It's easy to be overwhelmed by the history and artistry of Wade Memorial Chapel,which was commissioned by J.H. Wade II to honor his grandfather, Western Union Telegraph Co. founder and Lake View Cemetery president Jeptha H. Wade. So we asked veteran docent Wayne Bifano to show us around the 1901-built chapel.
Louis C. Tiffany designed the chapel's centerpiece stained-glass window. Called The Consummation of the Divine Promise, it was created for the Paris Exposition of 1900. J.H. Wade II paid $15,000 for it and commissioned Tiffany to build the chapel. "His glass is not pure color," says Bifano. "It is a variety of colors within a single piece of glass, and that's what makes Tiffany glass extra special."
The chapel was actually built at Tiffany Studios in Corona, New York. It was then disassembled and shipped on the Erie Canal to Cleveland. The massive bronze doors, however, each weighing 2 tons, were manufactured in Cleveland. "The doors introduce visitors to the chapel storyline, with their egg and dart design, representing life and death, the full cycle of existence," says Bifano.
Wade can actually be booked for weddings — a fitting double usage for a commitment chapel. With seating for 65, the chapel averages between seven and 12 weddings per year. "When people say, 'Weddings? In a funeral chapel?' I'll say, 'Well, why not?' " says Bifano. "Lake View is not about celebrating death so much as celebrating a person's life."
Before motorized digging equipment, the chapel served another purpose. Hidden below it are two receiving vault chambers capable of holding 96 caskets. Following a funeral, the deceased were lowered from the chapel into the vault for the cold months. "In 1900, the ground was frozen and people had to be stored until the springtime," says Bifano. "It was a very utilitarian-type thing."
The pair of Pre-Raphaelite murals shows a procession moving toward the window's Christ figure. With one side using mostly Hebrew imagery and the other Christian, the murals depict two boats of rowers straining against a river. A cloaked figure, a symbol of death, is kept chained at the rear of one procession. "All the figures are happy people," says Bifano. "There's nothing morose about the place."