Crown Hill Cemetery was incorporated as a non-profit, non-sectarian cemetery in September 1863. The cemetery originally included 236 acres of farmland located north of Indianapolis, Indiana. The first interment, of Lucy Ann Seaton, took place on June 2, 1864. In 1866, the federal government purchased a portion of the cemetery and dedicated it as a national cemetery for the interment of Union soldiers. Additional acreage was purchased in 1869, 1886, 1887, and 1911. The cemetery currently includes 555 acres, which makes it the country's third largest cemetery.
I grew up a mile away from Crown Hill Cemetery and it has always been at the edge of my consciousness. It has only been in the last few years that I've taken the time to really explore the cemetery, which serves as a guide to the history of the city of Indianapolis. My most recent visit took place on November 8, 2016.
Crown Hill Cemetery is named, transparently, for a hill known as "The Crown." Before Indianapolis merged with Marion County in the 1970s, The Crown was the highest point in the city. (For those interested in Indianapolis trivia, the highest point is now in Pike Township.) At the top of The Crown is the tomb of James Whitcomb Riley. Riley, known as the "Hoosier Poet," was born in Greenfield, Indiana in 1849. Although Riley is now little known outside of Indiana, he was famous in his day, primarily for his poems "Little Orphant Annie" ("An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out!") and "The Raggedy Man." His death in 1916 was national news.
Riley's remains laid in state in the Indiana Statehouse, only the second person (after Abraham Lincoln) to receive such an honor. During the ten-hour day, 35,000 people came to pay their respects. The next day his body was taken to Crown Hill Cemetery and he was buried at the top of The Crown. Funds were raised, largely from children who donated pennies, to build a fitting memorial to the poet.
The bronze of a boy reading a book is the only ornamentation on Riley's classical monument. Coins, mainly pennies, are still left on the tomb today.
Riley's tomb offers a prime view down The Crown to the Indianapolis skyline on clear days.
Other notable contributors to Indianapolis history reside on The Crown, including one of three statutes rescued from the Marion County Courthouse, which was demolished in 1962. Crown Hill purchased the limestone statutes of the Greek goddesses Themis, Demeter, and Persephone for $325.
There are other beautiful limestone memorials in Crown Hill Cemetery, even if those that they commemorate are largely forgotten even in their home city.
The Forrest Memorial, marking the grave of Albertina Allen Forrest, the wife of Butler University professor Jacob Dorrsey Forrest, is notable. Albertina died in 1904 and her husband commissioned Viennese sculptor Rudolf Schwarz, who contributed sculptures to the Soldiers and Sailor's Monument in the center of Indianapolis, to create "Statute in Mourning," a woman kneeling beneath a couplet from Tennyson's "In Memoriam." Jacob is buried in an unmarked grave next to his wife's memorial.
Other graves are less grandly marked, but no less important.
Some of the most humble memorials designate graves disinterred from the first major Indianapolis cemetery -- Greenlawn Cemetery in downtown Indianapolis. By the time of the Civil War, Greenlawn was nearing capacity and was threatened by industrial development and the White River. As in other cities during the mid-19th century, the leading men of the city were inspired by the rural cemetery movement to develop Crown Hill. Greenlawn was closed to new interments in the 1870s. Disinterment of remains began in earnest in the 1890s. By the early 1930s the cemetery was closed, the dead were disinterred and moved to other cemeteries, mainly Crown Hill.
The 1927 Baist map of Indianapolis designates Greenlawn Cemetery simply as "City of Indianapolis." It is clear that the old cemetery is in the way of progress.
It is easy to spot some of the dead relocated from Greenlawn from their death dates.
One of the most significant relocations from Greenlawn to Crown Hill were the 1,616 Confederate prisoners of war who died at Camp Morton in Indianapolis. The remains were interred in a mass grave known as the Confederate Mound. In 1993, ten bronze plaques listing the names of the Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Morton were installed on Confederate Mound.
Those interested in Indianapolis history will find many familiar names on tombstones and mausoleums—Benjamin Harrison, Oliver Morton, Robert Orr, Thomas Taggart, Homer Capehart, Julia Carson, Ovid Butler, Carl Fisher, Eli Lilly, Lyman S. Ayres, Robert Irsay, Booth Tarkington, Otto Stark, Frank McKinney, and of course the gangster John Dillinger. For those who called Indianapolis home during their lifetimes, Crown Hill Cemetery is a lovely eternal residence.
Tanya D. Marsh