CROWN HILL CEMETERY
700 West 38th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46208
Bella Morte Rating: 3 Tombstones
Crown Hill is the third largest (non-government) cemetery in the country; however, don’t let the size lead you to believe all of its 555 acres are filled with beauty. Indeed, the majority of Crown Hill is wholly unremarkable and, were it not for some true gems at the cemetery’s heart, we would not have given it a 3 Tombstone rating.
Driving through the gates on West 38th Street, the first thing visitors will notice is a large, modern funeral home. Beyond that, the imposing walls of the Community Mausoleum (1950) loom, offering a promise of beauty and adventure that isn’t particularly well-kept. The metallic silver doors of the mausoleum feature an Art Deco motif which is echoed throughout the voluminous building (actually, there are two structures joined by an interior hallway and/or an exterior covered passage). The sizeable lobby affords access (via staircase) to the basement crypts or, by taking two flights of stairs up, the main hallway. Here, in addition to numerous crypts, visitors will find themselves standing before the doors of the Peace Chapel which features a stained glass window commemorating the family of Eli Lilly (see further comments below). Again, the chapel is not particularly impressive with the exception of one private crypt located at the front and right side (if you’re facing the stained glass). This crypt has been purchased pre-need and stands ready to receive the mortal remains of two gentlemen (Mr. Belcher and Mr. Morris). Constructed of white marble, the crypt resembles an enormous bed. At the back of the tomb is a nameplate which resembles a traditional tombstone. Above this, supported by two white marble columns, is a faux roof with the gold-leafed names of the owners abbreviated and joined with a hyphen (BEL-MOR). Quite impressive!
Other private crypts line the sides of the chapel, but none approach the striking grandeur of the Bel-Mor offering. Directly across from Bel-Mor is a former crypt which has been reconfigured to accommodate a columbarium. The glass-fronted niches are attractive, and the red velvet cushioning at the bottom of each lends a touch of elegance; however, the dim lighting, coupled with the cemetery administration's imprudent decision to allow a host of personal mementos to be stored with the urns, gives an overall feeling of barely-controlled chaos. This is unfortunate as some of the urns are truly gorgeous and deserve a more fitting display.
There’s not much more to say about the mausoleum. Each corridor is a mirror image of the last. The lack of personalized inscriptions (beyond name and dates) is uninspired and the glass-fronted niches that punctuate the space contain (for the most part) stock bronze urns resembling books or vases that deny any sense of individuality.
Once out in the cemetery (still on the Community Mausoleum side) there isn’t much to see. A war memorial (with crypts for those who served in the military) rises to a fairly-impressive height, but isn’t particularly attractive. This is the newer side of the cemetery and didn't hold the attention of the Bella Morte staff overlong. The most interesting feature might be the proliferation of above-ground, individual and double private mausoleums which resemble hulking caskets.
Passing under a bridge which takes one to the other (older) side of the cemetery, the aura begins to shift. At last, there is a sense that the journey may, after all, be worthwhile. And, indeed, though the section is small in consideration of the enormity of Crown Hill, there are some real gems to be found. A Bella Morte favourite is the Forrest monument where the figure of a bronze woman, crafted by Austrian sculptor Rudolf Schwarz, rests in an attitude of eternal grief before these words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
IN MEMORY OF ALBERTINA ALLEN FORREST
A loss forever new.
A hand where heart on heart reposed,
And where warm hands have prest and closed,
Another favourite is the Evans – Strum stone. A large triangle of pink granite capped with strong white lines proclaims the love of this couple where one has preceded the other to the next world.
We've had the privilege of being in touch with the monument's creator (Mr. Evans) who shared with us that, from idea to completion, the memorial took six years to realize. Each of the three columns and the crypt cover were quarried, cut, and polished from solid Minnesota rainbow granite. The base, steps, and top cap consist of Barrie gray granite from Vermont.
The moving inscription on the immense, flat tombstone reads:
As in life, together again
In the afterlife
Jerome Maxwell Strum Jr.
Born - December 28, 1957
Left – October 11, 1998
Eric Scott Tiger Evans
Born – June 10, 1962
Said for 15 years to each
other before going to sleep.
Good night my love
Say your prayers
I love you
Heart and soul
Now and forever
This beautiful monument is one of the cemetery's highlights and really shouldn't be missed (Sec 45 Lot 3).
The Lilly monument is also striking. Guarded by a bronze figure, her arms raised in a gesture that implies benediction, she is echoed in the stained glass of the Community Mausoleum’s Peace Chapel. Her floating robes are suggestive of wings. She stands a short distance from a manicured path leading up to the family’s private mausoleum. Eli Lilly was a generous philanthropist whose fortune was made in the pharmaceutical industry.
Crown Hill’s name derives from the fact that its acres include the highest point in Indianapolis. It is atop this great ascent, and along its green length, that some of the wealthier citizens of Indianapolis have chosen to erect monuments to their memory, though the summit was given to famous Hoosier poet, James Whitcome Riley whose tomb is covered with pennies and trinkets left by visitors.
Other notable monuments and sites include the Indiana Aids Memorial, the cemetery’s breathtaking Gothic Chapel (currently under renovation), many of the 57+ private mausoleums, the National Cemetery with its hundreds of plain white crosses, the memorial to 1,616 Confederate POW’s who died at Camp Morton in Indianapolis (they were originally interred in Greenlawn Cemetery and later moved to Crown Hill) and the haunting stone figures of two children (one boy and one girl) located in different parts of the cemetery.
One could easily (and happily) spend a good number of hours in the historic part of Crown Hill and it is for this reason the cemetery earns its 3 tombstones. While our expectations were not met, we still enjoyed our 2 days of exploration. That being said, we still stand by the caveat that Crown Hill does not live up to the press it is given on its official web page.