Barbed wire is fixed atop the high fence surrounding the cemetery.   The sign on the closed gate tells you where to get the key--at a house across the street.  Nearby, an inebriated man can be heard shouting profanities from his porch at a young child.  Along the alley next to the cemetery, a large, barking dog and the neighborhood wino were having a showdown.  A young man was showing his gun to a friend just a few feet from where we stood.  We are in the heart of  Cleveland's near West Side, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 

 

We came to Fir Avenue at the suggestion of a former neighbor, who told of eerie stuff going on behind the gates of one of Cleveland's oldest Jewish cemeteries:  "I used to live behind this cemetery and can tell you it is really scary.  I have lived there for 20 years.  My family and I have seen bright lights streak across the cemetery, as if a person was running across it. We have heard cries of women late at night.  At some graves, you can see where the earth has come up.  We have seen shadowy figures walking, and others just standing in front of  graves."  

Oh, goody.

 

 

Also known as the Hungarian Aid Society Cemetery, many of its tightly-packed graves date between the 1890's and 1900's, with some dating back to the 1860's.  As the latter name implies, many Jewish Hungarians are buried here. 

Perhaps this explains the graveyard's European look.

 

The cemetery's security (or its spooky reputation) seems to have served it well.  The grounds are well-maintained, and vandalism appeared to be at a minimum. 

 

The cemetery is quite crowded.  By the 1910's, the cemetery had almost reached capacity--not long after it was started by Hagidosh Hagadol Synagogue, Park Synagogue, and B'rith Abraham.  Park Synagogue then purchased its second cemetery on the east side (located on the corner of Richmond Road and Chagrin Boulevard), where it is still used today.

 

The multiple rows of tall, ornate markers cast long dark shadows across the grounds. 

The cemetery is surrounded on all sides by roads. At night, a shadow created from the headlights of a passing car could easily be mistaken for a human figure.

 

 

The marker for the young Rettenberg children, Joseph and Abie.  Joseph, who was 2 years old, died on September 11, 1888.  His 7-month old sister, Abie, died 3 days later.

 

 

The cemetery has several sections that contain only children's graves, such as those shown below:

 

 

 

 

These tombstones feature carvings of two outspread hands.  According to Jewish custom, this symbol designates the deceased as members of the Cohen or Levi family.

 

Deep in the back of the cemetery, these tombstones of the Horwitz family tell a mournful story.  The two stones on the left belong to brothers Aaron (who died in 1865 at age 3) and Phil (who died in 1872 at the age of one).  The large tombstone on the right is that of their big sister, Lolla, and mother, Fannie.  Lolla was 8 years old when she passed away on New Year's eve in 1875.  Their mother died 5 months later.  The flat tombstone in the middle belongs to the children's father and Fannie's husband.  He was laid to rest with his family 11 years later.

 

 

Jewish law dictates that those who marry outside their faith, or commit suicide, must usually be buried in a separate section of the cemetery.  In the same section along the fence next to the Horwitz family are several other markers.  While we cannot say that this is a "shunned" section, unlike the rest of the cemetery, these gravesites contain small markers, and appear badly neglected and damaged.   

 

 

Interestingly, in this back section of the cemetery, several anomalies showed up in the photographs. 

Below, both photos of the same gravesite contain an "orb" near the left grave.  However, given the direction of the sunlight, as well as the fact that the day was breezy, the cause is most likely natural.

 

 

Elsewhere in this section, this photo was taken, showing a light streak across the tree trunk.  Again, as with the "orb" photos, the image can be naturally explained by the direction of light and windy conditions.

 

In the second major section of the cemetery stands the  gravestone of young World War I veteran Moses Levine, who died in 1916 at the age of 21.

 

The blue orb is most likely a reflection caused by the bright sun that was coming from directly behind the stones

 

 

 

NOTE: The Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland maintains enumerations, including community newspaper obituaries, for Fir Avenue Cemetery.  For more information, contact the JGSC at (216) 449-2326.