Updated August 2020.
What is the most famous cemetery in the United States? There are a lot of well-known cemeteries, so it’s hard to choose. These famous U.S. cemeteries have the most interesting histories as well as some of the most spectacular funerary statuary anywhere. Some are among the largest and oldest cemeteries in the U.S.
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.
What Are the Most Famous Cemeteries of the United States?
Woodlawn Cemetery, NY
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 multi ethnicity 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 multicultural New York City above ground.
Trinity Church Cemetery, NY
Trinity Church Cemetery, one of the most famous cemeteries in America, 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. One other is the cemetery in St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766, a short distance from the original Trinity Church Cemetery. The third is Trinity Uptown Cemetery, built in 1842 and located at 155th street and Broadway. The last two cemeteries were created when they ran out of space in the original location.
Several notable U.S. statesmen like George Washington had private pews in the original Trinity church, and many famous people are buried in its churchyard. Here is where you will find Alexander Hamilton’s burial site.“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.
The Trinity Uptown Cemetery was built in 1842 on large stretch of land purchased form American naturalist John James Audubon who is buried in the churchyard. It is also the final resting place of three New York City mayors including Edward Koch, deceased in 2013.
Another notable buried there is John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire. It is rumored that on his deathbed, when asked if he had any final words Astor’s answer was, “I regret I didn’t buy more New York City real estate.”
The Trinity Uptown Cemetery is the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan.
Green-Wood Cemetery, NY
Before New York had Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, they had Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. This is where people went to get away from the bustling city and enjoy peaceful greenery. It may seem odd today that people would picnic and stroll among the graves but that’s what they did.
Completed in 1838, the cemetery is almost 500 acres of undulating hills overlooking the iconic Manhattan skyline. It is laid out nicely with easy to understand directions for finding notable graves, lakes and over 173 different species of trees.
Many of the graves have fascinating backstories. One such tale is that of Charlotte Canda, a 17 year-old who died in a carriage accident returning from a party for her 17th birthday on February 3, 1845. Her devastated father built a monument that would have cost almost 1 million in today’s dollars. It was 17 feet tall, 17 feet wide with 17 decorative roses to commemorate her age. Her fiance committed suicide in his grief over Charlotte’s death and is buried nearby. Charlotte’s tomb at Green-Wood was one of the most visited destinations in New York the mid 1800s.
Green-Wood is also known for eclectic funerary designs such as the pyramid shaped tombstone of the Parson’s family. In the early 1900s, Egyptian designs were popular mainly due to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The Parson’s grave is a notable example.
Another highlight – if you can call it that – are the catacombs built under the cemetery. This is the final resting place of Ward McAllister, arbiter of New York society along with Mrs. Astor.
There is also a catacomb in the Old Saint Patrick’s Basilica in Lower Manhattan, one of the most interesting and underrated attractions to visit in New York City.
Talek blogs at Travels With Talek
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, CA
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is like no other in the world in that here is where you’ll find many famous grave sites. 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, also known as Dorothy 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 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, LA
New Orleans is know for its above ground graves and cemeteries. 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.”
There are many famous people buried in New Orleans in the cemeteries scattered abut the city. 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 famous people buried there, including infamous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Other famous graves include that of Nicolas Cage. In anticipation of his eventual demise, Hollywood actor 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
Granary Burying Ground, MA
A few streets from Boston’s State House, on Tremont Street, you will find the Granary Burying Ground, an iconic and fascinating cemetery. The Granary Burying Ground is one of the United States’ most significant cemeteries from a historical perspective.
The cemetery was founded in 1660! In fact, it is Boston’s third-oldest cemetery. That means that some of the original settlers in Boston could have been buried there.
The people that ARE buried here include three signers of the Declaration of Independence. Also present is Paul Revere who, with his trusty steed, rode through the nascent colony at night warning the settlers that the British were coming, thereby positively influencing the turn of the Revolutionary War.
The cemetery is also the site of the Franklin family mausoleum, although Benjamin Franklin is not buried here. He is in Philadelphia, a city he loved where he founded the University of Pennsylvania.
Bonaventure Cemetery, GA
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, DC
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
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, NY
The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow is a stone church dating from the late 1600s with an accompanying 5 acre cemetery. The older tombstones are perfect examples of the the contemporary art along with stone designs and epithets.
The cemetery is the site of one of Washington Irving’s most popular literary works, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” where Ichabad Crane wanders the cemetery at night looking for his detached head.
Sleepy Hollow cemetery lies adjacent to the Old Dutch Church churchyard. The combined cemeteries are fascinating.
Sleepy Hollow is situated on about 90 acres of rolling hills dotted with tombstones and mausoleums. Completed in 1849, the cemetery is the burial place of a wide collection of disparate characters. Arguably one of the most famous “residents” is Washington Irving himself who requested that the cemetery be renamed “Sleepy Hollow.”
The other creepy legend in Sleepy Hollow is the “Bronze Lady.” This is the bronze statue of a woman sitting in front of the mausoleum of Civil War General Samuel Thomson. The woman is said to roam the cemetery at night lamenting the death of the general. The rumor is, if you touch her either something very good or very bad will happen to you. I considered touching her but decided against it. Would YOU have touched her?
Other notable burials include cosmetics businesswoman, Elizabeth Arden, many Astors, Rockefellers, Hamiltons and Walter Chrysler, who commissioned the Chrysler Building.
The backstories of some of the burials are part of what makes this such an interesting cemetery. For example, hotel magnate Leona Helmsley moved her husband Harry’s burial place from Green-Wood to Sleepy Hollow into a an elegant mausoleum decorated with stained glass designs of the New York City skyline worth several million dollars.
Scottish industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men of all times is buried under a simple Celtic cross in stark contrast to his contemporaries who are buried in massive structures.
Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY
Calvary is the biggest cemetery in the United States in terms of number of people buried there. At 3 million burials on 365 acres, it is one of the most densely populated cemeteries anywhere. Tombs and tomb stones with dozes of family members are common at Calvary. The reason is that many burials were financed by memberships in guilds or union organizations so many burials in one plot reduced the burial cost for all. It is amazing to look around and see the thousands of tombstones stretching out into the distance.
The Catholic cemetery reflects New York City’s immigration patterns with a large portion of the earlier -mid-1800s- tombs belonging to the Irish community that that was so populous at the time. The next largest group is the Italians appearing a few decades later. Interspersed among the tombs are a few Polish burials and Hispanic names begin to appear with more contemporary dates. Calvary is a chronological map of New York City’s immigration. Next to Calvary is Mount Zion Jewish Cemetery. The combination of the two cemeteries makes for an enormous necropolis.
Notable burials in Calvary include New York City mayors, other politicians, organized crime figures and, true to NYC’s immigrant legacy, the tomb of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to come through the gates of Ellis Island.
Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA
Forest Lawn in Glendade, California is one of the cemeteries where you find the most celebrities buried. Famous residents of this beautiful resting place include Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds 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’s joking about the sophistication, or lack thereof, of his hometown.
Gold Rush Cemetery, Skagway, Alaska
This little cemetery deep in the wilds of Alaska in the gold rush town of Skagway tells the story of the prospectors who were lured to America’s final frontier in search of riches. Some indeed struck gold, other died in the attempt. Most of the tombstones date from the late 1800s – early 1900s. It is interesting to note that there are many babies buried here, a testament to the hard ships and precarious life spans of these intrepid adventurers.
It is quite an hour’s hike to get to the cemetery from the town, but a pleasant one. Alternatively, join a tour in the town of Skagway and ride a bus to the cemetery. There is a little waterfall nearby which is a pleasant place for a picnic.
The Cemeteries of Queens, NY
The cemeteries of Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City, may not be famous, but they are unique in one special characteristic. They reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the area they are located in, Queens.
The borough of Queens, especially in Flushing where the #7 train traverses, is one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. Almost 50% of its inhabitants are foreign born. Over 800 languages are spoken in the city, from common languages like Spanish and Russian to obscure southeast Asian dialects. Almost 60% of inhabitants speak a language other than English at home, and the rich culinary traditions found in the city’s streets are a foodie’s paradise.
Just as the city’s diverse residents coexisted peacefully in life, so too they rest in close proximity to each other in the local cemeteries.
Examples of these cemeteries include Maple Grove and Saint Mary’s. You will find tombstones in numerous languages, Hindi, Chinese, Russian and Spanish to mention a few. All next to each other. And in their midst, the Statue of Liberty, a fitting symbol of the city that welcomed them in life and now welcomes them in death, once and forever, New Yorkers.
New York Marble Cemetery, NYC
Billing itself a small cemetery in a big city, the New York Marble Cemetery is a beautiful place to visit. The cemetery was established in 1831 and is the first non-sectarian burial ground open to the public.
Located off 2nd Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets, the cemetery is a narrow piece of land in the middle of one of Manhattan’s most interesting neighborhoods, and can be easy to miss.
According to the cemetery’s information, “In response to fears about yellow fever outbreaks, recent legislation had outlawed earth graves, so marble vaults the size of small rooms were built ten feet underground in the excavated interior of the block bounded by Second Avenue, Second Street, Third Street, and the Bowery. Access to the 156 family vaults was by the removal of stone slabs set below the grade of the lawn. Vaults are in pairs; there are no catacombs or passages connecting them. Markers were never placed on the ground; instead, marble plaques set into the Cemetery’s long north and south walls give the names of the families interred nearby.”
The cemetery is accessed through an alley off 2nd Avenue. The alley opens to a large patch of land in the middle of the bustling city. The plaques are embedded in the walls surrounding the open space. It is easy to leave the bustling metropolis outside and enjoy the quiet of this lovely space.
No longer used as a burial place, the cemetery is rented for corporate events and special occasions.
Old Saint Patrick’s Basilica, NYC
Saint Patrick’s Basilica, also known as Old Saint Patrick’s, was built in 1809 and is not to be confused with the Saint Patrick’s on Fifth Avenue.
NYC’s population was growing towards the north in the mid-1800s. The Saint Patrick’s Cathedral we’re familiar with today went along with that growth and work was completed on the cathedral in 1879. But the first St. Patrick’s Basilica was never demolished. In fact, it continues to flourish today in its original location.
More surprising still are the underground corridors and tombs beneath the old basilica and the New York celebrities entombed there. Delmonico, the inventor of the modern restaurant concept is just one of the fascinating characters in the underground catacombs.
The only way to see the NYC catacombs is by a tour given by Tommysnewyork.com. These regular tours are historically fascinating and a lot of fun. The guides are very knowledgeable about New York City history and help to make this one of the most underrated attractions in the city. Inside visitors get to and walk among the crypts, read the inscriptions, and learn the history of many tombs.
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?
Want to know more about these fascinating cities of the dead? Don’t miss these little literary gems.
For a complete collection of stunning, unusual or famous cemeteries, check out cemeteries around the world you must see.
BTW, if you are getting ready for your trip, make sure to take advantage of these useful, money-saving links to book your trip:
- Research and book your flight with Skyscanner. I have found them to be the best because they list all airlines including the budget ones. You are always sure of having researched all options. You can also book your car rental through Skycanner.
- For car rental in Europe that has flexible pickup and drop-off options, I recommend Auto Europe.
- Book your accommodation with Booking.com. I find they have the widest selection and a nice, user-friendly, transparent website.
- If an Airbnb experience is more your style, book Airbnb here and get a $55 credit towards your first stay.
- Protect your trip and, more importantly, protect yourself with travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have been very happy with them.
- Looking for a small group tour to unforgettable destinations with top professionals? Intrepid Travel is your choice.
- For more general tours to any destination or attraction, book with Viator. Check them out.
- Need a visa? Get your visa for all countries with iVisa.
I personally use, and can recommend, all the companies listed here and elsewhere on my blog. By booking through these sites, the small commission we earn – at no cost to you – helps us maintain this site so we can continue to offer our readers valuable travel tips and advice.