Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Family monument at Forest Lawn

Forest Lawn Memorial Park
1712 S. Glendale Avenue
Glendale, California 91205
Telephone: (800) 204-3131
Originally opened:  1906
Size: 300 acres
Number of interments: More than 250,000 people, according to Wikipedia
Open: Daily 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time.

Until 1913, Forest Lawn Cemetery was a mere 55 peaceful acres on the edge of Tropico (now Glendale) in Southern California.  Then Hubert Eaton took over.

Eaton was not the first to sell grave plots to families still living — that had been pioneered by Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (America’s first nondenominational garden cemetery) in 1832.  However, Eaton was the first to be aggressive about “pre-need” sales, going door to door to evangelize about the peace of mind one could have, knowing one’s family wouldn’t be shopping for a gravesite during the sharpest pangs of their grief.  To his credit, Eaton adamantly believed that plots at Forest Lawn should not be sold as property speculation (in which the price of burial space increases as the cemetery fills), but that they be purchased as a familial obligation, like buying insurance.  Soon he’d sold most of the original cemetery and bought up the surrounding land.  Forest Lawn Glendale now occupies 303 acres.

Eaton undertook a tour of Europe, visiting cemeteries and art museums, looking for “improvements” he could transplant to his own burial ground.  For the most part, Eaton — a staunch Baptist — found cemeteries depressing.  Strangely enough, he thought they put too much emphasis on death, loss, and pain.  Eaton found the fields of sculpted stone ugly.  He came back with a revolutionary idea:  henceforth, above-ground monuments would be forbidden at Forest Lawn.  In their place, the cemetery would provide occasional marble sculptures on authorized subjects like motherhood or valor.  The very wealthy could purchase one of these pre-approved monuments as a grave marker.  He restricted everyone else to a bronze marker set into the sod, because bronze did not chip when driven over by a lawnmower.

Although they carefully don’t use it as a marketing tool, Forest Lawn Glendale is the final resting place for many of Hollywood’s famous names.  Among the famous at rest in Forest Lawn are Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Stewart, Chico Marx, Humphrey Bogart, Sammy Davis Jr. and W. C. Fields.  L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz) rests under a heavy upright granite monument in the original section of the graveyard.  Clark Gable and Carole Lombard supposedly lie in the Sanctuary of Trust, but I haven’t been able to locate them yet.  Even with Permanent Californians:  An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California  — which I highly recommend, should you find yourself visiting LA — it is difficult to find anyone.  Forest Lawn doesn’t sell maps of graves like Hollywood Forever does.

Despite the discouragement of stargazing pilgrimages, Eaton went out of his way to entice the living to use Forest Lawn.  Easter sunrise services drew thousands.  The cemetery’s churches could be rented for weddings and christenings.  Among the other amenities offered:  the Ring of Aldyth, a stone loop through which bridal couples could clasp hands and pledge their devotion, and a Wishing Chair that promised success for everyone exchanging bridal kisses there.  In 1955, Ralph Hancock wrote in The Forest Lawn Story, “More people have been married in Forest Lawn’s churches than in any other church in America.”

To this day, Forest Lawn continues to be a cemetery that denies death.  “The Builder” didn’t want anything challenging or threatening or sad in his masterpiece, so he forbade depictions of grief and sorrow.  Even the painting of the Crucifixion that hangs in Forest Lawn’s purpose-built Hall has no death in it.  The thieves have yet to be nailed to their crosses.  Christ waits patiently for his sentence to be carried out.  Forest Lawn’s literature hypes the painting (tall as a 20-story building, if it were stood on end!) as the only depiction in the world of Christ awaiting his martyrdom.

Of course Forest Lawn has a gift shop.  It offers glossy calendars of their marble statuary, or tchotchkes of their version of David, or replicas of items in the museum.

Useful links:

Famous residents of Forest Lawn

Photographs of the Artwork at Forest Lawn

Directions for the cell phone audio tour

Gift shop hours

Virtual tour of Forest Lawn

GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Forest Lawn:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

 The Last Great Necessity

Dead Ends

About Loren Rhoads

The first book of my science fiction trilogy, The Dangerous Type, came out in July from Night Shade Books. Kill By Numbers comes out September 1. I am also the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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7 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

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