Henry Ruff near Michigan Avenue in Westland lies a pine-bordered
cemetery, last resting place of more than 7,000 former residents
of the Eloise Hospital and Infirmary.
Unattended for 50 years, the cemetery is undergoing dramatic changes.
Presently, Wayne County, along with the City of Westland and Ford
Motor Co.'s Land Management Division, is taking steps to upgrade
the cemetery. Last year, the landscaping unit of Ford's division
cut trees and removed overgrowth.
goal is to acknowledge the many people who are interred there,"
says Gary Sirotti, Deputy Director of Wayne County's Health and
Community Services Department. "It's great to see Ford, Wayne
County and Westland working as a team to make this project a reality."
Long-range plans call for a marker to be erected identifying the
cemetery, possible in conjunction with Wayne County's Bicentennial
Eloise, as the 902-acre complex was known, no longer exists, but
from 1839 until 1981, the facility served as the last home to
thousands of Wayne County's mentally disadvantaged and indigent
The residents at Eloise, named after the daughter of Detroit's
postmaster in the 1890s, grew their own food, dried tobacco for
cigarettes, raised pigs and cattle, even ran their own theater.
Through the years, three cemeteries were created on the grounds
with the eventual consolidation of all the remains at Henry Ruff
Cemetery in the early part of this century.
The current cemetery was in use 38 years, from 1910 to 1948. Plots
were marked with a number. The numbers matched up with a death
register. The old registers provide just the barest of details
about Eloise's patients: name, age (often just guessed at), city
the patient came from, occupation and cause of death.
The 1910 register book, its cover worn with age, shows the dead
were mostly common working people: butcher, laborer, domestic
baker, teamster, painter. Many were foreign born. Stripped of
any modern medical jargon, the causes of death seem harsh: exhaustion
from paralysis, senility, cancer of the face, strangulation from
Some residents were at Eloise only a brief period of time before
their deaths. The register lists one 34-year-old tinsmith suffering
from tuberculosis - admitted on October 8th, 1915, dead a scant
two days later.
Burial options included having the family claim the body or having
the unclaimed body donated to Detroit College of Medicine to be
used for medical research. After 1948, all unclaimed bodies were
sent to the college. Says Sirotti of the cemetery restoration
work: "We envision this effort will emphasize how the Eloise
complex affected the history of Wayne County."