Visual Voyage: Forest Lawn & Prospect Hill cemeteries - Omaha.com
Published Monday, May 28, 2012 at 12:00 am / Updated at 10:57 am
Visual Voyage: Forest Lawn & Prospect Hill cemeteries

Memorial Day is the one day of the year most guaranteed to bring people who want to remember loved ones to cemeteries.

In addition to cleaning up or adorning grave sites with flowers, visitors should take a walk around to check out the unusual art you can find on headstones. You also can get a little closer to history by noting the names on some of those stones.

That is especially true in Omaha's Forest Lawn and Prospect Hill cemeteries.

Both offer a who's who of Omaha's earliest days. Many of the names on the graves are names we see every day on everything from street signs to buildings.

Prospect Hill Cemetery, at 32nd and Parker Streets, was created by Byron Reed shortly after the authorization of cemeteries by the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in 1858. Visitors can find many Omaha pioneer names such as Briggs, Caldwell, Carter, Cuming, Deuel, Hall, Kennard, Krug, Lake, Metz, Poppleton, Redick and Wakeley.

Farther north, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, at 7909 Mormon Bridge Road, has the same wealth of historical city and state names: Ahmanson, Buffett, Brandeis, Dewey, Dietz, Gifford, Harper, Hawkins, Jones, Kountze, Lauritzen, Mercer, Root and Tomlinson, to name a few. It was founded in 1885.

These graves range from simple headstones to splendid family mausoleums.

Information and maps of the cemeteries are available at their visitor centers or online. Be warned, a walking trip through Forest Lawn will take quite a bit longer than Prospect Hill if you are planning to see the entire cemetery. Prospect Hill is approximately three city blocks wide by six city blocks long, or about 35 acres. Forest Lawn is at least 320 acres.

In keeping with our Visual Voyage tradition, we have spotted some interesting architectural details.

A. W. Clarke Swanson's grave marker, in the Swanson family area of Forest Lawn, has an unusual touch: his signature on his headstone. A member of the famous food company, Swanson also has his name on the Omaha Public Library branch at 90th Street and West Dodge Road.

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B. The Durham family's stately mausoleum with its beautifully tended grounds is in Forest Lawn. The museum at the old Union Station downtown bears the Durham name. Charles and Marge Durham also have buildings at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Iowa State University named for them.

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C. The doorway to the Joslyn mausoleum in Forest Lawn, where George and Sarah are buried, has some of the same stylized imagery that can be found on the art museum bearing their name. At the time of his death in 1916, George was considered to be the wealthiest man in Nebraska. His wife constructed and endowed Joslyn Museum.

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D. A.V. Sorensen was mayor of Omaha from 1965 to 1969. At his grave site in Forest Lawn is his crest, which combines the letters “A,” “V” and “S.” You've probably driven on Sorensen Parkway.

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E. A simple, worn stone marks the Prospect Hill grave of James Woolworth, the first City of Omaha attorney. He also helped develop South Omaha's stockyards. His family plot also includes his daughter, Meliora, who was the first queen of Ak-Sar-Ben. Look for Woolworth Avenue.

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F. Prospect Hill's only mausoleum was designed for the Megeath family by architect Thomas Kimball. James Megeath was elected to the State Legislature and served as speaker of the house. His name isn't widely known, but it could have been the name on one of Omaha's major parks. He and Andrew Hanscom donated land for the park in 1872, but since Hanscom gave 60 percent and Megeath 40 percent, the park bears Hanscom's name. (Hanscom also is buried at Prospect Hill.)

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G. Lions in bronze guard the final resting place of Gottlieb Storz, a German immigrant and brewery baron. His vault is separate from another Storz family burial area in Forest Lawn. His sons were Adolph, Arthur and Robert, and the Storz name can be found on an expressway and a rugby complex.

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H. The Forest Lawn marker for businessman Peter Kiewit's burial place is a fairly simple affair, although it has this lovely engraving above his name. It's a name that can be found not only in Omaha but at construction sites around the world.

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I. Carved bronze latticework on the front of the Criss vault in Forest Lawn. Dr. C.C. and Mabel Criss were co-founders of Mutual of Omaha. Among places you can see the Criss name is the library at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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J. Hitchcocks and Doorlys are buried around this elegant marker in Forest Lawn. Gilbert Hitchcock was a member of the House of Representatives for Nebraska and a U.S. senator, as well as founder of the Omaha World-Herald. Henry Doorly was Gilbert's son-in-law and a publisher of The World-Herald. Their names are on many public places such as Hitchcock Park and Omaha's zoo.

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K. Byron Reed rests in Prospect Hill. His grave marker is one of the most ornate in the cemetery that he founded. His name is synonymous with real estate to this day. He also was known for his world-class coin collection.

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L. Joseph Millard's family marker with its thunderbird design is in Prospect Hill. His brother Ezra also is buried in the cemetery. Joseph was a director of the Union Pacific Railroad, mayor of Omaha from 1872 to 1873, and served as a U.S. senator from 1901 to 1907. Ezra also was an Omaha mayor. The Millard name is ubiquitous in southwest Omaha.

— Carol Bicak

Contact the writer: Carol Bicak

carol.bicak@owh.com    |   402-444-1067

Carol writes about community news, local profiles, the arts and books. She also covers the zoo.

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