Favorite subjects: Crown Hill Cemetery

Is it weird to like photographing cemeteries? I’m drawn to them. When I’m on a road trip I stop to tour even the most ragtag patch of graves. But I prefer beautiful cemeteries, and Crown Hill is easily the most beautiful of any of the cemeteries I’ve photographed. It could be my favorite favorite subject of all.

A cemetery could be the best place for an introverted photographer to go when he needs some alone time. I seldom encounter other people in cemeteries, and when I do, they leave me alone. But my wife sometimes comes along. I know it’s love because being with her is nearly as good as pure alone time. We love to take photo walks together. She took this photo of me at Crown Hill on one of our walks.

A portrait of the photographer
Nikon N60, 28-80 mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor, Fujicolor 200, 2015. Margaret Grey photo.

The Civil War still raged when Crown Hill was founded in 1863. It was the city’s second major cemetery even though it was located, at the time, outside the city limits.

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google

Spanning 38th Street along the Michigan Road, Crown Hill started at 236 acres and expanded over the years to its current 555 acres. More than 200,000 people are interred here, from everyday citizens to titans of industry, celebrities of their time, one President, and three Vice Presidents.

The cemetery got its name from a notable hill on the property that came to be called the “crown” of Indianapolis. It’s the highest elevation in a notably flat city. Standing on the crown, you can see for miles.

Let’s start our photo tour at the crown and take in the view. I’ve shot it over and over. I love it.

Indianapolis from the heights
Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/1.8 F. Zuiko Auto-S, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015
Long view
Nikon N2000, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

Many of the most prominent names in Indianapolis have tombs on this hill. But at the very top lies a poet who, in his day, had rock-star celebrity status.

Looking uphill at Riley's rest
Pentax ME, Fujicolor 200, Sears f/4 80-200mm zoom, 2013

It’s hard to imagine now how any poet could be so adored as Riley was. At around the turn of the 20th century he was the nation’s most-read poet. His public appearances could bring out thousands of people. Indiana schools were required to teach his poems in the 1910s! His 1916 death was front-page news across the country. His body was allowed to lie in state in the Indiana Statehouse, an honor previously bestowed only on Abraham Lincoln. So it was small wonder that he was buried at such a prominent and visible place.

Riley's rest
Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

Schoolchildren traditionally leave coins on his tomb. It is all donated to the Riley Hospital for Children.

James Whitcomb Riley
Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

This little child, sitting next to Riley’s tomb, will forever read Riley’s rhymes.

Riley reader
Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

Many of Crown Hill’s most interesting grave markers are on the hill.

Home Sweet Home
Pentax ME, 80-200 mm f/4 Sears Zoom, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Pentax ME, 80-200 mm f/4 Sears Zoom, Fujicolor 200, 2013
Short steps
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Portra 160, 2015

Crown Hill is also a showplace of cemetery architecture. As a bridgefan, I love the bridge that carries 38th Street over a road that connects the north and south portions of the cemetery. When you drive along 38th Street you might never know the bridge is here. It was built in 1925.

Crown Hill bridge
Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

On one visit, we met mama deer and her fawns at the bridge.

Under the bridge at Crown Hill
Canon PowerShot S95, 2011

One of my favorite photos from Crown Hill is this one from under the bridge.

Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Plus-X, 2015

Crown Hill has two entrances. This gate, built 1885, awaits at the south entrance.

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

The actual gates are ornate iron affairs.

Cemetery gate
Yashica-D, Kodak E100G, 2014

Just beyond the gate stands the Waiting Station, built the same year.

Crown Hill gate
Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

The 1875 Gothic Chapel is just down the road from the Gate and the Waiting Station. It held James Whitcomb Riley’s body for a year while his burial site was prepared.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C, Fujicolor 200, 2013

57 private mausoleums dot the grounds, and they can be stunning.

Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold stored), 2015

This mausoleum holds the body of Carl Fisher, who founded the Indianapolis 500 and the Lincoln and Dixie Highways.

Sears KS-2, 135mm f/2.8 Auto Sears MC, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2015

Many of the less prominent gravesites have interesting markers, too.

Grave marker
Canon PowerShot S95, 2011
Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017

Even graves that have plainer markers seem more interesting because of the lovely setting.

Nikon N2000, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Kodak Ektar 100, 2014

Autumn is stunning at Crown Hill. It’s my favorite time to go.

Autumn at Crown Hill
Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015
Autumn at Crown Hill
Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015
Autumn at Crown Hill
Nikon F2AS, 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Kodak Ektar 100, 2015

My favorite subject within this favorite subject is the National Cemetery. Established in 1866 and administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this 1.4-acre site inters primarily Union Army soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

Crown Hill National Cemetery
Yashica-D, Kodak E100G, 2014

795 soldiers are buried here.

At Crown Hill
Nikon F2, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

The plain markers’ sober, dignified typography makes them compelling.

James Richard Bradford
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016
Charles H. Ackerman
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017

I have regularly taken my sons to Crown Hill for the portraits I make of them. There are plenty of places to make portraits that are not obviously in a cemetery. But this spot before military graves was interesting enough to me that I photographed it anyway.

Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

Let’s take one last trip up the big hill for a parting view of the city.

Overlooking the city
Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Plus-X (expired, cold stored), 2015

I believe I will miss Crown Hill the most of my favorite photographic subjects. Maybe I can get Margaret to drive down with me sometimes. This is one worth hanging onto even if it does take me a lot longer to drive to it now.


12 responses to “Favorite subjects: Crown Hill Cemetery”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Although I have driven past it thousands of times, I have never actually been there.

    The contrast with the old Catholic cemeteries on the south side of Indy (where all of my cemetery visiting has occurred) illustrates the relative wealth and prominence of the two communities then – the WASP crowd that was the power structure vs. the immigrants. Crown Hill will have to go on my list of local places to experience.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s worth driving through at least. So many little roads to turn down. You could drive around in there for an hour and not see the same thing twice.

  2. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    That’s a great variety of subjects. I really like the two bridge shots. I hate to admit it, but I think the only reason I’ve heard of J W Riley, is the passenger train that was named after him.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s all right. You’re not a Hoosier so you’re excused!

  3. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    I once shot a wedding at Riley’s grave. I have to say it was the oddest wedding I’ve ever shot, but it was a beautiful site to shoot. I want to go this year to just walk around once the leaves start changing. There’s so much to shoot and see.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hunh, wow. I can’t imagine getting married in a cemetery!

  4. grammywritesblog Avatar

    I love cemeteries, too! Great photos!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I can hardly drive past one without stopping for a photo or two.

  5. tbm3fan Avatar

    As mentioned previously I went to Golden Gate National Cemetery on Sunday of the Labor Day weekend. Outside of going to a cemetery only twice in my life for a burial I had never just gone to a cemetery. Now Golden Gate is all US military veterans and has been closed to new burials for years.

    I had never been there before but I always wanted to stop by the graves of Admirals Nimitz, Spruance, Lockwood and Turner. I was the only one there at 2:00 in the afternoon. It is located on a hillside in South San Francisco overlooking the Bay. Definitely a place to walk and contemplate while looking at the names. Now around my home there are two cemeteries that date back to the late 1860’s that look rundown but are open. Another must see for me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ll bet the view from Golden Gate is wonderful!

  6. Lindsay @ The Love Bungalow Avatar

    Beautiful pics! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re welcome!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: