In the last week, Scott Markus and I finally made the trek to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. This Gorgeous and massive 300 acre cemetery is the final resting place of many of the movers and shakers in Los Angeles history. The hilly grounds offering an incredible views of the city they helped build.
The cemetery was founded in 1906, and operated as a non-profit. The grounds hold three non-denominational chapels. Forrest Lawn was the first “Memorial Park” getting rid of the “unsightly” standing headstones (there are still a few). For a long time they refused black, Chinese, and Jewish internments, now all are welcome. Surprisingly, more than 60,000 people have been married on the cemetery grounds. Forrest Lawn is unique for many reasons, the cemetery holds an art museum, the largest mosaic depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and it the only place in the world with a complete set of reproduction Michelangelo statues, made from the same quarries as the originals.
It is also a place that has an insane amount of respect for the privacy of their departed tenants.
It is this amount of privacy that makes enjoying the grounds, and paying respects, very difficult. Forrest Lawn does not allow pictures of graves, or anywhere in their many mausoleums’ out of “respect of the property owners”. Many of the crypts and graves are roped off and concealed from those who wish to visit them.
Scott and I both felt this was a little over-dramatic.
The Great mausoleum had more security cameras than an airport, and out of all of the “greatness” only about 10% is open to the public.
Even crypts that were open-air were locked off. Walt Disney, a resting place I was sincerely looking forward to a moment of silence with, was gated off, his name completely obscured by small trees.
The cemetery does provide maps of the grounds, which are sprawling and confusing. We definitely recommend picking one up in the front building. That being said, out of respect of privacy, none of the graves are marked on the map. So you have to do your research ahead of time on who you want to visit, because unless you are very lucky, no one will tell you.
On the lawns, knowing which section a person is buried in is not sufficient. As I said, the grounds are massive; some individual areas are as big as football fields. If you have a crypt number things get a bit easier, but the numbering can be confusing. Scott spent 20 minutes looking for Tom Mix’s grave, with the proper number. Tom Mix is a silent era western star with a connection to one of Scott’s favorite Chicagoland haunts, the Great Escape.
The confusing layouts and steep hills made me give up on seeing my hero. After seeing Scott’s luck with Mix, I gave up on hoping to find Oscar winning costume designer, Edith Head’s plot. As some of you know I also work as a costume designer and Edith is the designer I would like to aspire to be like. Unfortunately I will have to wait to see where she rests, since this time we only knew a lawn name but not a crypt number, we felt we had little chance of locating her.
Directional clues are a must for finding an interment location! Finding, It’s a Wonderful Life star, Jimmy Stuart’s grave was easier once we found the clue that the “statue of the man with the arrow” located him with ease!
Our experience in the Great mausoleum was a little better. Elizabeth Taylor does have a very impressive, very public, and very easy to find monument, a beautiful, tall, Etruscan style angel, right at the end of the hallway at the entrance to the great mausoleum.
The Different sections in the mausoleum are well labeled. However they are also roped off, so the closest you can get to the tragic couple of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard is peering down the hallway and knowing that they are somewhere in the wall just out of your sight. Many others share the same fate.
After only a few hours of this frustration, Scott and I left. As seasoned cemetery goers, we were both surprised by the off limit-ness and difficulty to navigate Forrest Lawn offered. We also found it hard to believe that people like Michael Jackson and Jean Harlow would want to be buried in a place that discouraged their admirers from seeing them. It felt to us that the original intention of a cemetery- to celebrate the lives of those interred there- was lost within the gates. Perhaps Forrest Lawn felt that in, death, they could provide the isolation and security, its patrons never had in life.
We do still recommend a visit to this cemetery. Not for the graves, but for the beautiful views of the city and amazing art collection. Some pieces which belonged to William Randolph Hearst. The collection includes an actual Easter Island head, over 1,000 pieces of stained glass, and many American historical artifacts. As well as quite a few replicas of things found in museums all around the world. Check the schedule to see what the traveling exhibit is!
Yes, I know what you mean! forest Lawn Glendale, is an amazing place! Not only is Walt Disney buried here (and not on “The Pirates of The Carribean” ride as most think!) but Jane Darwell is also. She was a wonderful character actress (she won Best supporting Actress for “The Grapes of Wrath”) her last appearance in a film, was in “Mary Poppins” as the old woman who feeds the birds. Walt specifically wanted her for the role, and she was living at The Motion Pictures retirement home at the time. Walt went to visit her and talked her into it. Her sent a limo to pick her up for the two day shoot! Also buried here, is the author of the “Wizard of Oz” L. Frank Baum. Dorothy Dandridge is in The Great Mauselum,as well as Lon Chaney, but he’s in an unmarked grave! But for me, the most interesting (and with a lot of question marks!) Is the grave of Ned Doheny Jr. You can’t miss his grave, it’s the tall, most ornate sight at the top of the hill when you enter. It was imported from Italy as a gift to Edward Doheny Sr. The story of Ned Doheny is long, complicated, and very mysterious. Suffice to say, Mr. Doheny Jr. was murderd by his personal secretary T. Hugh Plunkett, who then killed himself. The rumor was, they were lovers, and Mr. Doheny was either ending their relationship or having Mr. Plunkett commited.Or, that Ned’s wife killed them both in a jealous rage, and covered the whole thing up? Either way,Ned Doheny was buried here after being cremated, and not in the family plot, which is curious because the Doheny’s were Catholic, and do not generally cremate their loved ones. The most amazing thing is, that down the slope from where Ned Doheny is buried, is the grave of T. Hugh Plunkett! If he murdered Mr. Doheny, why would his “killer” be buried so close by? Very mysterious! The most touching story though, is of George Burns & Gracie Allen. They really loved each other. She was Catholic, and
he was Jewish. So she couldn’t be buried in a Jewish Cemetery, and since FL is non-denominational Gracie was buried inside the Freedom Mausoleum. My mom used to see George Burns visit early in the morning, alone ( I have a relative buried here) When George Burns passed away, he is buried next to Gracie. Her tomb is above George’s, because he once said, “She gets Top Billing”…
I’m glad you brought up the Doheny case. It’s still a very intriguing one to this day, having definitely left a mark on Greystone Manner. Ned Sr. had is hand in so many bits of corrupt international politics, that there are those who think the double homicide was really meant to be a warning to him. Whatever the case, it’s fair to say that the “official story” is far from the real story. I do love that those two men are buried on the same hillside, almost as a testament that one did not kill the other.
I both lived near and worked at Forest Lawn briefly and it’s absolutely true about the “closed off” factor. I think the celebs buried there value their privacy and don’t want to be “bothered,” even in the afterlife. The staff is also (ridiculously) militant about privacy – I’ve had the sprinklers turned on me looking for Jimmy Stewart’s grave, I’ve been chased out of the mausoleum for not sitting down during the performance (maybe they thought I was going to touch the stained glass? It’s lovely, but it’s out of reach!), and I’ve been yelled at by this security guard who is known affectionately as “Female Hitler,” so count yourself lucky you didn’t have anything worse than not seeing everyone you wanted to see happen. It depends on who’s on duty – some days I went (I frequented the cemetery), it was great and I could walk around freely (and when I worked there, I had a bit more access as well), but other days (and especially after Michael Jackson was interred there), security was rigid.