- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS — Seven women stand reverently in front of the grave marker of Albertina Allen Forrest. The women did not know her — she died in 1904 — but they are learning a bit about her as part of an art and architecture tour at Crown Hill Cemetery.

Tour guide Tom Davis reads a passage from an Alfred Tennyson poem that has faded from the face of Forrest’s sprawling monument. The statue of a weeping woman — a “perpetual mourner,” Mr. Davis says — kneels at the grave of the woman, who died in her early 30s.

Forrest is one of more than 190,000 people buried in the cemetery. Among them are Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger and President Benjamin Harrison, whose grave is one of the top tourist destinations in the cemetery.

The mix of historic figures and lush grounds draws 2,000 to 3,000 people a year to Crown Hill’s public tours, generally offered twice monthly from March through November, says Marty Davis, public relations coordinator for the cemetery and the tour guide’s wife. Thousands of others, such as Monte Stevenson, come on their own.

“I’ve been here many times,” Mr. Stevenson says, standing by his bicycle on the cemetery’s crown, an 842-foot-high hill. “I like coming here to ride, especially the hill.”

The cemetery was founded in 1863 at the site of a former tree farm and nursery. Its first burial was in 1864.

Today, Crown Hill is home to more than 100 species of trees. About 25 miles of road and 4,000 trees lie within Crown Hill, which, at 555 acres, is one of the largest cemeteries in the country.

The grounds feature a Gothic chapel built in the late 1800s and a burial plot that includes the remains of more than 1,600 Confederate soldiers who died in Indianapolis as prisoners of war. Their names are inscribed on 10 bronze plaques that make up a monument to those fallen.

“Everyone has the right to have their name over their grave,” says Indianapolis Police Sgt. Steve Staletovich, who led a three-year project to get the prisoners’ names added to the markers.

Mike Dooley, the cemetery’s vice president of operations, started working at Crown Hill 30 years ago as assistant grounds supervisor. Since then, he has learned a lot about the people buried there.

The leprechaun in a tomb’s stained-glass window represents the family’s company logo. The tombstones shaped like tree trunks with broken branches symbolize a life cut short.

“There’s 190,000 people buried out here,” Mr. Dooley says. “Every one of them has a story — we just don’t know them all.”

Some of the stories are well-known.

There’s Dillinger, the Indianapolis-born bank robber who was killed in a shootout with FBI agents in 1934.

Author and playwright Booth Tarkington, who won two Pulitzer prizes before his death in 1946, is buried here, as is Col. Eli Lilly, who founded the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company named for him and died in 1898. Other graves of note include automobile maker Frederick Duesenberg; James Baskett, an actor best known for his role of Uncle Remus in Disney’s “Song of the South,” and Civil War Union Gen. Jefferson C. Davis.

Atop the cemetery’s crown is the Greek revival-style grave marker of James Whitcomb Riley, the Indiana-born poet who created the characters Old Aunt Mary, the Raggedy Man and Little Orphant Annie.

The famous comic strip with the more conventional spelling of Orphan appeared in 1924, nearly 40 years after Riley’s poem was published, but the 20th-century Annie had little in common with Riley’s original character, a feisty country girl who kept house for the family that took her in.

Marianne Randjelovic, vice president of development for the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation, says visitors to Riley’s grave sometimes leave behind special items on Oct. 7, the poet’s birthday. He died in 1916.

“There are still schools in the area who will bring the children out on a field trip, and they will put a wreath up on the Riley monument with their names all attached to the wreath,” she says.

Many visitors come to Crown Hill just to see the grave of Harrison, the nation’s 23rd president, who died in 1901.

“[Harrison] is a draw because there are people who spend years visiting every presidential burial site,” Mr. Dooley says.

Harrison’s understated grave, shaded by trees at the foot of the cemetery’s hill, is surrounded by a tidily manicured hedge about a foot high.

Nancy Ahrbecker, one of the seven women on the art and architecture tour, says she wants to stop on the way out to buy Crown Hill’s small history book.

“We’re going to have to come back,” Miss Ahrbecker says. “At least I’m going to have to come back.”


• Crown Hill’s Authors & Fall Colors tour, 2 p.m. Oct. 16, visits the graves of the cemetery’s authors during peak fall foliage season.

• Veteran’s Day Ceremony and tour, 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11, begins at the cemetery’s Field of Valor.

• Skeletons in the Closet tour, 2 p.m. Nov. 13, visits the graves of some of Crown Hill’s more mysterious residents.


Among the more than 190,000 people buried in Crown Hill Cemetery are:

• Erwin G. “Cannonball” Baker (1882-1960), record-setting motorcyclist and race car driver who went on to become NASCAR’S first commissioner.

• James Baskett (1904-1948), first black actor to receive an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Mr. Baskett received the honorary award in 1947 for his role as Uncle Remus in Disney’s “Song of the South.”

• Jefferson C. Davis (1828-1879), Union Civil War general who reportedly killed his own commanding officer but was never formally disciplined.

• John Dillinger (1903-1934), Depression-era bank robber.

• Charles Fairbanks, (1852-1918), U.S. senator from 1897 to 1904; U.S. vice president from 1905 to 1909. Fairbanks, Alaska, is named after him.

• Carl Fisher (1874-1934), an entrepreneur who helped develop the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway, which connected the Midwest to Miami Beach, where Fisher became a prominent land developer. Fisher also was a founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

• Richard J. Gatling (1818-1903), inventor of the Gatling gun.

• Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901), U.S. senator from 1880 to 1887, 23rd president of the United States from 1889 to 1893.

• Caroline Harrison (1832-1892), first president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution; wife of Benjamin Harrison.

• George Washington Julian (1817-1899), U.S. congressman, 1849-1851 and 1861-1871; appointed by President Grover Cleveland as surveyor general of New Mexico, serving from July 1885 until September 1889.

• Etheridge Knight (1931-1991), prominent poet of the 1970s and 1980s.

• James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), Indiana poet known for such children’s poems as “Little Orphant Annie.”

• Otto Stark (1858-1926), early impressionist painter who was part of the Hoosier Group.

• Booth Tarkington (1869-1946), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and playwright.

• • •

Crown Hill Cemetery, 700 W. 38th St., Indianapolis, visit www.crownhill.org or call 317/925-8231, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. October through March and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. April through September.

For tour information, call 317/920-2644. Public tours are generally offered twice monthly on weekends, from March through November.

Tours range from about 90 minutes to two hours.

Tickets are $3 to $5. The cemetery charges a minimum of $50 for private group tours.

People arriving for tours should enter through the gate at 34th Street and Boulevard Place.

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