After a decade of planning and perseverance, construction begins this summer on the Garden of 11 Angels in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. This memorial garden — in honor of the 11 women murdered by serial killer Anthony Sowell — will serve as a timeless reminder that out of heartbreak can spring healing and hope. “Even though these women are gone, they are not forgotten,” says Isaac Robb, vice president of planning and urban projects at Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
Following the discovery of Sowell’s crimes in 2009, the victims’ families and local religious leaders worked with architect Kevin Robinette to reimagine an area near the ghastly site of the murders as a memorial garden. Robinette created a design rich in symbolism, with every last detail supporting the project’s mission of healing.
Visitors will enter onto a walking path in the shape of an infinity loop, with 11 magnolia trees standing in tribute on all sides, leading back to the centerpiece granite monument. The names of the 11 women and Maya Angelou’s uplifting poem, “Still I Rise” will be inscribed on it.
Native plantings and low-wall seating will complete the transformation of these vacant parcels of land on Imperial Avenue into a quiet spot of reflection for the entire Mount Pleasant community. “Healing is the key,” says Robb. “It’s to remember and honor the past, but also to serve as a place of healing — not only for the families, but for everyone in the community. That trauma spilled over into everyone that lives here.”
After years of false starts and dashed hopes, this grassroots effort teamed up with new partners such as Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Land Studio and Burten, Bell, Carr Development to move the memorial concept from drawing board to reality. They successfully navigated the land acquisition process — some of which was in receivership — and met an ambitious funding goal thanks to a Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program grant. David Wilson of Land Studio also reconfigured Robinette’s original design to accommodate the finalized allotment of land. Now, with all of the boxes ticked, construction can finally begin. Robb hopes the garden will be ready for a public opening this October.
More than anything, the Garden of 11 Angels reclaims land scarred by tragedy and restores it as a place for residents to gather and celebrate the lives and legacies of these 11 women. “We hope this memorial garden brings back a sense of pride to the neighborhood,” says Robb, “that out of something so horrific can come tenderness and resiliency and the beauty of a community pulling together.”