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 Painted rocks like this one are part of a garden at the Detroit Historical Museum created to pay tribute to people who have died from COVID-19, and to offer messages of hope and comfort during the pandemic.

Painted rocks like this one are part of a garden at the Detroit Historical Museum created to pay tribute to people who have died from COVID-19, and to offer messages of hope and comfort during the pandemic.

Photo provided by the Detroit Historical Museum


Painted rock garden pays tribute to those lost to COVID-19

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 9, 2020

 Marlowe Stoudamire, the project director of the Detroit Historical Museum’s groundbreaking and international award-winning project and exhibition, “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward,” is one of the many Detroiters who have lost their lives this year to COVID-19. Stoudamire is among those being remembered by friends and colleagues in a new rock garden outside the museum.

Marlowe Stoudamire, the project director of the Detroit Historical Museum’s groundbreaking and international award-winning project and exhibition, “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward,” is one of the many Detroiters who have lost their lives this year to COVID-19. Stoudamire is among those being remembered by friends and colleagues in a new rock garden outside the museum.

Photo provided by the Detroit Historical Museum 

 Walter Lumley Upshaw Jr. — pictured here with his wife of  almost 30 years, Shirley Jean Upshaw — was one of the beloved local residents who died from the COVID-19 pandemic. People like Upshaw  are being remembered through a memorial rock garden at the  Detroit Historical Museum.

Walter Lumley Upshaw Jr. — pictured here with his wife of almost 30 years, Shirley Jean Upshaw — was one of the beloved local residents who died from the COVID-19 pandemic. People like Upshaw are being remembered through a memorial rock garden at the Detroit Historical Museum.

Photo provided by Delisha Upshaw

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DETROIT — COVID-19 has claimed thousands of lives in Michigan, and while numbers might be declining, residents are still dying daily from the virus.

In an effort to honor those we’ve lost and share uplifting thoughts in this difficult time, the Detroit Historical Museum has turned the curved garden in front of the building into a crowd-sourced rock garden. Anyone in the community can paint a rock or two — in memory of a loved one lost to COVID-19, or to offer supportive messages to visitors — and add it to the growing collection.

The garden, where visitors who want to reflect are also welcome, opened Memorial Day weekend and will remain open through Labor Day.

“Our city is very resilient, but you can’t deny the pain we’re all feeling,” said Elana Rugh, president and CEO of the Detroit Historical Society, which operates the Detroit Historical Museum. “Our hope is that the space provides people a place to be thoughtful and share messages of hope about this time.”

One of those lost to the virus was someone with close ties to the Detroit Historical Society: Marlowe Stoudamire, the project director of the Detroit Historical Museum’s groundbreaking and international award-winning project and exhibition, “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward.”

Community and business leader Stoudamire, a husband and father of two young children, was only 43 when he died of complications from COVID-19 in March. Stoudamire had agreed to become the museum’s first Entrepreneur in Residence shortly before his death.

Rugh said she and Stoudamire had been friends for 20 years — well before she started her career with the Detroit Historical Society a few years ago — and she said he was “a real mentor of mine in terms of race relations,” so she was among the many at the museum who felt his loss personally as well as professionally.

Stoudamire’s death “was definitely a part of the decision (to create the memorial rock garden) because we all haven’t been able to mourn him together,” Rugh said. “He is one of the many, many Detroiters we have lost since the (pandemic began), but he is the one we knew the best.”

Delisha Upshaw, the Detroit Historical Society’s membership and annual giving manager, is not only mourning the loss of Stoudamire, but also the loss of her beloved uncle, Walter Lumley Upshaw Jr. Delisha Upshaw was a driving force behind the memorial rock garden.

“It was a really difficult time, not to be able to visit,” Upshaw said of her uncle’s hospitalization. “When nurses have to stand in (for family) during the transition, it’s pretty cruel.”

Because of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, people have been unable to be at the bedsides of their hospitalized loved ones as they’re dying. Funerals have also been limited to a handful of mourners.

“I just felt like the collective loss in Detroit has been tremendous,” Upshaw said. “I just thought, ‘What can we do right now so that people can go and honor their loved ones?’”

While people are welcome to contribute painted stones or visit the garden, those who can’t go there in person will be able to view photos of some of the rocks on Detroit Historical Museum social media. Rugh said each rock is being photographed digitally for the museum’s permanent collection, and once the garden is dismantled, some of the rocks themselves will be retained for the permanent collection as well, as a record of this historical moment.

“I really hope that it helps with the healing,” Upshaw said of the garden. “We have to find a safe way to share our collective loss.”

Rugh said the museum was still closed at press time due to the pandemic, but they hope to be able to open, at least in some fashion, by mid-summer. In the meantime, she encouraged people to visit their website, which has a considerable amount of local historical content, as well as virtual tours.

The Detroit Historical Museum is located at 5401 Woodward Ave. in midtown. Although the museum remained closed at press time, its parking lot is open for rock garden contributors or visitors.

For more information, visit www.detroithistorical.org.

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