After returning to Omaha from Wahoo, it was time to focus on the city’s largest and best known cemetery: Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The cemetery is located a good bit north of the where Christi lives, so it took us a little while to get there.
Forest Lawn opened a bit later than Wyuka (in Lincoln), established in 1885 by 10 men. At 346 acres, it is a non-profit cemetery.
The cemetery web site shares the history of Forest Lawn’s crematory, something I rarely see included. It notes that Forest Lawn performed the first cremation in Nebraska in 1913.
Built and designed by the Jarvis Engineering Company of Boston, the firebrick of Forest Lawn’s crematorium was molded from Western Pennsylvania clay. The large retorts (cremation chamber into which the body is placed) were originally oil fueled but were later converted to gas. The original retorts were retired from service in February 1996.
Forest Lawn’s office is thoroughly modern and welcoming. They didn’t have a detailed guide book like Wyuka’s, but they did provide a map that highlighted the locations of a number of famous Nebraskans’ graves. They also give tours if you call ahead of time to arrange one but as usual, we chose to explore on our own.
One of the more modern monuments we saw on the way to the chapel was for Jack K. Harvey. I couldn’t find out much about him online beyond the fact he had spent most of his life in Omaha and died at the age of 65. But the stained glass cross was definitely unique.
Forest Lawn’s chapel is located on the far east side of the property. Architect John McDonald and general contractor Walter Peterson were responsible for its design and construction. McDonald designed several Omaha buildings, including the home of George and Sarah Josylyn, which became known as Joslyn Castle. It still stands today.
On December 27, 1911, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Nebraska laid the cornerstone pf the chapel, which held a copy of the proceedings of the last meeting and history of the grand lodge of Nebraska Masons.
Unfortunately, the chapel was locked up when we were there and nobody was around to ask to open it for us.
From pictures I saw on the cemetery web site, the inside is quite ornate.
In the main auditorium is a frieze in high relief pure gold, designed in two-fold form, so it can be read upon entering and leaving the chapel; “Until the day break and shadows flee away”.
The lower level of the chapel contains the original crematory (no longer in use) and 50 glass-front door niches for cremated remains. A columbarium is also attached to the lower level with 24 temporary receiving vaults (which are no longer used).
The first funeral service held in the chapel was Mr. A. J. Manderson, a railroad worker and brother to General Charles F. Manderson on September 15, 1914. The first wedding service was held there in June 1984. It seats 75 guests and is available for other events such as family reunions and parties.
Our trip was not all sight seeing. We did have a mission to locate a few graves for Find a Grave photo requests, having gotten the locations from the office staff. Once our work was done, we drove up toward the center of the cemetery where the larger, older monuments were located. After getting out and wandering around a bit, I caught sight of this fellow.
This is the Elk Lodge #39 monument at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
This large and majestic elk statue is perched atop a hillside boulder. Buried around it are various Elk Lodge members who wanted to be near each other. Apparently, several cemeteries across the country have one of these “Elks Rest” areas where members may be buried. Omaha’s Elk Lodge #39 installed the statue in 1922.
Forest Lawn has so many mausoleums, I’m sure I didn’t see them all. But I tried to look through the windows of as many as I could. The Jacobs mausoleum was one of the first and I found myself incredibly curious about the family.
The first person to be interred in the Jacobs mausoleum was John G. Jacobs, Jr., the son of John G. Jacobs, Sr. and his wife, Lillian. A native of Pennsylvania, the elder Jacobs came to Omaha sometime in the 1870s and became an undertaker. He eventually opened his own mortuary and was quite successful.
According to the U.S. Census, John G. Jacobs, Sr. was still single in 1880. But by 1883, he had married Lillian and she gave birth to a son, John G. Jacobs, Jr., in early 1883. John Sr. died at some point later that year and I haven’t been able to locate his grave. Since Forest Lawn didn’t open until 1885, he is likely buried elsewhere.
Lillian married one of John Sr.’s business partners, M.O. Maul, and he took over managing the mortuary. By 1910, M.O. Maul had died, leaving Lillian a widow once again.
John Jr. grew up and attended two different military academies. Upon graduation, he became a stenographer at his father’s former business while also managing a chicken ranch. He was well liked around Omaha and having inherited his father’s fortune, was headed for a bright future.
Sadly, according to the Omaha Bee, John Jr. became ill with some kind of stomach ailment and died on January 22, 1910 at the age of 26. It must have been a devastating blow to his mother.
The Jacobs mausoleum has a dog’s face etched into the front of the bronze door. It took me quite by surprise, having never seen such a thing. I don’t know if it’s the face of a much beloved canine that belonged to John Jr. but that the only guess I have.
Not long after John Jr.’s death, construction was underway on the new University of Nebraska’s Omaha campus. Lillian donated a piece of land for construction of a gymnasium to honor her son. Jacobs Hall was a hub for campus activity for many years until the 1960s when it was torn down along with several older campus buildings.
I don’t know what happened to Lillian, she’s not buried with John Jr. at Forest Lawn. From records on Ancestry.com, I could see she had traveled a good bit after John Jr.’s death but the last mention of her is in the Omaha City Directory in 1923. She may have remarried, thus changing her name.
There’s a lot more to see at Forest Lawn but I’ll wait until next week to dive into those discoveries in Part II.