The Highland Cemetery Lantern Tours celebrate the lives of Ypsilanti’s earliest citizens. For over a decade, tour guide James Mann has been hosting the tours, telling numerous stories of the dead and their lives.
Over a decade ago, students from Eastern Michigan University’s History Club asked Mann for a tour of Highland Cemetery, stating that they would pay him. Mann agreed, and thus began the first Highland Cemetery tour. The first tour was dark, so he needed a bright, yet easily manageable light source. Now, with a sizable collection of lanterns gathered from yard sales, retail shops, and now, a specialized company from California, there is more than enough light to guide eager guests through the dark.
This year, the Highland Cemetery became a nationally registered historical site. According to Mann, this means that there is a greater possibility to generate funding for cemetery restoration. Starkweather Chapel, which lies just beyond the cemetery’s front gates, is currently undergoing restorative work. Its initial construction was funded by Marianne Starkweather, who also helped fund Starkweather Hall on EMU’s campus.
During the tour, Mann honors the lives of deceased Ypsilanti citizens. These include Dr. Ruth Gerry, M.D, an early settler to Ypsilanti and well-respected doctor, Alonzo Miller, an early fire chief who allegedly haunts the Ypsilanti Firehouse Museum, and many others. Mann, however, does not believe in the paranormal.
“I do not believe in ghosts; I’ve had a few strange experiences, although none at the cemetery,” Mann says. “I’m a volunteer at the Ypsilanti Historical Museum, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Minerva Dow, who is buried at Highland, but I’ve never had an experience at Highland that could be called paranormal.”
His favorite stop on the tour is the grave of a woman who died at the age of 47 in the 1840’s. The headstone bears her name - Repentance.
“She is a favorite spot [of mine] because of the unusual name,” Mann says. “She is buried in the section of the cemetery that was transferred from the old city cemetery, which is now Prospect Park.”
Mann sometimes offers tours during other times of the year, including Memorial Day, Christmas and New Year’s. This season’s tours take place from 7 to 9 pm from now until Oct. 31.Tickets are $10, and registration for the event is online. The Highland Cemetery is located at 943 N River St. in Ypsilanti. You can read more about the cemetery on their website.