The most famous cemeteries in the United States also have the most interesting histories as well as some of the most spectacular funerary statuary anywhere. The interred include titans of industry, celebrities, infamous characters and the average Joe. These final resting places offer a peek into a country’s culture and past.
In this post, travel bloggers contribute their impressions of the most famous cemeteries of the United States.
Famous Cemeteries of the United States
Nestled in over 400 quiet acres in New York City’s borough of the Bronx, Woodlawn Cemetery has elaborate mausoleums and has been declared a National Historic Landmark. The Cemetery opened in 1863 during the Civil War and is notable for many reasons besides its impressive statuary. It is the only cemetery with a monument in memory of the Titanic. Its list of graves reads like a who’s who of political, business and artistic luminaries including, Fiorello LaGuardia, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Nellie Bly, Celia Cruz, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Irving Berlin and many more.
What truly distinguishes Woodlawn, however, is the multiethnicity that exists among its residents. Tombstones are crafted in Hindi, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew just to mention a few. There are no ethnic “sections.” The underground demographics in Woodlawn mirror the multicultural city above ground.
Trinity Church Cemetery
Trinity Church Cemetery, one of the most famous cemeteries in the country, opened in 1697 at what is today Wall Street and Broadway in lower Manhattan. It is really one of three cemeteries that all form part of Trinity Church Cemetery but the one at the southern tip of Manhattan is the most well known and iconic. The other two were created when they ran out of space in the original location. It is in the church that several famous U.S. statesmen like George Washington had private pews and it is in the churchyard that many of them are buried. One such statesman buried here is Alexander Hamilton.“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” ― Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais Click To Tweet
Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean. Orphaned as a child, he immigrated to New York City in search of an education. From these humble beginnings, he became a lawyer, congressman, founding father of the Republic, Secretary of the Treasury in George Washington’s first cabinet and founder of the Bank of New York. He was also instrumental in helping end slavery. Talk about your immigrant success stories! This fascinating character was killed in a duel by the then Vice President, Aaron Burr. And we thought today’s politics were contentious! A surprising and incongruous fact is that today Alexander Hamilton is the subject of one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever.
Visitors to Alexander Hamilton’s tomb leave coins in remembrance of his influence on the country’s fledgling economy.
Talek blogs at Travels With Talek
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is like no other in the world. Located in the middle of Hollywood, CA, right next door to Paramount Studios, it has become the final resting place to many Hollywood elite. Some notables include Judy Garland and Terry, better known as Dorothy and Toto from The Wizard of Oz, and Johnny & Dee Dee Ramone of the punk band The Ramones. One of the most interesting times to visit the cemetery is during a Cinespia event. One of the empty lawns in front of Alfred Hitchcock’s gravestone is converted into an outdoor movie theater allowing you to watch a Hollywood classic under the stars. They provide a full bar during the movie but you are also welcome to bring in your own alcohol and snacks.
Jason blogs at Getaway Couple
St. Louis Cemetery #1
No visit to New Orleans would be complete without a tour of the city’s famous cemeteries. These are particularly interesting because due to the swampy nature of the ground in New Orleans, the graves are actually built above ground, giving the impression of a small city of graves. Hence why they are often called the “Cities of the Dead”.
The most famous of the cemeteries in New Orleans and the most popular one to visit is the St. Louis Cemetery #1, which has been in operation since 1789. This was made famous by the movie Easy Rider in the Sixties and has a number of notable characters buried within, including infamous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. In anticipation of his eventual demise, Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage also has a grave here, a large pyramid-shaped tomb, which will be his future resting place!
Note that the cemetery can only be visited as part of a guided tour, with part of the tour fee going to the upkeep of the museum. It’s important you book a tour with a licensed operator who has permission to visit the cemetery, as unlicensed guides won’t be allowed in. For more ideas on what to do in New Orleans, see our New Orleans guide here.
Laurence blogs at Finding the Universe
About 20 minutes from the center of Savannah is Bonaventure Cemetery, on the grounds of what was once a plantation. This cemetery was made famous by the novel-turned-movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. The book tells the story of a local antique dealer who kills a young man, goes to trial and is eventually acquitted. The book and movie are worth exploring to set the mood for visiting Bonaventure Cemetery.
The cemetery itself is not large but the grounds are beautiful, and it does have a nice collection of interesting monuments. A popular one is “Grace” the pretty little 6-year-old who died young and whose charm inspired the sculptor to create her life-size statue. It is worth wandering the tombs under the large live-oak trees covered in Spanish moss. As is the case in most cemeteries, if you read the tombstones you get a mini-history lesson of the area.
One statue you won’t find here is the “Bird Girl.” That is the symbol of the cemetery and the picture on the cover of the book by John Berendt. After the popularity of the movie and book in 1994, tourists began to flock to Bonaventure to see the statue. Fearing the statue might be damaged, the city of Savannah moved it to the local Jepsen Center for the Arts to protect it. There is a sign on the museum’s door that says, “She is here!” along with a picture of the statue.
Talek blogs at Travels with Talek
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is amazing. It is so vast and huge that you definitely need a tour guide. From the highest point of the cemetery, you can see over the Potomac River, and see the back of Lincoln’s Memorial. You can also see Arlington House, a memorial to Robert E. Lee, and within a few steps, the Kennedy family grave site.
Don’t miss the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier site. It goes every hour on the hour and is one of the more solemn ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed.
Ruby blogs at A Journey We Love
Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA
Rodney Dangerfield is buried in this 300 acre site along with 250,000 others. His tombstone reads, “There goes the neighborhood.” Gotta love it. If he had to go he was going with a laugh. Other famous residents include Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Walt Disney and Nat King Cole. American comedian W.C. Fields is also buried here and, contrary to popular belief, his tombstone does not read “At least I’m not in Philadelphia.” That’s an urban legend that grew out of Fields’ joking about the sophistication, or lack thereof, of his hometown.
The most famous cemeteries in the United States are all unique and special in their own way. Did we miss one? Which one would you add?
Do you enjoy visiting cemeteries as a way to learn about a country’s past? Want to learn about cemeteries in other parts of the world? Try Latin American cemeteries.
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