Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
5 June 2019
by Vicki Ruthe Hahn
(Information and Photographs based on Crown Hill brochures, on-line web page http://www.crownhill.org/history/ , FindaGrave.com, Wikipedia, and my visit to Crown Hill Cemetery. Un-credited quotes are from the Crown Hill Cemetery website or brochures. Un-credited photographs are by me.)
Crown Hill Cemetery summit was originally known as Strawberry Hill and was a favorite community picnic place of pioneers before it became a Cemetery. The City of Indianapolis celebrated its semi-centennial at Crown Hill Picnic Grounds June 7, 1870.
The tomb of Poet James Whitcomb Riley is on the crest of Crown Hill. It is the highest natural point in the old city limits of Indianapolis. (photograph from Crown Hill Cemetery postcard.)
Crown Hill Cemetery 700 West 38th Street
Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, 46208 USA
The funeral director explained to us that the Cemetery was begun by farmer Martin Williams burying his daughter on his farm and tree nursery in 1863 – Lucy Ann Seaton, aged thirty-three, a young mother who had died of consumption.
More land was added to make the huge facility. The funeral director told us that there is enough space for the next 100 years of internment’s.
“1863 First 236 acres of land are purchased from three local farmers for $51,000.”
“Incorporated in 1863 and dedicated in 1864, Crown Hill soon became the area’s largest cemetery. While it aimed to provide burial space for the large number of war dead from Indiana, it also was made to serve the growing community of Indianapolis. Currently it is the third largest cemetery in the United States. It sits upon 555 acres and has roughly 25 miles of road within. Approximately 1500 burials occur each year…
Also on the same grounds is the historic Crown Hill National Cemetery. It is also identified as Sections 9 and 10, but is a separate cemetery. The land was purchased by the US Government on August 27, 1866.”
You can search for the Civil War and other War’s soldier’s names at:
“The national cemetery is comprised of 1.4 acres, and the property was purchased by the U.S. Government in 1866 for the purpose of reburying 707 Union soldiers from the City Cemetery. Those graves were originally marked by headboards, painted and lettered, which were later replaced with upright marble headstones. A bronze plaque on the grounds identifies the national cemetery and a commemorative monument stands within the Crown Hill National Cemetery section. There are 2,135 soldiers representing every war in which the United States has participated, with the last one being made in 1969 for Maj. Robert W. Hayes, an Air Force pilot killed in Vietnam. This cemetery is closed to new interments. However, space may be available in the same gravesite for eligible family members.”
“October 27, 1931
Confederate dead, numbering 1,616 prisoners of war who died at Camp Morton in the city, are reburied from Greenlawn.”
My first indication, of how large the Cemetery is, was my GPS showing we had a mile plus to go before we got to the entrance. I looked up to realize that we were at the start of the Cemetery! It was a good thing that the funeral director drove us around. People get lost, even with maps, and a bold yellow line painted on the main road. It is so big that one has to drive through an road underpass to get to the second part of the Cemetery.
(Norton on-line map shows Crown Hill Cemetery in green above.)
Pioneer Hoosiers lived in primary growth forests so thick that they could not even see the next cabin from within the area that they would have to clear around their cabins.
The Endless Trees
“It’s hard to picture this part of the country as I first remember it. Here and there was a cabin home with a little spot of clearing close by. The rest of the country was just one great big woods and miles and miles in most every direction. From your cabin you could see no farther than the wall of trees surrounding the clearing; not another cabin in sight.” A Home in the Woods, Pioneer Life in Indiana, Oliver Johnson’s Reminiscences of Early Marion County as related by Howard Johnson. Available in the History Market at the Indiana Historical Society.”
The 555 acres of the Cemetery includes a large forested area at the North end that will not be needed for graves. A herd of deer live in those woods, and have free roam of the entire grounds. The grave site policy calls for deer-proof plantings and flowers.
The grounds have many trees that make up a significant portion of Indianapolis’s urban forest. It is hard to imagine how different the original forested landscapes were for the pioneers. There are tours of the trees and a map that shows the 107 species, including the “Fifty Trees of Indiana” native to the state. Trees are a fitting symbol:
“In its most general sense, the symbolism of the tree denotes the life of the cosmos: its consistence, growth, proliferation, generative and regenerative processes. It stands for inexhaustible life, and is therefore equivalent to a symbol of immortally.” A Dictionary of Symbols.”
For more about the history of the area see this List of other Indiana history books – click here .
“After the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the United States expanded its territory to the land west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the war, significantly expanded U.S. boundaries. The native population did not participate in the treaty negotiations, and their interests were not considered, even though the new U.S. territory was on their traditional homelands.
In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, creating the Northwest Territory. This land included present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. This region was home to numerous native peoples, who now were threatened by settlers moving westward.”
(Hint – make sure of the history and the historic boundaries of the the location your ancestors lived in.)
The original Cemetery entrance was narrow Gothic arch – built in 1888, and now a National Historic Landmark. It was very narrow for a car to go through, less so for a horse and carriage.
(Photograph from Crown Hill Cemetery postcard)
My husband and I were there to bury his father Loel’s ashes. Loel loved art, architecture, and his residence in downtown of the big city of Chicago, . This cemetery is the perfect reflection of those. It is huge, has many replicas of famous architectures as headstones and monuments (Greek temples, etc.) , and unique art works. One monument is an oversized concrete picnic table and benches. Loel had connections to this Cemetery only through his second wife’s family. Below is the very interesting headstone/art beside their plot. They probably picked that plot because of it.
(Hint – you never know where your ancestor will end up being buried. Look at all of their connections to see possibilities. Another Stateline Traveler.)
There are many infamous, and famous, people buried there. Criminals, as well as Civil War Soldiers, several Congress people, Senators, 3 Vice Presidents, and the President Benjamin Harris.
John Herbert Dillinger JR, Criminal – born in Indianapolis Indiana, was gunned down by FBI in Chicago, IL. He and his gang robbed banks, etc., killed many people, and lived across Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Minnesota as he was on the run. He frequently went back home to get help from his family, was known by a least two other names, married and had a common-law wife, leader of gangs of other criminals including Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd.
(Hint – be open to searching for your ancestor in other locations, by other aliases, with more than one spouse, and by FAN – friends, associates, neighbors.)
Several of Dillinger’s headstones were erected since 1934. They have been stolen, or needed replacement, as souvenir hunters chipped them away until nothing was left. A 3 ft slab of reinforced concrete was poured over the grave to discourage robbers.
This photograph is from my visit on Halloween Day 2018. You can see how the current headstone (laid flat and cemented in place) still has several pieces chipped out of it. The funeral director told us that it is one of the most requested and visited sites in the Cemetery. Visitors leave the coins on his headstone. I imagine that the headstone would get many visitors later that day!
See also https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/283/john-herbert-dillinger and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dillinger
President Benjamin Harrison is another person, buried there, who is more worthy of our attention. I took this photograph showing the family plot and monument.
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Harrison , and
“23rd United States President, Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General, US Senator. Born in North Bend, Ohio , he was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison, and great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”
And Vice Presidents Charles W. Fairbanks, Thomas A. Hendricks, and Thomas R. Marshall are also buried at Crown Hill.