FOREST PARK LAWNDALE
6900 Lawndale Street
Houston, TX 77023
Bella Morte Rating: 1 Tombstone
Forest Park is intersected by Houston’s Lawndale Street, a four-lane thoroughfare that divides the graveyard into two sections. The cemetery’s primary acreage lies to the south of Lawndale Street and a much smaller area lies to the north. The northern section is anchored by the Sidney Lovell designed Lawndale Abbey while the south is home to the Catacombs mausoleum. It was the lure of the Catacombs in particular which drew us to Forest Park. After all, what taphophile could resist the lure of a name like that, conjuring, as it does, images of dimly lit, labyrinthine halls? Sadly, as information on many things associated with cemeteries, mausoleums and the like is often difficult to come by, we were able to assemble only scant information on the building before our visit. Thus, we were more than slightly disappointed upon our arrival to find the mausoleum much smaller and far less, shall we say, picturesque, than anticipated.
Our disappointment not withstanding, we still thrilled to stand at the building’s entrance and contemplate the word etched deep into the structure’s façade: Catacombs. Seeing as the word catacomb is most often related to subterranean burial chambers and passageways, it is curious to consider how the mausoleum was named. Perhaps one day we will learn how this came to be.
At any rate, having entered through the heavy and ornately decorated bronze doorway, we found ourselves in a lovely chapel, the focal point of which was a marble altar. Resting atop three black marble stairs, the altar is flanked by two large marble columns. The altar itself is inscribed with the Latin phrase “Requiescat in Pace” and surmounted by a crucifix. The marble at the top of the room proclaims: “I am the Resurrection.” To either side of the altar are private family crypts sealed behind ornate bronze grate work. Sadly, the rest of the small building was largely unremarkable and took only minutes to explore. Disappointed, we set our sites on Forest Park’s Lawndale Abbey just across the street.
Having been in other mausoleums designed by Sidney Lovell, the architect’s aesthetic was immediately familiar, even from the exterior. Once inside, the chapel design was also quite recognizable. The original section of the Abbey featured large, glass-fronted niches adding interest to the halls of marble crypts. The area was dimly lit and had a certain haunting atmosphere. John Henry Kirby, founder of the Kirby Lumber empire, is entombed in a private family room in the older section of the Abbey. His crypt is inscribed as follows:
John Henry Kirby
He built his monument of love
in the hearts of his friends
November 16, 1860 – November 9, 1940
The newer phases of the building possessed a decidedly different form of haunting atmosphere. Totally devoid of grace and beauty, the walls were cracked, the ceilings flecked with mold and the floors covered with enormous dead and dying cockroaches. Aside from horrified fascination that the structure even existed, the only thing that kept us there for more than a few minutes was our examination of a section of glass-front niches which contained one in particular that caught our interest. Inside were a few photographs of the “occupant,” two small cat figurines, three small owl figurines and this rather interesting “entry.”
In Loving Memory
Wayne C. Martin
08-19-1931 ~ 10-27-2009
Here are the elemental cremains of Wayne Calvin Martin, born August 19, 1931, the first surviving son of Leo Eli Martin and Mable Bridges Hebert, on a 40-acre, hard-scrabble farm in the piney-woods hills of north-west Rapides Parish, Louisiana. I rode the school bus to Boyce High School, discovered books in the 3rd grade and never stopped reading. My family left the farm in 1941 for Fort Worth, TX, and then Doyline, LA, then back to the farm in 1943. My father “drifted away,” my mother now raised the family. I have two sisters and a brother and we love each other. I had a great English teacher in high school, Janet Smith Thompson, who expanded my life. I graduated from high school in 1950 and was sent to S.L.I. in Lafayette, LA. I graduated from there in 1954 with a degree in music education. I taught one year in Sulphur, LA, married Annie Jean Breaux, and we moved to Houston in 1955. We were divorced in 1958. I taught in Japan for the D.O.D., 1959-1961, the defining experience of my life, and returned to Houston. I taught junior high band and orchestra, but got certified to teach history in 1968 and transferred to San Jacinto High School. I taught for 39 years, mostly in HISD, retired in 1993 and spent 1994 New Year’s in Istanbul looking for James Baldwin’s house. I climbed Mt. Fuji, spent the night at Machu Picchu, explored Mayan ruins in Yucatan, loved Mexico City, London, Paris, Vienna, Madrid, saw the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, Hong Kong, and rode the Chunnel Train twice. I painted portraits and made lots of photographs. I kept a Journal. I ate well, delighted in my sensuality, lived comfortably, explored my genealogy, had many friends, and trusted my rationality. I was a Skeptic since I was a teenager; my “Eternity” rests in this wooden box you see. I was made out of the same stuff as the stars. I was two meters tall and loved every inch of it. Watch for the full moons, we are all of this Earth, love it and save it. Love thy neighbor every chance you get. Yes, dust to dust, and that’s a wonderful thing! Expect no more. To thine own self be true, as much as your society will let you. Lie if it makes other people happy, but remember, there are always consequences for lying. Grow up, take full responsibility for your life, you are the product of all the decisions you have ever made. Tempus fugit, carpe diem! Abandon your myths and superstitions, embrace ethics, absolutes are for children. You have a mind, put your trust and faith there. Get rid of your selfishness and live free. Do the same to die free…
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Forest Park is the final resting place for Houston notables including oil tycoon Hugh Roy Cullen, visionary businessman and politician Jesse Holman Jones and millionaire philanthropist Walter William Fondren, one of the founders of Humble Oil Company. Interestingly, Fondren was originally buried in Houston’s stunning Glenwood Cemetery but was later reinterred at Forest Park. His wife and children are also interred at Forest Park, each memorialized by nothing more than a small, non-descript flat gray stone bearing their name and year of birth and death. Dreadful.
For those with an eye to macabre criminal history, it should be noted that Forest Lawn is also the final resting place of Ronald Clark O’Bryan and Karla Faye Tucker.
Ronald O’Bryan, also known as The Candyman, murdered his eight year old son, Timothy, by giving him cyanide-laced Pixy-Stix on Halloween in the hope of collecting insurance money. In an effort to direct attention to other suspects, he also gave poisoned candy to his daughter and several other children in a group he escorted from house to house on All Hallow’s Eve, 1974. Tragically, it was at his own father’s urging that Timothy ingested the poisoned treat upon returning from his night of trick-or-treating. He died shortly thereafter. Fortunately, police were able to retrieve the rest of the tainted candy before any other children consumed it.
As the State of Texas does not offer death via poisoned candy, O’Bryan was instead executed by lethal-injection on 31 March, 1984.
Forest Park’s other infamous eternal resident is one Miss Karla Faye Tucker. In 1983, during a drug fueled frenzy, Tucker, along with her lover, Daniel Garrett, took a pickax and brutally murdered and mutilated 27-year-old Jerry Lynn Dean and 32-year-old Deborah Thornton. Tucker later explained she was angry with Dean for having destroyed the only photo she had of herself with her mother and for the fact he had once parked his motorcycle in her living room while the machine leaked onto the floor. Her confession also included descriptions of the intense sexual pleasure she experienced with each blow of the ax and forever sealed her name in the annals of demented killers.
Like so many others before her, Tucker “found Jesus” while in prison and preached the Bible incessantly. Clearly ignoring that bit about an eye for an eye, she and a host of Born-Again do-gooders who referred to her impending execution as “killing an angel” fought her sentence for fourteen years…right up until her death by lethal injection on 3 February, 1998.
Note: While in the Houston area, no taphophile should miss a visit to the fascinating National Museum of Funeral History.