I received a letter this week from Forest Lawn Memorial Park, one of the Youngstown area’s cemeteries, located in Boardman on 5400 Market Street. My parents are buried there, as are my grandparents on my mother’s side. It is the place where I was finally parted from each of them in this life, my mother in 2010, my father in 2012. Both were cremated but because they had graves there, were interred in the cemetery. Among those last memories, I can see my father seated in the Little Church holding the urn with my mom’s remains and saying his final goodbyes after nearly 69 years of marriage. Two years later I remember the military salute my father received as a World War 2 veteran, and the two other veterans, and my nephew, then in active service in the Air Force saluting their brother in arms. Taps were played. We each threw a shovel of dirt into the grave, underscoring the finality of our parting. Today, they rest together under the trees and lush lawns of the cemetery.
The cemetery is one of the newer cemeteries in the area. The land on which the cemetery was developed was first held by the Baldwin family, one of the early Youngstown area families, going back to the time of John Young. Later Hugh Bonnell owned a dairy farm, raising prize cattle. Hugh Bonnell was a bachelor connected to the Bonnell family whose wealth came from rail, steel and land interests. Youngstown expanded significantly to the south in the early 1900’s and people started moving in significant numbers into Boardman Township in the 1920’s and Bonnell decided it was just getting too crowded. He moved to Hubbard, moving his house with him. He sold the land to Parkland Development Company, a company founded by four partners: Earl M. McBride, Dennis T. Peters, Paul M. Ludt, and Raymond Book.
Their plan was to develop houses in one of the early automobile suburbs, calling the development Forest Glen Estates. Then the Depression hit in 1929 and no one was buying housing lots. While in California, Earl M. McBride toured Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in Hollywood and in Glendale. These cemeteries were designed as parks, with sweeping lawns, lush trees and landscaping and no big tombstones or monuments which he described as “depressing misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death.” Gravestones were to be flush with the ground.
On August 18, 1930 the Mill Creek Memorial Park Association obtained a charter to operate a cemetery. They hired architect Monroe W. Copper of Dunn and Copper, Cleveland, Ohio. He designed the entrance at Market Street in the picture above and the chapel. Pitkin and Mott, landscape architects, also from Cleveland designed the layout of grounds and roadways.
Albert A. Haenny, Youngstown did the engineering. The stone mason work in the front entrance and other stone masonry work around the cemetery was done by Felix Pesa & Sons (Stone Masons), of Youngstown. Hadlock Krill and Company, of Cleveland built the Little Church, which was patterned after a 12th century church in Castlecombe, Wiltshire, England.
The first burial took place in 1931. The cemetery states that 19,000 people are currently buried there and 47 acres have been set aside for gravesites that will accommodate 44,000. In all, the cemetery owns about 80 acres with the remainder serving as a buffer. In 2018, the cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places, with plaques at the Glenwood entrance in 2019, and the Market Street entrance in 2020.
Perhaps the most famous person to be buried in the cemetery is actress Elizabeth Hartman who played opposite Sidney Poitier in “A Patch of Blue.” She grew up in Boardman and got her start at the Youngstown Playhouse. After her academy award nomination, she appeared in a handful of films, the last of which was “The Secret of NIMH” in 1982 in which she did voiceovers. She suffered from depression, was in and out of psychiatric facilities and died in 1987 from a fall from her fifth floor apartment. It was considered a possible suicide though there were no witnesses nor a suicide note. She was laid to rest at Forest Lawn, along with her parents, predeceasing her mother by ten years.
The letter I received traces some of the changes in burial practices over the years. When the cemetery began, they say, “It was a straight forward business with few options–full body burial within a week.” Now, cremations are changing the business. Many (up to 70 percent) don’t bury remains. The cemetery, however accommodates interment, including grave sharing which lowers costs and extends the working life of the cemetery. In 2019, the cemetery only had 147 burials and project 133 in 2020. However they have remained profitable through services, cost savings, and donations and grants.
It is a comfort to know that the place where your loved ones are buried is solvent. I hope it remains this way and retains its beauty for many years to come. It is one of the first cemeteries in Youngstown to represent a shift in the conception of a cemetery away from big monuments to a park-like atmosphere. Its entrance and Little Chapel are architectural gems, and the stone masonry was done by a local Italian Stonemasons. And it is part of my own family’s history.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!