When researching the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado 20 years ago for a book I was writing, one of the pictures in the Daily Telegram of the devastating aftermath shows a destroyed Italian marble mural at the Lenawee Hills Memorial Park.
Thinking the photo was taken at Lenawee Hills Memorial Gardens near Tecumseh, which was more or less in the path of the nearly mile-wide tornado, I took a drive to the cemetery and searched in vain for the structure. It was one of many aspects of research I was conducting on the tragic 1965 storms, and time constraints prevented me from looking further into it.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the winds were so powerful that night, it caused the marble wall at Lenawee Hills Memorial Park in Adrian to fall over and crumble. But aside from generally high winds reported the night of April 11, 1965, I had no reason nearly 20 years ago during my research trek Adrian itself received damage, miles away from the path of the tornado.
And since the two memorial spaces have nearly identical names, it didn’t “click” with me I was simply looking in the wrong place.
Fast-forward to 2019.
Looking to eventually retool my 2002 book into an updated compendium for the 60th anniversary of the tornado, I decided to look back into the areas of research that I filed under “research later,” I got my answer. A social media post on a local Facebook history group showed the wall as it appeared today, I was glad to see the mural was repaired, as period newspapers in 1965 doubted the wall could be fixed.
And while it had been repaired and re-erected, it clearly shows signs of bearing the brunt of the tornadic winds.
Cracks, some deep, extend across the face of it, with some small chunks of marble missing. But I admire the tenacity of whomever worked to put the pieces back together.
The “Last Supper” sculpture was dedicated in April 1954, carved from Carrara Italian marble by Bernhard Zuckerman of New York, a project that took two years to complete. The mural itself measured 14-feet-by-six-feet-six-inches, and weighed 8 tons when put up. Within a month, it was added onto with more columns and surrounding rock, bringing the total weight to 18 1/2 tons, according to a 1954 Telegram article. The wall sits on the eastern edge of the memorial park, in the “Garden of the Last Supper” section. A stone path leads from the driveway to the sculpture. But, little else is known about the sculpture and how it came to Adrian from Caraiti, Italy, or what led to the decision to save the shattered monument, bought in 1954 for $22,000.
Before a crowd of 1,000, the memorial was dedicated May 23, 1954. The overall dimensions were 40 feet long, 16 1/2 feet high, and believed by Zuckerman to be the largest panel in marble in the United States at the time. The marble wall was officially unveiled by then-Adrian mayor Claude Porter. The dedication address was given by the Rev. Albert Raloff, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene and Grant Teeple of Port Huron, one of the owners of the cemetery. Pastors from Palmyra, Adrian, Fairfield and Sand Creek gave remarks and closing benedictions, and from there, the marble wall remained out of the news until its toppling in 1965, and again quietly out of the news since.
Zuckerman was to be pressed into service by Lenawee County representatives again in 1955, when the construction of the cemetery near Tecumseh was announced Sept. 1, 1955. The 46-acre memorial cemetery there would have “The Sermon on the Mount” sculpted and placed there. Despite the announcement that all grave markers would be flush to the ground as they are at the Adrian site, the Tecumseh cemetery is filled with traditional, vertical stones.
Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County Historian