Sunday, June 14, 2009

Peck's Gully Investigation and the Mysterious White Lions

DD: "Honey! Guess what I found out! That Peck's Gully thing has stuff sticking out of the ground!"

DDH: "Peck's what?"

DD: "Peck's GULLY--it's that old dump! We have to go see it! It's like a nineteenth-century Superfund site!"

DDH: "Sounds jolly. We're gonna wear Hazmat suits into Highland Cemetery?"

DD: "Nooo, silly, all the bad stuff is gone by now." (Sudden musing) "Like Mrs. Winslow's Soothin' Syrup. That had opium in it. They used to give that to kids!"

DDH: "We're gonna look for opium in a Superfund site?"

DD: "Nooo, honey, we're gonna try and authenticate--"

DDH: "I'm not going unless there's morphine."

DD: (derailed again) "Well, a lot of patent medicines DID have morphine. And cocaine--catarrh powders were mostly cocaine. But for most medicines the thing was booze. (back on track) Wouldn't it be cool to find an old patent medicine bottle? That would be AWESOME!"

DDH: "Almost as awesome as reading my book."

DD: "Honey...if you go to the dump, someone could read a book about YOU--because it'd be such a cool thing! You could be a part of history! You could...I thought..." (lower lip trembles)...

At the cemetery, we reconnoitred the southwest side. We were looking for the elusive white lions that kind reader Siani had alluded to:

You know, if anyone is interested in poking around down there my husband and I found a path down into the gully from the cemetary. We live directly across the street and love to take walks there, or just sit on the porch and admire the view. It's somewhere along the back left side of the cemetary, I think on the path that leads back away from the civil war memorial? There are two small white lions that stand on either side of a little path leading out of the cemetary and down the hill.

DD: (near Civil War Memorial) "We're looking for the Path of the Two White Lions."

DDH: "This is getting very Da Vinci Code."

We wandered along and passed the grave of William McCullough at the back southwest side of the cemetery. No sooner had we passed it when--


The white lions flanked a little path leading back into the woods. We followed it as it wandered down the hill. Five minutes in, we glimpsed a blue thing to the right of the path and investigated. It was a tarp, under a stick lean-to evidently built by kids. Some burned wood and an old chair hinted that this had been a beer-drinking spot. A pair of unmentionables supported this theory. We went back to the path and followed it down.

The path winds down the hill for 15 minutes or so. Then it dead-ends at a small stream, likely spring-fed. Four tree trunks blocked the stream. DDH noted, "Oh, someone built a dam." I wondered. It didn't look like a dam. It looked more like...a barrier. I quietly picked my way down the stream a bit. Through the thick underbrush, just beyond the barrier, not 20 feet away through thick underbrush, I glimpsed a white dome tent (below). I turned to DDH and held a finger up to my lips.

DD: (whispers) "Someone's down there. Either someone's living there or it's some meth lab or something."

DDH: "Backtrack?"

DD: "Yeah!"

We quickly and quietly scooted back up the trail.

Though we had searched for a way to get down into Peck's Gully, the presence of a tent denizen made us vow to seek another route down in the future. We'd seen multiple other paths, but they were impossibly steep. But given time and patience I'm sure we will find a way down that avoids a confrontation with the individual apparently living deep in the woods behind Highland Cemetery.

Why do two white lions mark this trail? Who placed them there? What did they originally signify?

One thing haunted Dusty D on the way down.

About 400 yards from the lions, deep in the woods, there's a huge patch of lilies of the valley.

Although they're native to Michigan, it's also something you see over and over in old or abandoned cemeteries--large, incongruous spreads of lilies of the valley probably originating from just a few plants planted on someone's grave. You may recall that they surrounded Allie McCullough's father's grave (at right). Left to their own devices, the plants often spread throughout the grounds of untended 19th-century cemeteries overcome by woods. I've seen such patches in several places in old Washtenaw County cemeteries.

I also reflected that in the distant past, some cemeteries would refuse to bury, within their consecrated grounds, suicides, lunatics, murderers, or unbaptized babies.

Could these lions mark the entrance to an old, unconsecrated section of the cemetery?

Were the lilies planted a century or more ago on an unmarked grave? Or graves? Planted by someone who, despite the community's attempt to erase and forget that person... remembered?


Mike said...

Absolutely Facinating! It may be better to check it out in the fall when the bugs and foilage are gone but I don't know if I can wait that long. I have a metal detector I am just itching to use. I wonder who owns the land?

Patrick R said...

There is stuff on the south side too-- behind the mausoleum, its very hilly with pricker bushes but no wino camps over there.

Metal detector won't work-- too much stuff.

Dusty D said...

Mike: Hey, welcome to the blog! Yes sir, it WAS absolutely fascinating. Yes, we are planning on investigating in the fall too...and I have a metal detector, too!

Your question as to who owns the land is important. You know the "secret" GM facility (?) is nearby, by the Corner Brewery, and it's said they don't like people wandering around. Understandably, for liability reasons &c. So to avoid trespassing it would be important to find out who owns this property. Usually this is a straightforward search at The problem here is the tract we're interested in is not a searchable residence and doesn't even have a street number that I know of. There's a chain link fence along the south edge of Highland, hinting that the property does *not* belong to the cemetery.

For safety's sake, and to avoid trespassing, we have to find out who owns the swathe of steep hilly land leading down to Peck's Gully.

Dusty D said...

Patrick: Funny you mention that; we were in fact behind the mausoleum, and peering down the hill. You can see 3 different areas behind the m., from apparently 3 different times, where the cemetery scooped out dirt, presumably for filling in graves.

The hill is incredibly steep and dangerous there. The only way I'd be comfortable going down into the thick underbrush is with a safety rope. With crampons.

Good point about the metal detector--it really is brushy and impassable throughout most of the side of Peck's Gully.

Lisele said...

BTW, lilies of the valley are not native to Michigan. They are ornamentals that have "gone wild," like daylilies (also non-native). You can be sure that they originated from some grave or other. The plants form little red berries in the fall and I suppose a bird could also have begun this planting in the woods, in the same way one planted my wild grape vine!

Dusty D said...

Lisele: Oops, I made a mistake with that--thank you for the good information! Also good to know there are other possible ways it could have spread. Always good to know the whole picture, and I can't think of anyone who would know more about that kind of subject than you! Thanks!

Brent said...

I suggest checking with Brett about the lions. I think he knows something about them. There are several other dump sites and discarded monument parts in the woods all around the cemetery. Some are on very steep hillsides.

Dusty D said...

Brent: That's a good tip; thank you!

Sounds like time to go back and do some careful peeking. I never get tired of walking through Highland.

Jennifer Redfern said...

That is so intersting. My Familie's plot is in the very back of the cemetery on the north side of it. however Carrie and Henry's graves are on that side. If you guys do go back there again, tell me of it, i would love to go.

Dusty D said...

Jennifer: Oh, is Carrie buried in Highland?! Wow! I must visit her grave to pay my respects. I'll have to look it up in the index down at the Archives to find the exact spot.

It would be a most delightful pleasure if you could visit the cemetery with us. I hope your schedule allows for that soon. We live 5 minutes away, so short notice is fine.

Jennifer Redfern said...

Yeah, she is buried next to her husband. Irving Smith, So it's a Smith /Hardy Monument. I would love to show it to you sometime soon. If you pick a day in the next two week's I could probably get out there.

Dusty D said...

Dear Ms. Redfern: That sounds like a wonderful opportunity. We are free on MWF weekdays after 6 and weekends. If you like please feel free to drop a line to dustydiary at gmail.

Thank you!

Jennifer Redfern said...

Ok, So would you want to go this Friday after six? If you would please email me at

Maproom Systems said...

Good morning, Laura, and thank you for contacting me.

Based upon my research, the lions to which you refer were most likely placed there about a century ago, to adorn the main path between Highland Cemetery and "Riverbrink," which was the retirement home of Dr. Lewis H. Jones, one of EMU's presidents.

The grounds were purportedly quite lavishly landscaped, mostly with native plants but also imported ornamentals; there were several bridges, rustic fencework, a stone entranceway, and a fountain, to name just a few of decorative elements he scattered about the landscape. Dr. Jones encouraged the public to visit, and for a time, it was probably as popular a leisure destination as Peninsular Point.

Huron Ridge Townhomes occupies the property today, and i suspect that the pool and clubhouse at their southwest entrance is the approximate former location of his actual residence.

The path you followed would thus, I believe, not have been meant to go down into the floodplain, nor to any sort of dump (see below), nor to any kind of auxillary burial site (which i've never seen evidence of). Its original course has been largely obliterated, but would have likely taken a more northwestern turn and followed the ridgeline where you and your husband instead descended into the valley, and discovered the homeless campground which is actually a very common use for these woods today.

Finally, while the amount of trash along the perimeter of the cemetery is certainly an alarming amount, I believe that most of what can be readily seen was primarily discarded by Highland Cemetery itself, or more accurately, the families of caretakers living on-site over the years, rather than a community landfill (which may, however, be deeper in "Peck's Gulley," as previously discussed). My opinion is based on the number of different appliances, their vintage, and the accompanying cemetery-related detritus (stones, markers, decorations, etc) intermixed with them.

I think this should answer your basic questions, but let me know if something needs additional clarification. I'm sorry that my own documentation of this area is not currently available for public viewing online, but hopefully will be again, eventually.

Dusty D said...

Maproom: That is incredibly informative and I think will be enjoyed by other readers as much as I enjoyed it. I had never heard about Riverbrink. I'll have to see if I can find any info on it.

The path did split in the woods, with part (that we didn't explore) heading off to the northwest as you said. We'll have to go back and explore.

Thank you also for the clarification that the visible garbage was likely from the caretakers' families over the years.

Thanks to you we now know why the lions were there--which is a piece of info I love knowing. Thank you for your kindness in sharing your information!

Jennifer Redfern said...

That is intersting, I will be in the area the second week in september for I am going back to wcc to finish my degree. So I will most likely be in and out of the cemetery alot this fall. I will look for the lions, seeing that they are so close to Carrie's grave.