Ghost Bikes, Funeral Streetcars, Celebrity 'Send-Offs' Provide an Intriguing Look at Death and Burial Customs in Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground by Local Storyteller/Historian

Author Richard Bak's compelling new book drawing interest from history buffs, cemetery architecture enthusiasts and local Michigan residents

Dec 02, 2010, 10:17 ET from Wayne State University Press

DETROIT, Dec. 2, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- "We are noting an impressive response as local history buffs are taking a tour of Detroit's Boneyards in historian Richard Bak's new book, Boneyards; Detroit Under Ground," said  Jane Hoehner, Director of Wayne State University Press, located in the heart of Detroit's cultural district.

From the earliest burial mounds to today's simple street shrines, Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground reveals how Metro Detroiters have interred their dead and honored their memory. Author Richard Bak investigates the history of dozens of local cemeteries and also explores the cultural and business side of dying, from old-fashioned home funerals to the grave-robbing "resurrectionists" of the nineteenth century to modern funeral directors.

Bak presents a mix of historic and contemporary photographs to illustrate each site or event alongside lively prose descriptions. Taken together, Bak's informative and often surprising historical snapshots span the entire metro area and three centuries of history. He presents vignettes of the celebrated and the forgotten, both public figures and paupers. The overall effect is a thought-provoking and, at times, elegiac look at how generations of Michigan residents have disposed of and memorialized the dead.

Boneyards visits the area's largest and grandest  cemeteries—Elmwood, Woodlawn, Mount Olivet, Mount Elliott—and showcases some of their most intricate and unusual monuments. Bak also introduces readers to abandoned graveyards like William Ganong Cemetery in Westland, Millar Cemetery in Clinton Township, and Beth Olem Cemetery inside the GM Poletown Plant. Bak includes photos of some of the city's largest funerals, from those of automaker Henry Ford and orchestra conductor Ossip Gabrilovitch to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and rapper DeShaun "Proof" Holton. In addition, Bak tells the stories of the ordinary and the unclaimed in local cemeteries, along with the social changes like the creation of a "drive-through" funeral home in the 1970s, the "white flight" of interred family members from Detroit cemeteries, and the trend of local cemeteries adding graves that face Mecca to accommodate the growing Muslim population. Ultimately, Bak proves that our treatment of the dead reveals much about our culture and our values. Boneyards will be intriguing reading for Detroit historians, local residents, and anyone interested in the customs of memorializing past generations.

Additional information about and to purchase Boneyards; Detroit Under Ground, go to or phone (800) WSU-READ.


Pub. Date: Sept 2010

9x9, 248 Pages, 137 Illustrations

ISBN 978-0-8143-3353-2

$34.95T Cloth

A Painted Turtle book

Wayne State University is a premier institution offering more than 350 academic programs through 12 schools and colleges to more than 31,000 students in metropolitan Detroit. Wayne State University Press, located in the heart of Detroit's cultural district, publishes high-quality books and journals that advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, foster creativity and the arts, and enhance understanding of the region and the world.

SOURCE Wayne State University Press