery
Joseph Schick, 1884, at the Cliff Catholic Cemetery

Turns out there are two Cliff cemeteries -- a Catholic one and a Protestant one. I've been to the Protestant one many times, which is just off Cliff Drive, in the shadow of the cliffs, near the rest of the mine ruins.

However, on US-41 about a mile from the north intersection with Cliff Drive, there is a small sign on the side of the road which say "Cliff Cemetery". For years, I'd drive past it and think, "Boy, that sign sure is a long way away from the cemetery, it's not even on this road!" Then one day I actually stopped to look, and sure enough, just down from the sign there is a tiny little path going into the woods. It passes a tiny stream, past some huge old trees, and through a patch of thimbleberries. All of a sudden, the ground becomes covered entirely by some very low-growing dark green leafy shrub, through which very old headstones poke up. There's also a very old poor rock foundation, maybe from a small chapel, and a small stand of pines.

Edit (2/18/2009): Recently I had an email conversation with Mary Drew over at She had looked through my blog, found this post, and passed along this story about the grave in my photo:
I have an Adult Foster Care Home where I care for 6 residents, some elderly, others not so elderly, but just needing assistance to get through each day. One of our elderly residents up until she passed away at 96, was a sweet little lady named Irene. [The grave in this photo] is her Grandfather's grave and her Father and she, planted the flowering ground cover you see in the photo there around his grave, then it spread and started covering everywhere. I think it's called phlox. Up until the last couple years Irene lived with us, her nephew (who is 78) would take her up there to the Cliff Cemetery each summer and they would take the short hike in to visit her Grandfather's grave. My husband and I have been there several times since she passed away, just to pay our respects to Joseph and the others buried there.

What a wonderful story! (And now we know where that nifty ground cover came from.) I wish that I'd had a chance to talk to Irene about her memories. Mary also mentioned that, a few years back, some group of people was doing interviews with people who remembered the Italian hall disaster, for the purpose of making a documentary. Neither of us knows anything about that documentary though -- anyone out there have an idea?


Anonymous said...

The plant in question is wintergreen. If you take a leaf off, break it in two, and smell it - you'll smell it for yourself. Its the wintergreen that makes this cemetery so picturesque to me, and much more interesting then Hillside (the Protestant cemetery along the cliffs).

I'm not sure what those foundations are for either, its been bugging me for years. Its too small of a footprint to be a church, or even a house for that matter. But I do know that based on old Topo maps, this cemetery sits right smack dab in the old town of Cliff, just north of the Keweenaw Central rail line. So it could be anything I suppose.

Unfortunately the forest there is so thick and wet that you can't do much exploring outside of the cemetery itself. Pity.

DC said...


Cool, next time I'm there, I'll check out the cool, refreshing smell of wintergreen! I noticed a bit of poison ivy around the edges, so it's best to be careful.

I just read somewhere (I think that the old church at that cemetery was moved to Phoenix. That doesn't quite jive with what I know (I thought it was a different church that was moved), but perhaps that's what happened? It could have been a VERY small chapel.

Also, past the church ruins, there's a thing that always looks like a path to me, but it disappears into the swamp very quickly. I wonder if that swamp wasn't always there.

Anonymous said...

The Phoenix Church was indeed once at the Cliff (by horse-pulled wagon no less), but there's a lot of confusion to where the church use to sit at Cliff. That church's footprint is definitely larger then the ruins at the cemetery, so I don't think their the same. (Although it was a Catholic Church when it was in Cliff.)

If you look at old photos of the Cliff townsite, you can see a couple churches scattered about but none that look anything like the current church at Phoenix. I know they made some changes to it after the move, but they must of done a lot because I can never see the thing in any of those old photos from the townsite.

If you ride down the Keweenaw Central trail you notice a lot of flooded out and swampy areas around the old town-site, similar to what surrounds that cemetery. I have a feeling that the whole area just isn't draining properly as it once was, because I doubt they would build the town on such horrible topography.

DC said...

There's also a noticeable depression next to the church foundation (but not in it), surrounded on one side by trees. I wonder what that is...

Anonymous said...

Just a guess, but could the small foundation possibly be from a mausoleum? It can't be the easiest thing to dig a grave in the middle of a Keweenaw winter

DC said...

I've wondered if it was a mausoleum before. But it seems weird that a mausoleum would be torn down -- what do you do with all the remains/ashes inside it? But it IS the right size, and I seem to recall that some graves were moved when the Cliff closed.

Anonymous said...

It would be more of a temporary storage for the deceased until spring when it would be possible to actually dig a grave.

DaveS. said...

Dave, I am very interested in the Hillside Cemetary just south west of the intersection of Cliff Drive and Rt. 26/41 south of Phoenix. As you go south west the cemetary is on the right. Somewhere in that cemetary is a headstone for Maria, daughter of J.& G.Simmerer and dated may 1, 1853. Her father, I assume, must have been a miner at one of the copper mines. I'm guessing the Cliff Mines. Is there a way, either census or other Phoenix Town records , where I could trace or find out about Maria's parentage. They must have been fairly recent German immigrents. David W. Simmerer

DC said...

Hi Dave,

Sorry to say, I don't know about that headstone. However, being there, it must have had to do with the Cliff mine -- nobody from anywhere else is buried in that cemetery (it was quite remote!).

I'd recommend contacting somewhere like the Keweenaw County Historical Society: -- they may know a bit more than me. :)

CBLagoon said...

Nope! It’s periwinkle.

CBLagoon said...

It’s absolutely NOT wintergreen. It’s Vinca minor, aka periwinkle, a common non-native ornamental groundcover with evergreen leaves and purple flowers in spring.

DC said...

Hi CBLagoon, you're absolutely right! With a few more years of experience behind me (and owning a garden that includes periwinkle), I recognize it now.