Crown Hill Cemetery, the nation’s third-largest nongovernmental cemetery, provides an opportunity to enjoy the most picturesque site in Indianapolis while remembering many who helped make the city what it is today.
In 1863, 30 Indianapolis civic leaders formed a nonprofit association to establish a nondenominational “rural cemetery” of the type popular in Europe. They purchased 236 acres of rolling farmland about 3 1/2 miles northwest of the city, including Mount McCormick, the highest point in Marion County also known as “Strawberry Hill” or “Crown Hill.” The association engaged a Pittsburgh architect to design the cemetery, which was dedicated on June 1, 1864. In 1866, the United States government purchased land from the association as a cemetery for Union Civil War dead and later purchased the Confederate Mound for 1,616 soldiers who died while Union prisoners. An ornate vault, built in 1875 to hold bodies until ground thawed, is now Gothic Chapel.
Today, Crown Hill Cemetery includes 555 acres along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, between 32nd and 42nd streets. Its beautiful grounds, including 110 species of tagged trees, attract about 50,000 visitors a year. Many follow a white line to the tomb of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley (for whom Riley Hospital for Children was named) atop Crown Hill that offers a panoramic view of downtown Indianapolis. The tombs of President Benjamin Harrison and author Booth Tarkington are just below. One area honors Indiana law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and another, above a yard of bricks, remembers legends from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The other 200,000-plus graves include those of Vice Presidents Charles Fairbanks, Thomas Hendricks and Thomas Marshall, and those of well-known Indianapolis names from the past (Allison, Ayres, Butler, Claypool, Duesenberg, Fletcher, Lilly, Stutz and Taggart) and present (Binford, Carson, Conrad, Eiteljorg, Hinkle, Irsay, Mays, Sanders). John Dillinger’s tombstone was removed recently because of repeated vandalism.