Think if you’ve seen one sprawling cemetery, then you’ve seen them all? Think again.
Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California is one of the most stunning cemeteries in the world. The privately-owned cemetery was founded in 1906 by a group of businessmen from San Francisco. What began as a not-for-profit cemetery quickly flourished into something more once Dr. Hubert Eaton and C.B. Sims entered into a sales contract with the cemetery. By 1917, Eaton had taken over the management of the cemetery and his innovative eye would inform the future of the graveyard. Eaton has been credited as the “Founder” of Forest Lawn Memorial Park for establishing a different memorial park model—he eliminated upright grave markers and brought in works from renowned artists. His vision transmitted his belief of obliterating the depressive state of graveyards and instead presenting a joyous and optimistic space for burials. The plan was to construct Forest Lawn Cemetery as a lively park; instead of unsightly monuments, the park would be “filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and… memorial architecture.”
Besides being the original and current flagship location of Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries, the location in Glendale also has a museum. Founded in 1957, the museum displays art, artifacts, and—on occasion—hosts fine art exhibits. Some of the exhibitions hosted have included artists such as Henri Matisse, Winslow Homer, Ian Hornak, Francisco Goya, Rembrandt, Marc Davis, and Reuben Nakian. However, Forest Lawn also owns some priceless artwork as well—it is home to William Bouguereau's 84x60 inch, oil on canvas painting called “Song of the Angels”. Forest Lawn also boasts some of the largest collections of stained glass in North America with over 1000 pieces from France and Germany. The museum includes Western bronze sculptures, Italian marble statues, American historical artifacts, paintings, world artifacts, and an Easter Island statue that was rescued from the bottom of a sunk ship; it had been used as a ballast.
Most of Forest Lawn Cemetery has been sectioned off into different areas: Eventide, Babyland, Graceland, Inspiration Slope, Slumberland, Sweet Memories, Whispering Pines, Vesperland, Borderland, and Dawn of Tomorrow. Currently run by Chairman of Forest Lawn, John Llewellyn, there is a chain of six cemeteries and four additional mortuaries. The cemeteries contain about 1,500 statues—some being reproductions of famous works. There is a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper in stained glass. It is also the only place in the world that carries a complete replica collection of Michelangelo sculpture, including David and Moses. Forest Lawn Cemetery also happens to be very patriotic, displaying a large mosaic of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence and a 13-foot statue of George Washington.
This 300-acre memorial park contains such notable interments as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and many, many more. To some the park is a veritable Disneyland of Death. Though you might feel as if you’re walking through a museum or an amusement park, Forest Lawn is, after all, a cemetery. Here are some of its most haunting and infamous graves.
Babyland and Lullabyland
Adjacent to one another, Babyland and Lullabyland are reserved plots for infants and small children. Though you wouldn’t know it while inside, Babyland and Lullabyland are both landscaped into the shape of a heart. Visit Babyland, and you’ll be greeted by a bronze baby statue. Across the way, a miniature version of Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland marks the entrance to Lullabyland. On the outskirts of the heart, you’ll find the graves of mothers who wished to be buried in close proximity to their children.
It’s appropriate that Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and Disneyland, is interred near Babyland and Lullabyland, atop the hill in the Disney family garden. There is something to be said for seeing Disney’s resting place with your own eyes, as he has been the unfortunate victim of urban legend—the idea that he (or his head) was cryogenically frozen. His family has always refuted this odd story by pointing to the fact that he was cremated and his ashes interred at Forest Lawn, in the Little Garden of Communion. That is, of course, if you believe their story.
Thanks to disrespectful fans who have broken Forest Lawn’s request that no still or video photography be taken in the Great Mausoleum, you’ll have to arch your neck to catch a glimpse of a certain crypt at the end of the Sanctuary of Benediction.
What you will see is a family vault marked “Jean Harlow” where Harlow is entombed alongside her mother. Harlow died at the young age of 26 when her kidneys suddenly shut down. Doctors today believe this may have been related to the fact that she had suffered from scarlet fever as a child.
A huge star at the time of her death, MGM shut down the day of Harlow’s funeral at Forest Lawn. Former co-star Clark Gable was a pallbearer, and she was buried in the gown she wore in 1936’s Libeled Lady, a gardenia in one hand and a letter from her partner William Powell that read “Goodnight, my dearest darling.” Her epitaph simply reads “Our Baby.”
Carole Lombard and Clark Gable
In early 1942, on her way home from a war bond rally in her home state of Indiana, Hollywood star Carole Lombard and her entourage had planned to travel back to California by train. But Lombard was eager to get back to Los Angeles to see her beloved husband, Clark Gable, so they took a plane. It crashed, killing all 22 onboard. She was just 33 years old.
Lombard was interred at Forest Lawn, under her married name, “Carole Lombard Gable,” next to her mother, who was also killed in the crash. Despite marrying two more times after Lombard’s death, Clark Gable, her second husband, chose to be entombed next to her in the Great Mausoleum upon his death in 1960. Gable’s fifth wife Kay Williams honored his wishes. Just a few weeks after Gable’s death, she gave birth to his son in the same hospital where Gable died.
When Michael Jackson died of a drug overdose in 2009, his family held a gigantic, televised memorial service at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, followed by a private memorial at Forest Lawn.
Because of his superstar status, Jackson’s family wanted his final resting place to be a quiet, private place, and Forest Lawn was eager to oblige. His marble sarcophagus is closed to the public, located in the Sanctuary of Ascension in the Great Mausoleum, under a beautiful collection of stained glass windows.
If proximity is your aim, the closest you can get to Jackson’s unmarked resting place is actually outside and around the back of the Great Mausoleum. It’s not uncommon to see fans gathered there in remembrance.
Gracie Allen and George Burns
When Gracie Allen, a famous comedian, died in 1964 of a heart attack, her husband George Burns was devastated. He even took to sleeping in her sick bed, and visited her grave in the Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn at least once a month. He said he liked to go there to ask Gracie’s advice, especially when it came to career decisions.
When Burns died in 1996 at the age of 100, he was interred right next to his beloved Gracie. Her epitaph was changed to read “Gracie Allen and George Burns, Together Again.” Burns said he wanted Gracie to have top billing.
The Builder: Hubert L. Eaton
Forest Lawn’s founder, or its “builder” as he preferred to be known, Hubert L. Eaton is interred in the Great Mausoleum, adjacent to the Last Supper reproduction.
Eaton began as a salesman at Forest Lawn, but had a vision of expanding the cemetery to become a “memorial park,” a place just as much for the living as for the dead. During his lifetime he opened many of the Forest Lawn locations in California, and made Forest Lawn the destination for celebrity weddings and funerals.
Deeply religious, his philosophy for Forest Lawn lives on in a gigantic inscribed tablet outside the Great Mausoleum called “the Builder’s Creed.” It reads, in part, “I Believe, Most Of All, In A Christ That Smiles And Loves You And Me… I Therefore Know The Cemeteries Of Today Are Wrong, Because They Depict An End, Not A Beginning. They Have Consequently Become Unsightly Stone yards Full Of Inartistic Symbols And Depressing Customs; Places That Do Nothing For Humanity Save A Practical Act, And Not That Well.”