The Dearly Departed:
The Man Who Brought Life to
Forest Lawn Memorial Park
While the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park was built in 1906 as a non-profit cemetery, it was Dr. Hubert Eaton who took over management in 1917 that brought the cemetery “to life” and made it one of Los Angeles’ top tourist attractions and Hollywood’s most famous resting place.
Hubert Eaton was born in Missouri in 1881 and after completing college, he moved to Montana where he worked as a chemist. Later, Eaton would move to Mexico to pursue a career in management with a copper mining company before working for a mining corporation in Nevada.
Eaton was also an innovator, a born salesman, and a truly creative businessman. His vision for Forest Lawn was not to simply create a peaceful cemetery filled with rows of upright headstones. Eaton had bigger plans which included creating a lavishly landscaped “park” where upright headstones would be replaced with markers placed onto verdant grass affording visitors tranquil views of the manicured gardens and fountains, as well as a showcase for fine art.
By incorporating beauty, sculpture and a variety of impressive architecture into his memorial park concept, Eaton set his business apart from other cemeteries which he believed were depressing for families and friends.
Inspired by his own Christian faith and belief in a Heavenly afterlife, Eaton wanted his cemetery to uplift and bring a sense of joyous peace to those mourning their loved ones who had passed on.
Another of Eaton’s innovations was combining the funeral home and cemetery on one property. In addition, Eaton’s visionary plans, as the “Founder” included hosting art exhibits and the establishment of a museum on the original cemetery grounds in Glendale, California.
Forest Lawn is also renowned for it’s spirit of patriotism including the Court of Freedom featuring a mosaic rendering of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and an impressive larger-than-life statue of America’s first President George Washington.
The focus on patriotism, faith, and beauty lead Eaton and those in his family who followed in his footsteps to enlarge their unique memorial park concept. Through the decades, Forest Lawn was expanded to include artwork created by both European masters and some of America’s most noted landscape and portrait artists. In addition, Forest Lawn’s permanent collection of fine art features priceless pieces from cultures and countries around the world. Art lovers visit the grounds to appreciate the Forest Lawn museum’s collections of ceramics and art glass including an expansive stained glass representing DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”.
Forest Lawn is also home to more than a thousand pieces of statuary some of which are installed in special exhibit buildings or in chapels while others are strategically placed around the grounds.
Within the boundaries of the original Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale and in the association’s other cemeteries in Southern California, visitors can enter a number of chapels including a replica of Boston’s Old North Church.
While to some it may seem odd to begin a marriage in a cemetery, more than 75,000 couples have exchanged vows at Forest Lawn. In 1940, future American President Ronald Reagan and his bride actress Jane Wyman said “I do” at Forest Lawn’s Scottish-inspired church known as the “Wee Kirk o’ the Heather”. While this lovely chapel, built in 1926, remains a favorite among Forest Lawn’s wedding venues, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman were not so lucky as they divorced 8 years after they left the chapel’s altar.
Hollywood legends have a long connection with Forest Lawn and many of Tinsel Town’s most famous stars have been laid to rest at the memorial park including Elizabeth Taylor, Errol Flynn, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Walt Disney, and many, many more.
In fact, Forest Lawn is almost as famous as the stars who chose it as their final resting place. Author Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One was penned in 1948 was a satire on the funeral business in Los Angeles and clearly was partially inspired by Forest Lawn. In 1965, British filmmaker Tony Richardson, directed a film based on Waugh’s novel. The film boasted an eclectic cast including Rod Steiger, Robert Morse, Sir John Gielgud, and comedians like Jonathan Winters and Milton Berle.
While Hollywood may have mocked Forest Lawn in film, it is clear that local residents of Southern California and tourists find the famous memorial parks to be all that Hubert Eaton hoped they would become. A place where beauty soothes grief, where faith is lifted with joyful hearts, and a location where families not only come together for celebrations of marriage but also gather to comfort each other in sorrow.
Eaton has been called both the Founder and the Builder of Forest Lawn and his dream was built on his personal religious pillars of faith. His own words best express what he envisioned for Forest Lawn in a piece he wrote entitled The Builder’s Creed.
His hopes included that Forest Lawn would, among many lofty goals, become, “… A place where the sorrowing will be soothed and strengthened because it will be God’s garden.”
Hubert Eaton died on September 20, 1960 in Beverly Hills at the age of 85. His life was honored and his death was mourned by friends, family, and his brother Masons from Euclid Lodge No. 58 in Great Falls, Montana.
Eaton’s remains were laid to rest in the "Memorial Court of Honor" in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California. May he rest in eternal peace.