By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Some interesting events are coming up at Oakwood Cemetery this summer that I want to pass along to you.
Oakwood is one of the oldest cemeteries in Western New York. The land was donated in 1852 by Lavinia Porter, daughter of Augustus Porter, one of the founders of Niagara Falls. Oakwood is a public cemetery owned and operated by the Oakwood Cemetery Association under the direction of its local board of directors. Oversight is provided by the state Division of Cemeteries through the state’s Cemetery Board. Its role is to oversee the establishment, maintenance and preservation of burial grounds for all not-for-profit cemeteries in New York state.
History abounds at Oakwood, the original landscape design dates from 1852 by world-renowned civil engineer TD Judah of Transcontinental Railroad fame. Further improvements were made in 1882 by local Civil Engineer Drake Whitney. He was the nephew of Celinda, Angelina and Asenath Whitney, daughters of General Parkhurst Whitney of Niagara Falls, who also founded and operated the Cataract House Hotel back in 1810. The Three Sisters Islands, accessible from Goat Island, were named for Gen. Parkhust Whitney’s daughters and have recently undergone a renovation by the State Parks. The sisters and their father are all buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
An Aug. 3 event, Oakwood Cemetery “Celebrates 100 Years of the E.B. Green Mausoleum: Angels of Oakwood” fundraiser, will highlight the mausoleum, which was designed by E.B. Green, a major architect in New York, who was active in the Buffalo area from 1881 to the early 1930s. Over 160 buildings designed by Green survive today. Niagara Falls is fortunate to have one of only two mausoleums he designed. It is located in Oakwood Cemetery.
The mausoleum will be re-dedicated in honor of its 100th year anniversary during a “turn-of-the 20th Century” evening which includes a guided tour of the cemetery, a reception inside the mausoleum, re-dedication of the mausoleum, and an elegant dinner. Our own U. S. Congressman Brian Higgins will be present as the featured speaker.
A group of individuals, known as the “Friends of Oakwood”, who are dedicated to the restoration, preservation, maintenance and education of this historic landmark, are organizing this event on behalf of the board of directors. Co-chairs of the fundraiser are Pete Ames, Nora Masters and Trudy Christman. As a member of the “Friends”, I have attended their meetings and learned that this event will be staged at several locations within the 19-acre site and free parking will be available at the front entrance.
The evening begins at 6 p.m. when guests are greeted by “Friends” with parking directions and invited to tour the grounds in a State Parks at Niagara Trolley. Local author and historian, Michelle Kratts (in period dress), will describe some of the historically significant sights during this scenic ride.
Once inside the mausoleum, guests will be treated to a wine and hors d’oeurvres reception catered by Nora Masters while viewing the interior. The trolley tour and the reception will provide insight to the history of several well-known Niagara area families such as the Schoellkopf’s, founders of Niagara’s power. Other important families resting at Oakwood include the Silberbergs, Pfohls, Haeberles, Tattersalls, Holleys, Lammerts, and both Porter brothers. A short re-dedication ceremony on the steps of the mausoleum will be led by local dignitaries. Lori Caso of “Lori and Friends” will be the mistress of ceremonies.
Following the re-dedication ceremony, the trolley continues its tour on the way to the front of the cemetery, where, inside the Grand Tent, subdued lighting provides the atmosphere for a dinner presented by The Catering Crew from Carolyn’s House, operated by the YWCA of Niagara. The menu includes: Wedge salad with Green Goddess dressing; Frenched Chicken; Green beans with toasted almonds, scalloped potatoes, “Angel-wing” cupcakes, and select wines.
To look the “part” of a semi-formal evening, the attire is “summer dressy for the ladies and jackets for the gentlemen.” Oakwood’s website also states that “for those more adventuresome period dress, circa 1913, the “turn-of-the-20th Century will be appreciated” and welcome. I wonder if I still have something that old in my closet as I hate to part with anything.
All of this elegance is provided to benefit the restoration and maintenance of Oakwood’s grounds and mausoleum; protect its history; and provide a restful place for its residents. A donation of $100 per person will enhance your knowledge of Niagara’s history. Prepaid reservations, only, can be made through Paypal at www.myoakwoodcemetery.com, or send your check or money order to Oakwood Cemetery, 763 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, NY 14301. Please write “Angel” in the memo. After all, you will be one. Also note that seating is limited, so reserve your spot today, it promises to be a unique summer evening in a pleasant atmosphere among “Friends of Oakwood.” As the Friends say: “Niagara’s History is at Oakwood.”
Another opportunity at Oakwood Cemetery involves a photo contest where you can express your photographic interpretation of historic Oakwood. Visit the grounds at your convenience. Register and submit your photos by July 26. Photos will be displayed at the Niagara Falls Public Library at 1425 Main St. from Aug. 5 to Sept. 5. Award presentation and prizes will be held at the Library on Saturday, Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. Cash prizes include $50 for first, $30 for second, $20 for third. There is no cost to enter. Sign up. Who knows — your photo may appear on www.myoakwoodcemetery.com.
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.