Published in Canadian Review of American Studies - Issue 32:3, 2002

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Cultural Anti-Modernism and “The Modern Memorial-Park”: Hubert Eaton and the Creation of Forest Lawn



Kevin McNamara

The Business of Death
Born into a line of Baptist clergymen who pursued academic careers, Hubert Eaton (1881–1966) was raised in Liberty, Missouri, where his father was Chair of Natural Sciences at William Jewell College; his paternal grandfather, Rev. George Washington Eaton, had been president of Madison (now Colgate) University in Hamilton, New York, and his great uncle, Rev. Joseph Eaton, presided at Tennessee’s Union University. Hubert forsook the family calling, however, and chose mining over the ministry. It was in the wake of a failed Nevada venture that he found himself in a cemetery just north of downtown Los Angeles in present-day Glendale. According to Forest Lawn legend, the rapprochement of Hubert’s dream of success with his inherited sense of vocation commenced on New Year’s Day, 1917, when he surveyed the graveyard’s growth of chaparral and devil grass, yet saw instead “a great park, devoid of misshapen monuments and other customary signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, singing birds, beautiful statuary, cheerful flowers, noble memorial architecture with interiors full of light and color.” Eaton vowed then to remake the cemetery as a memorial park “where artists study and sketch; where teachers bring happy children to see the things they read of in books,” objects like great art (in reproductions) and famous churches (in reconstructions). Only such a displacement of death within the continuity of culture and the eternity of art, an undertaking to be secured by “an immense Endowment Care Fund, the principal of which can never be expended—only the income therefrom,” would adequately represent Eaton’s fundamental belief “in a happy Eternal Life” and, “most of all, in a Christ that smiles and loves you and me” (St. Johns 118–19).1

The narrative of Eaton’s path to that hillside exists in at least three versions. Documents filed in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1941) relate that, “In 1912, the [Forest Lawn] cemetery association engaged the services of Hubert Eaton … in the capacity of sales agent for ‘before-need’ sales of cemetery lots” (1092). Four years previous to that filing, advertising executive Bruce Barton profiled Eaton for Reader’s Digest as “a successful metallurgist and chemist” who at age thirty “mov[ed] to California with the expectation of retiring” (“A Cemetery” 73). Having developed there a sideline “in real estate and banking,” this Eaton first came to Forest Lawn “one morning in 1917, [when] he woke up to discover that a country cemetery, on which his institution held a mortgage, had been foreclosed” (73–74). Disheartened by the condition of this “sacred ground of a so-called Christian people,” Eaton vowed on the spot to transform the cemetery into a thriving “garden of memory in accordance with the Christian conception of a happy eternal life” (74, 76). Nearly two decades later, Adela Rogers St. Johns’s chatty “official” biography placed Eaton in the same elite company as Barton’s captain of industry. Members of Los Angeles’s WASP ascendancy are his closest friends and advisors, real-estate men Carroll Gates and W. I. Hollingsworth, society banker Motley Flint (gunned down in 1927 by a man ruined in the Julian Petroleum swindle), and the city’s leading Baptist minister, J. Winthrop Brougher (of whom Upton Sinclair recalled, “when the Socialists were near to carrying Los Angeles, this clergyman preached a sermon in support of the candidate of ‘Booze, Gas and Railroads’” [209]). Nevertheless, the one-time editor of Photoplay, Hollywood’s first fan magazine, insists that Eaton never quite shook the Missouri dirt off his boots. Before taking the Forest Lawn job at the suggestion of a hometown friend, St. Johns’s Eaton had “punched cattle in Montana, assayed copper in the Anaconda laboratories, quelled riots in Mexico,” and made and lost “a million dollars” in a Nevada silver mine (3; the fortune was only hypothetical, with most actual losses absorbed by backers). Through it all, he retained his faith “that the Lord would provide him with the cash and credit he needed to go ahead about His business” (154).

These Eatons are not as dissimilar as they may at first appear. Barton was himself a minister’s son. Famous for identifying Christ as the founder of advertising and modern business organization in his best-selling “Discovery of the Real Jesus,” The Man Nobody Knows, Barton gave new meaning to Christ’s question, “Wist ye not that I am about my Father’s business?” Like Barton’s Christ – “the grandest achievement story of all” (The Man 9) – St. Johns’s Eaton is a small-town lad who rose to metropolitan success through a combination of a compelling vision, skillful promotion (including a few miracles), and strength of character.2 Each of them experienced what Barton called “the eternal miracle—the awakening of the inner consciousness of power” that makes the man and his vision compelling (The Man 11); Eaton, too, was “well served by his own staff just this side of idolatry” (St. Johns 111). What separates the two portraits is that Barton’s Eaton is born of the Depression and the advertising executive’s desire to reassure Americans about the viability and morality of capitalism. St. Johns’s more cinematic “man from Missouri” (89) whose boyhood is introduced by Wyatt Earp (17–18) and whose career is helped along by “Cousin Joe from Denver” (142), is a Cold War confection who satisfies a nostalgia for the lost world of small-town America that Eaton’s generation of Angelenos clung to even as they grew the city into a thriving metropolis.

Assuming a sublunary provenance for the memorial-park plan, Eaton’s success was enabled by its close fit between vision and venue. To create the modern cemetery landscape as a scene of concealment (of death) and display (of cultural values), to shift it “from a communal sacred space toward a private commercial enterprise” (Sloane 176), Eaton combined three divergent elements: the beliefs and values shared by the resettling Midwesterners, the culture of spectacle already developing the capital of film, and advances in funerary technologies that changed the structure of the industry.

Even as its population increased more than twenty-fold, Los Angeles grew more village-like after 1900 because “every consideration was subordinated to the paramount concern of attracting church-going Middle Westerners” (McWilliams 157). In the 1920s, the politically influential radio evangelist and Klan apologist Bob Shuler crowned the City of Angels “the one city of the nation in which the white, American, Christian idealism still predominates” (qtd. in K. Starr, 137); an annual “twelve-part Pilgrimage Play depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ … enlisted both local citizens and professional actors,” while Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms was raided and closed by the vice squad (K. Starr 134). Canadian-born Aimee Semple McPherson converted the site of worship from a communal sacred space into a private commercial enterprise. Her flamboyantly theatrical revival meetings3 proved so popular that within five years of her arrival Sister Aimee bankrolled her own church, the $1.5-million, 5,300-seat Angelus Temple, for her own denomination, the Foursquare Gospel. The following year, aged thirty-three, she added radio station KFSG.

Architecturally, Los Angeles was no less extravagant. Represented at its best by the work of Greene and Greene, Irving Gill and, in the 1920s, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra, the housing market was dominated, Neutra complained, by “half-timbered English peasant cottages, French provincial and ‘mission-bell’ type adobes, Arabian Minarets, Georgian mansions on 50 by 120 foot lots with ‘Mexican Ranchos’ adjoining them” (qtd. in McWilliams 344). Such a collision of styles equally describes the Hollywood backlots that provided inspiration for the city’s architects, with the result that many of the houses in turn became stage sets. Certainly the most ostentatious landscape was Abbot Kinney’s attempt to recreate the jewel of the Adriatic complete with canals and gondolas as Venice, California. In short, 1920s Los Angeles was a place where Hubert Eaton’s fantasy of Italian cathedrals and English country churches presiding over an artfully developed suburb of the dead might become a source of local pride.

Changes in the geography and technologies of death and dying during the half-century before Eaton’s hillside vision established the market conditions on which he capitalized. Embalming became common after the Civil War. Cramped urban living quarters pushed wakes and viewings outside the home. The dead and their mourners required transportation to gravesites on the city’s outskirts. Robert Habenstein and William Lamars note in The History of American Funeral Directing that these changes transformed the undertaker from

a merchant who … provided goods needed by the bereaved … to a seller of service who actually took part in the preparation of the dead … and transport[ed] body and mourners to places of worship and sepulture … to finally a director who took charge of the body and of the proceedings involved in its ceremonial disposition. (qtd. in Sloane 120)

If convenience made full-service cemeteries no less inevitable than department stores and supermarkets, Eaton was careful to represent Forest Lawn’s expansion as a pious response to public outcry rather than a profit-driven decision. Throughout his battles with undertakers, casket salesmen, and other entrepreneurs whose livelihoods were threatened by Forest Lawn’s expansion, Eaton maintained the rhetorical high ground. Even as he contemplated Forest Lawn’s application for an undertaker’s license, Eaton portrayed it as a step taken unwillingly, if at all:

God forbid that I shall be compelled to enter the undertaking business,
he thundered to a convention of cemetery superintendents in September 1929,
but I solemnly prophesy this; that the memorial park of tomorrow will demand sweeping reforms on the part of the undertaking craft or memorial parks will build and develop undertaking establishments of their own. (“Creation” 211; original emphasis)4

Tomorrow came soon enough; in 1932, the application was filed. When the mortuary was completed, Forest Lawn and its affiliated companies could offer interment, immurement, cremation, caskets, clergymen, markers, monuments, floral displays, credit lines, mortuary trust bonds, and life insurance. The Memorial-Park at that point also boasted “the most modern and complete undertaking establishment in the country,” housed in a “Class A, steel and reinforced concrete structure” that featured “an ultra-modern heating plant, iced drinking water fountains and a large, automatic elevator” (FLAG 43). A description of Forest Lawn’s patented ventilation system – in the Forest Lawn Art Guide – assures “an abundance of fresh air constantly passing through the crypts, resulting in desiccation and not decay” (40).

Never mentioning what desiccates, these pamphlets continue the effacement of death from the industry’s vocabulary. It was during this time that “Undertakers evolved into funeral directors, and coffins into caskets [and a] dead person was referred to as the deceased” (Sloane 120). Recasting the dead as “departed” went the formality of “deceased” one better; it implies a change of location, not a change of state. Eaton’s most famous euphemism, the “loved one,” heals even the rift entailed by “departure” because by equally naming one who has “gone before” and one who is “left behind” it affirms an unbroken connection between them. Reading Forest Lawn’s promotional literature, one pauses to determine which loved one rests “during the last interlude before the service in … a quiet beautiful slumber room looking out upon sweeping lawns and waving trees” (KMRW 7). The rest of the room’s description reminds us that even as the reality of death was technologically, linguistically, and geographically removed from the daily round of life, it remained necessary to honour the ceremony and the sentiments of the bereaved. Thus, the confusion about the loved one’s identity may be deliberate: the strength of the sentiment counterbalances the antiseptic modernity of the mortuary facilities. Mourners were restricted to, and comforted by, the mimesis of modest domesticity in “Georgian” slumber rooms furnished in “the later Chippendale [style]” (FLAG 43), a private chapel to create an “atmosphere of home-like, secluded privacy” (FLAG 43), while the dead were treated to the superfluous delicacy of sex-segregated embalming rooms staffed with a “licensed woman embalmer for women and children” (FLAG 44).

As general manager for the non-profit Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association, which operates the cemetery, Eaton profited handsomely from his innovations. Tax court filings in Forest Lawn v. Commissioner (1941) reveal that he was guaranteed 2.5% of gross sales up to $1,000,000, and 3% in excess of $1,000,000 and on “certain services of its employees and supplies.” The value of that commission rose steadily, from $24,000 in 1933 to $83,000 in 1941. Eaton drew an additional $3,600 annual salary from the Forest Lawn Company, the for-profit corporation that developed the land itself and through a holding company, American Security & Fidelity. Eaton and his wife owned more than a one-third interest in American Security & Fidelity; relatives owned an additional 15% of shares. The Forest Lawn Company financed construction of the Great Mausoleum, which it then transferred to the non-profit Association in return for 50% of proceeds from lot sales and 60% of proceeds from other forms of burial, the maximum rates of return then permitted by California law; the Memorial-Park’s other buildings were rented to the Association by the Forest Lawn Company or its holding company at annual rates that averaged 10–12% of the cost of construction. This division of responsibility and remuneration allowed the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association to claim that all income above expenses were channelled into cemetery upkeep while the for-profit Forest Lawn Company’s income stream was not diverted to cemetery maintenance.

Of course, these arrangements were not broadcast. Forest Lawn was defined for the public by its technological modernity and its preservation of cultural and religious traditions. Eaton counselled his employees and colleagues always to “Accent the Spiritual!” when they “sell immortality,” because “only on this plane can [one] influence the client to feel that not to give full expression to the Memorial Impulse [the desire to be remembered, which also causes us to memorialize others] is not only to abort his soul but to defeat the natural progress of civilization” (Comemoral 35). The advice recalls Barton’s distinction between a Christ who succeeded “not because there was any demand for another religion but because [he] knew how, and taught his followers how, to catch the attention of the indifferent,” and a “small-bore” businessman like his treasurer, Judas, who focused solely on the bottom line (The Man 104, 178). The sincerity of Eaton’s words, which may at first sound like calculated cynicism, explains how he managed to transform the landscape of the funeral industry.

The Arts of Memorialization
Selling memory meant selling memorials, and Forest Lawn provided a range of options for memorialization, from plaques and private gardens to original sculpture whose public placement enhanced the beauty and the value of the grounds. Prospects were encouraged to think of the gravesite not as an individual plot of land, but as a component of “a great composite memorial, perpetuating not simply the memory of one individual but all the brave souls who have gone on before us, from this community,” in the words of a Forest Lawn publicist (Earnshaw 213).

Eaton derived his Memorial-Park’s built form from rural cemeteries and world’s fairs, two nineteenth-century manifestations of the Memorial Impulse. Reflecting the Romantic belief that death is a dimension of nature’s sublimity, not divine judgement on sinners, rural cemeteries embodied William Cullen Bryant’s counsel that

When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit,
one should
Go forth under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings
whose lesson is to greet that eventual summons
sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, [and] approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.(ll. 8–10, 16–17, 79–82)

The first rural cemetery, Boston’s Mount Auburn, opened in 1831; others soon followed, offering shaded, quiet paths that attracted a stream of tourists. By 1860 annual visits to Greenwood in Brooklyn numbered over 400,000, while Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill welcomed upwards of 140,000 visitors that year (Sears 101). When the Cambridge Railroad began service to Mount Auburn, the Cemetery’s Board of Trustees found it imperative to regulate Sunday admission. The Railroad, meanwhile, drummed for business by publishing a guidebook that went through nineteen editions by 1889, competing with Nathaniel Dearborn’s popular Guide (twelve editions by 1858) and a handful of other tour books. From the first, Mount Auburn was intended as more than a burial site and sylvan retreat. The Massachusetts Horticultural Society helped to establish the cemetery with an intent to erect an “Institution for the Education of Scientific and Practical Gardeners” on the grounds (Linden-Ward 205). When the Horticultural Society and lot owners parted ways, historical instruction was substituted for botany. Noting the passing of the Revolutionary generation and sensing the possibility to create an American Père Lachaise, Justice Joseph Story, a trustee, urged that the cemetery erect memorials that teach Americans of their “destiny and duty” (qtd. in Linden-Ward 228).

Los Angeles had little US history and fewer honoured dead in 1917; meanwhile, the brown chaparral and devil grass taught no reassuring lessons about death and nature. To cultivate a landscape adequate to his vision of a “religion [that] is gladsome, radiant … [and] speaks in terms of the Beatitudes and the Smiling Christ” (Eaton, “Creation” 211), one less gloomy even than the rural cemetery, Eaton replaced all deciduous flora with evergreens and substituted bright, sweeping lawns for retreats and shady walks. An alternative thematic organization for Forest Lawn grew from Eaton’s memories of Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, fairs that were typical in celebrating the progress of civilization (the immortality of a group) and deploying ritual objects “imbued with historic and sacred meanings … [to] express social unity in material form” (Benedict 18).

On the Expositions’ grounds, architecture and art served as vehicles of spiritual uplift for fairgoers who regarded the visits to halls of art as “a purposeful, high-minded task very much like churchgoing” (G. Starr 139). Adopting their plan, Eaton developed Forest Lawn as a set of architectural landmarks and works of art oriented around a central court of honour. The Great Mausoleum (1920) has always been Forest Lawn’s focal point. Modeled on Genoa’s Campo Santo and promoted as “‘the New World Westminster Abbey,’ … where honored entombment is an enduring reward for men and women justly famed for great and lasting service to the world” (PFL 28), it houses Forest Lawn’s very own Court of Honor. For many years, the Park’s second attraction was a Tower of Legends. Built atop “Mount Forest Lawn” (the site of Eaton’s vision) to conceal the Park’s water tower, it was decorated with friezes that depicted “the allegorical story of the life cycle as conceived by the ancient Norsemen.” Eaton appended to this ensemble an emblem of progress in the figure of Youth and, soothing anxieties about modernity’s cultural costs, an image of “Woman, the conservative element in the march of Progress.” Like the Tower of Jewels at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, the Tower of Legends was illuminated at night by “a battery of floodlights” (FLAG 12).

Inside Forest Lawn’s Court of Honor one finds the tombs of eight “Forest Lawn Immortals,” Eaton, USC Chancellor Rufus von KleinSmid, Caltech President Robert Millikan, California State University Provost Glenn S. Dumke, Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzom Borglum, pianist Rudolf Friml, popular songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond, and painter Jan Styka, flanked by several of Forest Lawn’s Michelangelo reproductions: the Medici Madonna, Madonna of Bruges, Day and Night and Twilight and Dawn from the Medici sarcophagi, and La Pieta. (Moses and David are displayed elsewhere, as is the actual altar canopy from Santa Sabina in Rome.) In the manner of the San Francisco fair, inscriptions supplement the art’s emotional change and guide the viewers. Thus, above the entryway to the Court of Honor, Calvin Coolidge offers hope that “If we could surround ourselves with forms of beauty, the evil things of life would disappear and our moral standards would be raised. Through our contact with the beautiful, we see more of the truth and are brought into closer contact with the infinite.” Installed above the immortals is Forest Lawn’s crown jewel, Rosa Caselli-Moretti’s stained-glass reproduction of da Vinci’s Last Supper. Exhibited on a daily schedule and interpreted for us by the taped voice that guides our apprehension of all the Park’s treasures, the window is brought to “life” by lighting that mimics the effect of different atmospheric conditions and angles of sunlight.

The “Last Supper” Window is one-third of Forest Lawn’s Sacred Trilogy, a group completed by two paintings housed in the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection that replaced the Tower of Legends atop Mount Forest Lawn. Styka’s Crucifixion, first exhibited at the Saint Louis fair of 1904, and Robert Clark’s Resurrection, a post-war commission, complete the narrative of Christ’s life. In a darkened auditorium, a spotlight illuminates Styka’s 8,775 square-foot depiction of Christ’s final days one incident at a time while recorded voices narrate and dramatize the events. Taking the cinematic effect to the extreme, the presentation culminates with a Sensurround effect (strobe lightning and a rumbling-bass earthquake) at the moment of death. Clark’s upbeat vision of Christianity triumphant is as close as Eaton came to realizing his dream of the Smiling Christ; the canvas depicts the risen Savior beholding the westward progress of Christianity from the Temple at Jerusalem to St. Peter’s, the Hagia Sophia, Mont Saint Michel, St. Paul’s London, and Boston’s Old North Church while the “Hallelujah Chorus” plays. (Forest Lawn is perhaps the terminus of this translatio?)

Forest Lawn’s other principal architectural elements are Little Churches “inspired” (a favourite Forest Lawn verb) by the literature and folklore of the British Isles. The village church at Stoke Poges, long associated with Thomas Gray’s “Elegy,” was an all but inevitable model for the first of these structures, the Little Church of the Flowers (1918). The Wee Kirk o’ the Heather (1929) was raised to the memory of Annie Laurie, the heroine of a Robert Burns ballad whom Charles Gates Dawes suggested that “every right-minded American college boy was just a little bit in love with” (qtd. in St. Johns 211).5 Inside this “exact reconstruction” of the ruined Scottish kirk Eaton installed Annie’s portrait, “communion tokens used by Annie herself” (FLAG 16), and other Laurieana that substantiate her existence and illustrate her life. The third Little Church, the Church of the Recessional (1941), is named for Rudyard Kipling’s hymn to British imperialism and modeled after the village church near the poet’s home in Rottingdean. If this church in particular foreshadows the patriotic ardour of the post–World War II Old North Church and other colonial American churches at three new Forest Lawn locations,6 what first strikes one about each of these churches are the glass walls, flowering plants, singing birds, and faux-folkloric devices that brighten their interiors and moods. Before the Wee Kirk stands a “Wishing Chair” made of “the very stones which once formed a part of … the original kirk … and which are said in Glencairn to have been blessed by the fairies” (FLAG 17). Californian newlyweds like Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, who married in the Kirk in January 1940, complete the ceremony by taking their seats and reciting (if they can) the quatrain,

Busk’t i’ oor braws, an’ a’ oor lane,
We’re doupit i’ the wissin’ chair,
Wilk spaes bien farin tae ilka ane
Wha gies a bridal hansel there.

A similar device, the “Ring of Aldyth,” awaits newlyweds at the Church of the Recessional.

Sentimental appeal likewise informs the Memorial-Park’s toponymy, where subdivisions bear such names as Sunrise Slope, Resthaven, Vesperland and Lullabyland, which Eaton created when he “realized that … parents did not want to leave their little ones buried among adult strangers” (Barton, “A Cemetery” 75), and the artwork in which the interplay of realistic figure and allegorical subject yield uplifting messages easily available to a broad audience. Eaton’s first bold move as general manager had been to purchase for $886 American sculptor Edith Parsons’s Duck-Baby, the little bronze girl who cried because “it broke her little bronze heart / To have the lights put out” on the Panama Pacific International Exposition (Robinson ll. 11-12). The rest of the artwork follows her lead. Imported academic pieces depicting such themes as Father Love, Family Love, and Protection were easily comprehended by viewers familiar with the conventions of art regnant at the fairs and in the art-print industry. In this context, Forest Lawn’s celebrated collection of Michelangelo reproductions functions not as an aesthetic pinnacle, but as the high-end model in a line of Italian marbles, a point to which I will return.

The Eighth Art: Publicity
If art was what Eaton called a “silent salesman” (St. Johns 237), it fell to Forest Lawn’s promotional materials to accredit the value of the collection and increase the Park’s prestige. The Forest Lawn Art Guide, Pictorial Forest Lawn and other advertisements for the Park’s art and amenities increased Forest Lawn’s visitors from 525,000 in 1928 (Eaton, “Creation” 209) to 1.6 million by 1940 (Forest Lawn v. Commissioner). The Art Guide, which doubled as a brochure for memorial sculpture, accented the emotional power of the works with anecdotes of their initial reception; the reactions become models for the readers’ own encounters with art. Of Amleto Cataldi’s Invocation we learn that “a fellow sculptor, famed for his critical ability” (attesters rarely are named) observed the work and pronounced, “‘to look upon it is to hope’” (60). Gay Infancy, Professor V. Caradossi’s “moveless companion,” was realized only at the end of his life by “his good friend, the sculptor Andreini,” to whom Caradossi sent the clay model with the note, “‘To you I am sending my little girl and ask that you adopt her, and give her a home, forever, in marble’” (61). Most melodramatically, the Art Guide’s note on Arturo Cambi’s Winter, a barefoot girl who is “Perhaps … the best loved being in the world of Art,” relates that

When this little figure was being placed, one of the workmen, a rough, grizzled fellow of rude manner, stood off and looked at the child for a moment and then remarked, ‘You kinda want to wipe that tear out of the little kid’s eye and rub her feet, don’t yuh?’ And so it is: the tear drop nestled in her eye, the one tiny foot protecting the other from the cold, the childish bravery of her pose, appeals to the gentleness in the roughest of men. (60)

That bond of sympathy is reproduced in the Art Guide’s prose, which extends fellow feeling from the refined and sentimental author to the uneducated workman. Not even Michelangelo is exempt from such treatment. Of his Moses we read that over time the sculptor came to believe that the statue lived, and that he demanded, “‘Speak! … Why dost thou not speak?’” as he struck it with a mallet. The story may be “mere legend,” but we are nonetheless invited to see – on the reproduction! – where the mallet landed just below the right knee (51).

Certainly the most surprising testimony to Forest Lawn’s popular appeal was offered in 1923, when Cora Gregory Wills and Archie Milton Howes applied to the sales staff for permission to be married in the Little Church of the Flowers. Whether in January (St. Johns 165) or late in the year (FLMP 15), whether a salesman named Sniffen reached Eaton at home on a Saturday as he was on his way to a round of golf with W. I. Hollingsworth (St. Johns 165) or brought the couple to see Eaton in his office (FLAG 19), the Memorial-Park has since done a brisk business in weddings as well as funerals. Seven thousand weddings had been performed on the grounds by 1936 (LC 1); sixty years later, over 65,000 people had been married in the churches of Forest Lawn’s five present locations (FLMP 42).

A wedding ceremony in the Little Church of the Flowers was probably unimaginable as a publicity stunt, but the rest of Forest Lawn’s success owes as much to its advertisers and publicists, those “apostles of [capitalist] modernity” (Marchand 1) whom Calvin Coolidge lauded for performing “the great work of the regeneration and redemption of mankind” (qtd. in Marchand 9) as its does to the attractions themselves. Speaking before the American Association of Cemetery Superintendents in 1929, Forest Lawn’s Harry A. Earnshaw explained that the Park “boldly tells the public its story, in its own way … us[ing] for the purpose practically every legitimate medium of advertising—radio, newspapers, billboards, theatre programs, direct advertising through the mail, printed literature and publicity” (213). Maintaining a taboo on the mention of death – the “before-need” sale is designed, after all, to deal with death at its most abstract – roadside billboards of that era and since might feature “a beautiful painting of the sea, no land or other objects in sight except clouds” and the legend, “Eternal—as the sea,” or a painting of “a point far out in space” with the legend, “Eternal—as the heavens” (Earnshaw 214). Newspaper and magazine advertisements, theatre inserts, and direct mailings would emphasize “the cultural and esthetic features of Forest Lawn, the important works of art and notable buildings,” and close with “an invitation to visit the Park as one of the best known places of interest in Southern California” (Earnshaw 214). As at new residential subdivisions so at Forest Lawn’s gates visitors are greeted by a member of the sales staff who provides complimentary brochures describing the amenities and suggesting itineraries for a tour.

Forest Lawn has from its inception hosted concerts, dance recitals, religious services, and patriotic commemorations. Five thousand people who attended the dedication of the Wee Kirk, sponsored by the Order of Scottish Clans and Daughters of Scotia, heard bagpipers and the voice of “Frank MacWilliams, Scottish tenor, [who] sang ‘Annie Laurie’ to Miss Margaret MacTaggart, who impersonated the famed Scottish Lass” (“Wee Kirk” 1:14). This pageantry was an advance on Mother’s Day thirteen years earlier, when dedication of the Little Church of the Flowers featured a quartet of male singers, a soprano soloist, a speech by Eaton on “The Birth of a New Era” (“Church” 2:3), and an address praising “the great change in arrangements for the laying away of the dead and the advantages which have been provided in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park,” by Eaton’s confidant, Rev. Brougher (“Dedication” 2:3). The articles’ many encomiums for the church and the Park’s other innovations, along with a listing of the Forest Lawn Board’s prominent members, strongly suggest the hand of Forest Lawn’s publicity department in creating the copy.

Easter sunrise services regularly drew 40,000–50,000 people (Earnshaw 214) in the 1920s and 1930s to hear famous soloists accompanied by a major orchestra celebrate triumph over death; for a time, the services were nationally broadcast over CBS radio (Barton, “A Cemetery” 73). At a time when radio was esteemed “a philanthropically supported public service” (Marchand 89), Forest Lawn’s name was heard on the local airways as sponsor of a weekly music and song program with offerings organized around a theme such as “The Corner Book Shop,” “The Evolution of the Dance,” “Music of Devotion” (Earnshaw 213). Time’s 1942 profile of “America’s gayest graveyard” notes that Forest Lawn had recently undertaken to sponsor a program of Bible readings hosted by “Scottish-burred Bill Hay, announcer for 16 years of the Amos ’n’ Andy program” (“America’s” 37).

The pinnacle of Forest Lawn’s self-promotion has to be the 28 April 1931 unveiling of Caselli-Moretti’s “Last Supper” Window. Proclaimed as more faithful to da Vinci’s intention than the original because the artist worked from Leonardo’s sketches, not the weathered fresco, the “Last-Supper” Window has from the first been bathed in the aura of miracle. The story is widely repeated that the Judas’ face cracked five times in the firing. In the gospel according to St. Johns, Caselli-Moretti then cabled, “All Italy is concerned and speculates upon this strange mischance,” and wondered if “the good God intends that I shall not finish the window.” Eaton thundered his response: “Nonsense and Balderdash! … Of course God wants it finished. It’s the devil that’s trying to stop it” (215) – echoing Rev. Brougher’s own surmise of what moved the Forest Lawn Board to deny Eaton full control over the cemetery in 1916 (St. Johns 116). Amidst “prayer services [that] went on around the clock” in the little churches of Forest Lawn “to join with the prayers in Perugia and Rome” (St. Johns 215), the sixth attempt succeeded. Eaton did not mention the cables in his speech at the unveiling, but as California Governor James Rolph, Jr., and USC Chancellor von KleinSchmid stood by, Eaton did recall his fateful resolution that “by the grace of God, Forest Lawn will save ‘The Last Supper’ for civilization, and in stained glass!” (SLSW 4). Concluding with his usual dramatic flair, Eaton related that

on the day set for its exhibition in Perugia, came the great or their representatives—the King, Mussolini, the Minister of Arts, the great artists, generals, diplomats, all to do “the Last Supper” honor and to stand in wonder at the super-artistry of Miss Moretti.

Italy awoke to the fact that Leonardo da Vinci’s original painting had, indeed, been re-created and had it not been for our friendship with the Ministry of Arts in Italy, and their understanding of Forest Lawn’s plans and ambitions, “The Last Supper” would never have been allowed to leave Italy.(SLSW 5, emphasis in original)

Mussolini is absent from St. Johns’ 1954 retelling, although he resurfaces in an excerpt from one of Eaton’s anti-Communist harangues (256–57) as a warning about the dangers of state-sponsored education, a preoccupation reflective of Eaton’s and Forest Lawn’s postwar thematic development.

***
Much about Forest Lawn has changed in recent decades. The cemetery that went to court to void a contract unknowingly entered into with an African American (Forest Lawn v. De Jarnet), was by the 1990s racially mixed in its sales force and clientele. The Easter service at the original Glendale location is today celebrated in Spanish. The Builder’s Creed mandate that “memorialization … [be] controlled by acknowledged artists” has been relaxed since Eaton’s death. In 2002, the Forest Lawn Museum hosted “Eclectic LA: Celebrating Diversity Through Art in Los Angeles.” Yet the unsettling of Forest Lawn’s iconography began much earlier, and its effect on the meaning of history, art, and religion in the Memorial-Park cut to the heart of Eaton’s project. In an essay on public commemoration, J. B. Jackson distinguished the presentation of a history comprised of semi-sacred acts performed by members of a community that in turn create obligations for future action – as at Mount Auburn, for example – from a history conceived as a golden or legendary age – as with Forest Lawn’s little churches and its veneration of Renaissance classicism. Architecturally, the substitution of church interiors “con flores y parajos cantando” (the flowers and singing birds that a Mexican gardener reportedly told Eaton are “the most alive thing there is” [St. Johns 270]) for the more customary reminders of human limitation to be found in the original churches negates the very version of Christian history and obligation that were taught within their walls. This shift is registered in a particularly rich passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Forest Lawn satire, The Loved One, in which the tape-recorded voice of the Memorial-Park explains that one church

is more than a replica, it is a reconstruction. A building-again of what those old craftsmen sought to do with their rude implements of by-gone ages. Time has worked its mischief on the beautiful original. Here you see it as the first builders dreamed of it long ago.

You will observe that the side aisles are constructed solely of glass and grade A steel. There is a beautiful anecdote connected with this beautiful feature. In 1935 Dr. Kenworthy [the fictional Eaton] was in Europe seeking in that treasure house of Art something worthy of Whispering Glades [the fictional Forest Lawn]. His tour led him to Oxford and the famous Norman church of St. Peter. He found it dark. He found it full of conventional and depressing memorials. ‘Why,’ asked Dr. Kenworthy, ‘do you call it St. Peter-without-the-walls?’ and they told him it was because in the old days the city wall had stood between it and the business centre. ‘My church,’ said Dr. Kenworthy, ‘shall have no walls. And so you see it today full of God’s sunshine and fresh air, birdsong and flowers.’(78–79)

Angered as Eaton was by Waugh’s novel and his Life magazine profile of Forest Lawn (a “‘cynical boor … with ten cents worth of cheap wit and vulgar misinterpretation,’” was The Builder’s assessment of the satirist [St. Johns 142]), he would nevertheless have agreed with Dr. Kenworthy’s premise. Eaton had himself proclaimed decades earlier the transition from a sombre religion of sacrifice to the radiant faith of the Smiling Christ. Moreover, the new creed is contemporaneous with the power of technology to annul suffering, to deny the effects of history and the ravages of death, and to realize for the first time the “original intent” of an artist like da Vinci. Why should it not also revise our understanding of sacred space? Like The Man Nobody Knows, Forest Lawn implies that Christian art and Christianity itself can be properly understood only if separated from their historical expression, which was limited by the primitive technology of earlier times, and mapped onto a theology of abundance, which Eaton interpreted as the significance of the miracle of the loaves and fishes (“A Businessman” 11).

The Little Churches’ glass walls, birdsong, and flowers reappear as distinctive features of the Philip Johnson-designed Crystal Cathedral (1980), located south of Los Angeles in Garden Grove. Each year at the all-glass, bird- and bloom-filled Cathedral, a professional cast re-enacts a version of the Passion consonant with a buoyant faith in a “Christ that smiles and loves you and me.” Robert Schuller, a televangelist and apostle of positive thinking who began his preaching career by converting a drive-in theatre to a drive-in church on Sunday mornings, celebrates a “Jesus [who] is kind and wise. He heals. He makes many people happy by loving them and telling them that they can have anything they want if they only believe. And he finally triumphs over a tragic end” (Linton 13). But this Jesus discreetly refrains from implicating us in his death. Sin and absolution are no more part of Schuller’s story than they are of Eaton’s or Barton’s; all three sever the connection between Calvary and human culpability. Instead of reminding us of our destiny and duty, this version of the Passion presents Christ as another salesman for immortality. The Last Supper, Eaton noted, is the very type of the Memorial Impulse, the “key to the motivating force back of cemetery activity” (Comemoral 7).

No doubt the sunny churches and cloudless religion explain why a more recent European visitor, Umberto Eco, found the Californian cemetery “undeniably more pleasant than ours in Italy.” At Forest Lawn, he suggests, “the eternity of art becomes a metaphor for the eternity of the soul, [as] the vitality of the trees and flowers becomes a metonymy of the vitality of the body that is victoriously consumed underground to give new lymph to life” (56). Yet the aura of the masterwork survives the process of “exact reproduction” no better than it does the seriality of mechanical reproduction, even when the marble for both sculptures is quarried in the same place and the copy preserves the original’s significant flaws. What distinguishes these reproductions from the contents of the other shrines of the “Absolute Fake” that comprise Eco’s Californian Travels in Hyperreality is the context of display. Knott’s Berry Farm or the Hollywood Wax Museum reduces art to kitsch. The funerary landscape, by contrast, lends its gravitas to whatever is displayed there; faux Michelangelos and genuine Cataldis or Cambis all absorb the aura of the sacred grounds. David and the other Michelangelo sculptures lend their prestige to the recent academic work, while the presence of the Italian originals invite us to overlook the difference between originals and copies. Indeed, amidst reminders of the body’s brief duration, the desire to believe in art’s conquest of time allows one to repress the distinction between the sculpture infused with “the vitality of its creator” (64) and its technologically mediated double, which in turn helps one to repress the analogous dissimilarity between the once-human body and the so-lifelike corpse.

In pointing out this weightlessness of Forest Lawn art and architecture, I am far from implying that Forest Lawn was in the interwar period an early postmodern landscape. Quite the opposite. Eaton’s anxiety about the pace of cultural change, the transition from the certain world of his boyhood, shaped by religious and patriotic traditions that were very much part of his family history led him to venerate certain works of art and certain sites that were the icons and holy lands of that cultural order. Seeking to graft that ethos onto the very different landscape of Southern California, Eaton displaced it instead into the temporal void of the simulacrum – not by design, but as the unintended issue of the art of commercial promotion and the promotion of cultural anti-modernism in the modern memorial-park.

Notes
1 The quoted passages are part of “The Builder’s Creed,” which is prominently displayed in Forest Lawn memorial-parks and its literature. Throughout the text, the following abbreviations are used for Forest Lawn publications: FLAG, Forest Lawn Art Guide and Interpretations; FLMP, Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks; KMRW, The Kindlier, More Reverent Way; LC, The Little Churches of Forest Lawn; PFL, Pictorial Forest Lawn; SLSW, The Story of “The Last Supper” Window.

Eaton’s claim to have invented the memorial-park plan is open to dispute. The Builder’s Creed cites New Year’s Day, 1917; in 1954, Eaton claimed it “was taking form in my mind as early as 1913” (Comemoral 56). Others in the funeral industry were also writing on memorial parks in this period; see Blaney and Sloane 160–61.

2 St. Johns’s autobiography takes its title from Barton’s encomium for the memorial-park (Barton “Introduction”). The miracles she recounts are: the hand of Destiny that led Eaton to Forest Lawn (99, 113), the woman whose rendition of “Home, Sweet Home,” defused a standoff between Eaton and the I.W.W. at the Nevada mine (71, 74), Ann Eaton’s untutored eye for art (183), the growth in Forest Lawn of trees not suited to the area (212), the survival of a reproduction of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Christus through the Second World War (281, 283) and “assist[s]” from Moses and St. Francis during Eaton’s first art-shopping trip to Italy.

3 Among other theatrics, Kevin Starr records (142) how, “dressed as a USC football player, [McPherson] preached on carrying the ball for Christ. Entering the Temple on a motorcycle in a policeman’s uniform, she placed sin under arrest and urged her audience not to speed to ruin. Prodding with a pitchfork, she chased the Devil from the stage.”

4 Eaton’s actions and the response from other sectors of the funeral industry led to Eaton filing suit against embalmers to secure a license to direct funerals (Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association, Inc. v. State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors of the State of California) and another suit against local funeral directors who had conspired to impugn Forest Lawn (W.L. Pollard v. Forest Lawn Memorial Park Association, Inc.).

5 Dawes, the banker, railroad man, general, vice president, and Nobel Prize winning architect of the Dawes Plan was ambassador to the Court of St. James when Eaton went hunting for pictures of the kirk in Glencairn. His Nobel medal and other memorabilia are displayed in the Forest Lawn Museum.

6 The post-war Little Churches are All-American: Boston’s Old North Church; St. George's Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where George Washington, John Paul Jones, and James Madison were vestrymen; and Old St. John's in Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry demanded liberty or death.

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