Did you know that some of the largest cemeteries in the US are also some of the largest cemeteries in the world? Two of them stretch across more than 1,000 acres.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- 1. Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary – Whittier, California
- 2. Calverton National Cemetery – Calverton, Long Island, New York
- 3. Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, Elwood, Illinois
- 4. Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Cincinnati, Ohio
- 5. Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
- 6. Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens, New York
- 7. Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale and Hollywood Hills, California
- 8. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky
Many large US cemeteries are National Veterans Cemeteries. We’ll share some of these as well as public cemeteries, and each of their unique “personalities.” Yes, cemeteries can have personalities! Even with similarities in design, each one is different and has its own look and feel.
Let’s check out some of America’s largest cemeteries. There just might be one near you!
1. Rose Hills Memorial Park & Mortuary – Whittier, California
Size: 1,400 acres
Rose Hills is a world-renowned memorial park. When it was founded in 1914, it was called Whittier Heights Memorial Park and only consisted of 18 acres. In 1928, the cemetery began expanding. At one point, it grew to 2,500 acres, but it’s now 1,400 acres and is still one of the largest cemeteries in the world.
With vast grounds, Rose Hill’s features include multiple chapels and structures. The most well-known of these is the stunning, award-winning SkyRose Chapel.
The SkyRose Chapel was designed by architects E. Fay Jones (one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s proteges) and Maurice Jennings. It sits on a hilltop and overlooks downtown Los Angeles. From a distance, the triangular-shaped chapel looks like a modernized pyramid. It consists of three levels — two are above ground, and the third is an underground mausoleum — like a pyramid’s burial chamber!
SkyRose is unique and awe-inspiring with its impressive 70-foot clear cathedral ceiling. The exposed beams high above give a timeless feel to this beautiful structure. The chapel seats 332 people and is used not only for funeral services but also weddings, ceremonies, and performances. There is also a custom Quimby 3,937-pipe organ in the custom-built loft.
It was dedicated in 1997 and began winning awards that year, including the Woodworker Institute of California’s Award of Excellence.
Other notable elements of Rose Hills include the Memorial Chapel, its lush gardens, the peaceful Hillside Chapel, and the mission-style Rainbow Chapel. The Pageant of Roses Garden features 9,000 rose bushes and climbing vines.
2. Calverton National Cemetery – Calverton, Long Island, New York
Size: 1,045 acres
One of the largest cemeteries in the US, Calverton is not just the biggest but also one of the newest on this list. Calverton wasn’t established until 1978, and it already has more than 212,000 interments. Of the National Veterans Cemeteries, Calverton has the most daily burials, and annual burials have topped more than 7,000.
Calverton is the third National Cemetery built on Long Island. The other two were close to maximum capacity. Because it was evident that the new cemetery would be very active, a “committal wheel” of shelters was created that would allow for more than one burial service to occur at a time. In 1983, the committal shelter walls were turned into a columbarium for cremated remains.
3. Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, Elwood, Illinois
Size: 982 acres
The third-largest cemetery in the US is also for veterans and their families. The Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, located in Elwood, Illinois, can be found 50 miles southwest of Chicago. It was dedicated in 1999 by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration as the 117th national cemetery. Its location was formerly the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant site.
This cemetery has the distinction of receiving the first American federally funded monument that honors LGBT veterans. The monument was dedicated in 2015.
4. Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Cincinnati, Ohio
Size: 733 acres
Cincinnati is home to Spring Grove Cemetery, the largest traditional, non-military cemetery in the United States. It was chartered in 1845 during the Rural Cemetery Movement. Of its 733 acres, 450 of them have been developed. Spring Grove has plenty of room to grow.
Like the first rural (or garden-style) cemetery in the US – Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts – Spring Grove was initiated by a local horticultural society. The cholera epidemic had swept through Cincinnati during the 1830s and 1840s, making it difficult for the current burial locations to properly manage their dead. They were far too crowded.
Members of the Cincinnati Horticultural Society’s cemetery association went so far as to travel around the United States and Europe to visit the beautifully planned and outstanding cemeteries already in existence.
The first burial took place on September 1st, 1845. Ten years later, in 1855, landscape architect Adolph Strauch was hired to enhance the grounds and take it to its full potential.
Stauch took a new approach and designed the cemetery to go with the natural flow of the landscape rather than restructure it. He focused on harmony within the hills and valleys. Then he incorporated trees and plants from around the world, lakes, footbridges, and more. His vision for Spring Grove can still be seen and enjoyed more than 165 years later.
Cave Hill Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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5. Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
Size: 555 acres
Crown Hill Cemetery was established during the Civil War in 1863. It’s called “Crown Hill” because it features the highest hill in Marion County (842.2 feet). It incorporates beautiful statuary with incredible architecture throughout the grounds.
Like many rural, garden-style cemeteries, Crown Hill welcomes thousands of visitors each year. People come from all over to see the graves of its interesting “residents,” such as US President Benjamin Harrison, three Vice Presidents, notorious bank robber and one-time “Public Enemy #1” John Dillinger, Olympic gold medalists, and women’s rights advocate May Wright Sewall. Crown Hill Cemetary offers daily tours to visitors.
Crown Hill Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
6. Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens, New York
Size: 365 acres
Calvary Cemetery was consecrated by Archbishop John Hughes in 1848 and is owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. It contains more than 3 million graves. While all of the grounds have been entirely developed, space is still available. It has four major divisions, and the grounds have also been subdivided into 71 sections.
Of note is the gravesite of Annie More, who was the first person processed through Ellis Island.
7. Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale and Hollywood Hills, California
Size: Approximately 300 acres
Note: There are other Forest Lawn sister cemeteries throughout Southern California, but we’re going to focus on the two main memorial parks in Glendale and Hollywood Hills in the Los Angeles area. The other locations of Forest Lawn cemeteries and other mortuaries include Cathedral City, Indio, Coachella, Long Beach, Cypress, and Covina Hills.
Forest Lawn was originally founded in 1906 in Glendale, California, as a not-for-profit cemetery. In 1917, Dr. Hubert Eaton took over the Glendale cemetery and transformed it into a memorial park. His business model for the cemetery was to make the grounds into a place for the living rather than focusing on death.
Eaton had upright monuments removed and replaced with flat lawn stones, set just lower than grass-level. Unless you’re standing near them, they are nearly impossible to see. Eaton did install large, white-marble outdoor statuary throughout each of the memorial parks. He had indoor pieces of art placed in the mausoleums as well. He wanted the parks to feel like museums where people would enjoy visiting, even if they had no loved ones buried there.
If you visit Forest Lawn in Glendale or Hollywood Hills hoping to find graves of movie stars and other celebrities, don’t bother asking the staff. Forest Lawn prides itself on maintaining privacy for the families of the deceased.
Staff are not allowed to disclose any locations — unless you are looking for the grave of a family member. There are also many garden areas and at least one mausoleum that are closed off to the public. You may visit Glendale's Great Mausoleum if you want to view the vast stained glass replica of “The Last Supper” and the video that accompanies it. But asking about the burial locations of stars like Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Michael Jackson will be fruitless.
Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills is surrounded by Griffith Park and offers beautiful views of the San Fernando Valley. It features larger-than-life statues of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
A unique thing about the memorial park in Glendale is its museum that opened in 1952. It features a permanent collection of art and also hosts rotating exhibits.
8. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky
Size: 296 acres
Like many cemeteries of the time, the Cave Hill property was originally farmland. But unlike the others’ land purchases, Cave Hill wasn’t originally selected to become a cemetery. Initially, the city leaders acquired the land from William Johnston because of its stone quarries and proximity to a proposed railroad.
After railroad plans didn’t pan out, the land was leased out by the city as farmland again, and the farmhouse became a city pesthouse. It was known as a “plague house” or “fever shed” and was used to care for people with infectious diseases. It was then torn down in 1872.
In 1848, the cemetery was chartered and dedicated as a rural, garden-style cemetery later that year. The cave that the location is named after has a natural spring coming from it and was used to fill the main lake on the property. The cave is not accessible to guests, as it is pretty dangerous and unsafe.
Cave Hill stands out due to a three-and-a-half-mile-long brick and stone wall around the perimeter of the grounds. There are also many beautiful 150-year-old pieces of statuary and historic structures. The cemetery is also in the process of becoming accredited as a Level III accredited arboreta.
Cave Hill Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. A National Cemetery is located in the cemetery, as well.
Large Cemeteries, Big History
Each of these cemeteries and others of similar size have great stories to tell. Of course, the smaller ones do, too! It can be worthwhile to visit local cemeteries both near home and while traveling.
- “10 Largest National Veterans Cemeteries in the U.S.” VeteranAid.org, 10 October 2017, veteranaid.org/blog/10-largest-national-veterans-cemeteries-in-united-states.
- “Monument to LGTB veterans dedicated in Elwood.” ABC7Chicago.com, 25 May 2015, abc7chicago.com/society/monument-to-lgbt-veterans-dedicated-in-elwood/741262.