The Memorial Service for Eliot Ness, his wife Elisabeth and their son Robert took place on September 10, 1997, organized by the Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum.
Eliot H. Ness served as the Director of Public Safety from 1935 through 1945. His innovative changes to the Divisions of Fire and Police contributed to many positive improvements in both organizations. Director Eliot Ness passed away in 1957 at the age of 54 in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. His last wish was to be cremated and laid to rest in Cleveland, Ohio. He had also asked that his remains be dispersed over water. His wife Elisabeth and son Robert were cremated after their deaths, but none of them had ever been properly laid to rest. The Cleveland Police Historical Society embarked upon the challenge of holding a respectful memorial service commensurate to his position in September of 1997. The following is a remembrance of that event.
The service started with a procession into the Euclid Avenue entrance of Lake View Cemetery. The procession included the Cleveland Police Mounted Unit, the Cleveland Police Motorcycle Unit, the Cleveland Police Honor Guard, the Greater Cleveland Pipe and Drums, the Cleveland Fire Department Honor Guard, Cleveland Fire Department Pipe and Drums, the Pennsylvania State Police Honor Guard, the Pipes and Drums of the Chicago Emerald Society, and a 1938 Buick Century carrying the cremains of the Ness family.
After a welcome from William Garrison, President of the Lake View Cemetery Association, the memorial service included the following opening remarks by Commander Robert Cermak, Commander of the Cleveland Division of Police, Bureau of Special Investigation and the President of the Cleveland Police Historical Society. “I would like to thank everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and pay respect to ELIOT NESS, his wife ELIZABETH ANDERSON NESS and their son ROBERT ELIOT NESS. The Cleveland Police Historical Society is both pleased and honored to be empowered by the family of ELIOT NESS to arrange a memorial service in his honor. Because of all of the positive changes implemented by former Safety Director Ness during his tenure with the City of Cleveland, it is only fitting that he be laid to final rest here in Lake View Cemetery in the City of Cleveland, 40 years after his death. The Historical Society is grateful to all of the organizations and generous contributors who helped make this ceremony possible.”
Over three hundred people gathered around Wade Pond to honor Eliot Ness and his family. After a moving eulogy from Rebecca McFarland, Trustee of the Cleveland Police Historical Society, Cleveland police officers scattered the ashes of Eliot Ness, Elisabeth Anderson Ness and Robert Eliot Ness into Wade Pond.
The memorial service was described by Brian Albrecht in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on September 11, 1997:
The pipers played “Going Home” as police carried the last remains of a legend yesterday to a small boat bobbing on Wade Chapel Lake in Lake View Cemetery. Oars softly splashed, keeping time to “Amazing Grace,” as the boat was rowed to the center of the lake. A wreath was placed on the water and ashes from a golden urn were gently tipped into the green leaves and lake ripples. A shouted order: “Rifle salute to our fallen comrade.” The roar of three sharp volleys and the echo of two police helicopters in a fly-by salute scattered nearby ducks. A bugler played “Taps.”
Eliot Ness had come home.
It wasn’t his birthplace of Chicago, the city where his exploits as leader of federal Prohibition agents, the “Untouchables,” would become the stuff of books, TV and movie dramatizations. He was being laid to rest, 40 years after his death, in the city where his role as safety director, mayoral candidate, business executive and family man may have made a more lasting impact than any fictional account of his early career in Chicago. The ashes of Ness, his third wife, Elisabeth, and their son, Robert, were dispersed in a memorial to the legendary lawman co-sponsored by the Cleveland Police Historical Society, Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland and private donors.
A crowd of more than 300 attended. They included city officials, police officers and firemen, former friends of Ness and ordinary folks such as George Heckman, 76, of Richmond Heights, a former Cleveland policeman who said, “I just thought it’d be nice to come out and say goodbye.”
While awaiting the procession of Police Department and Fire Department parade units, police Lt. Edward P. McNeeley – who would disperse the remains – shook his head in wonder. “It feels strange, real strange. My dad was sworn in by Eliot Ness in 1942, `The Untouchables’ was my favorite TV show when I was growing up, and now I’m going to be scattering Eliot Ness in a lake,’ he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be doing this someday.” Jim Cavanaugh, part of a contingent representing the Chicago Police Department’s pipe and drum corps, said he and other officers from that city were surprised to learn that Ness had never been buried. “But to be able to come here and remember him, and do something nice for his funeral, it feels good.”
Ness’ remains had been kept by the family since his death in Coudersport, Pa., of a heart attack at age 54. He died in impoverished obscurity, his family unable to afford the cost of burial, said Rebecca McFarland, vice president of the police historical society. “What his family couldn’t do, we will do today,” said McFarland, one of several speakers who praised Ness as a fearless battler of municipal and criminal corruption. “Although his life was never easy, he did not allow fear to guide him.” Ness also was credited with establishing the city’s first police academy and modernizing its safety forces.
“Eliot was a visionary with courage,” said William Garrison, Lake View president and CEO. “Eliot used the power of his character and persuasion to fight crime, corruption and hopelessness.”
He was recognized as a humanitarian in his work with local youth programs. Cleveland’s police chaplain, the Rev. John J. Cregan said, “May Director Ness be for all of us a model of honesty and integrity and perseverance.”
Ness will be remembered, said current Safety Director William Denihan. “We will never forget you. You will live in our memory and our hearts forever.”
The program for the event included information on each family member.
Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.