While Fort Worth is actually about 30 miles west of Dallas, many people consider the two as being very connected. Some people refer to it as the “Dallas/Fort Worth” area. So that’s why I’m including Greenwood Memorial Park & Mausoleum in this final post about our 2018 trip.
On our way to Greenwood, we briefly stopped at Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park to see only one grave. It’s the final resting place of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy and Dallas Police officer J.D. Tippit on November 22, 1963.
Oswald’s current marker is not the original. The first one had his full name and dates on it. That one was stolen by two teens in 1966. Police later found it and returned it to Oswald’s mother, who replaced the headstone with a much simpler marker. The story of what happened to that original marker (which still exists) is a worth reading.
History of Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum
The story of how Greenwood came to be is a bit complicated. The original 196-acre cemetery was dedicated in 1909 and owned by William Bailey. The Bailey family still owns it today and added onto it when 130-acre Mount Olivet Cemetery was purchased some years after that.
The entrance has replicas of statues of the Four Horses from St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and get a photo of them.
Find a Grave has about 65,000 burials/entombments recorded for Greenwood, although I am sure there are more than that.
On the day we visited, we limited our visit to the Mausoleum. The Greenwood Mausoleum by Harwell Hamilton Harris opened in 1961. It received an award of honor from the Texas Society of Architects. Artist Wilbert Verhelst created the artwork and fountains.
The Mausoleum at Greenwood has a similar overwhelming size of Dallas’ Sparkman-Hillcrest, with many hallways and courtyards. Because it was built in 1961, it has a definite mid-century feel to it. I prefer the style of older mausolea but it’s clear that a great deal of effort went into creating this one. It is not a gloomy or dark environment and features lot of light.
As is the case in many mausolea, Greenwood’s features niches for cremation ashes and space for full-body entombments.
So what made us want to stop at Greenwood? The main reason was to pay a visit to the final resting place of pianist Van Cliburn. He is arguably the most famous person entombed there.
Cliburn’s tomb is located in the Independence Chapel, Fort Worth’s first climate-controlled mausoleum chapel that was dedicated in 2010. It’s quite something to see when you walk into it.
Independence Chapel features the statues of several founding fathers, including Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams. Other statues are of Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, and Alexander Hamilton.
Birth of an Artist
Born on July 24, 1934 in Shreveport, La., Van Cliburn was the son of Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn and Harvey Lavan Cliburn Sr. At age 3, Van started began taking piano lessons from his mother, who had studied under Arthur Friedheim, a pupil of Polish composer Franz Liszt. When Van was six, his father, who worked in the oil industry, moved the family to Kilgore, Texas.
It was soon apparent that Cliburn was an exceptionally gifted musician. At 12, he won a statewide piano competition, which led to his debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He entered New York’s Juilliard School at age 17 and studied under Rosina Lhévinne, who trained him in the tradition of the great Russian romantics. At 20, Cliburn won the Leventritt Award and made his debut at Carnegie Hall.
The Texan Who Conquered Russia
But it was in April 1958 that Van Cliburn truly burst upon the world stage when he competed at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Cliburn’s performance at the competition finale of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on April 13 earned him a standing ovation lasting eight minutes. The 23-year-old’s obvious affinity for Russian music endeared him to the Russian audience as well.
When it was time to announce the winner, the judges felt obliged to ask permission of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give the first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Yes.” “Then give him the prize!” Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time such an honor has been given to a classical musician. The cover of Time magazine proclaimed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”
Instant fame ignited a career that included many historical achievements: the first Grammy for classical music; the first classical album to go triple platinum; record-breaking concert ticket sales at venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, Chicago’s Grant Park, and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. He performed for every U.S. President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, along with royalty and heads of state from around the world.
Cliburn returned to the Soviet Union on several occasions and his performances there were usually recorded and even televised. As of the last International Tchaikovsky Competition (2019), Van Cliburn is still the only American to win the competition in piano. Interestingly, only two native-born Americans have won the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in its 58 year history.
On August 27, 2012, Cliburn’s publicist announced that the pianist had advanced bone cancer. He died on February 27, 2013, at the age of 78. He was entombed in Greenwood Mausoleum’s Independence Chapel. His mother, Rilda, had already passed away in 1994. She is now entombed beside him.
After visiting Cliburn’s tomb, we spent a little more time walking around the Mausoleum. There are other famous folks entombed in the Mausoleum and outside in the cemetery. But we had plans to visit the stockyards in Fort Worth and see some other sites so we did not linger for long.
All in all, our visit to Dallas was wonderful. I would like to return at a time when it’s not over 100 degrees but it was still worth every minute. All the folks we met were kind and helpful. And we ate some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had!
I think a little piece of my own heart will remain in Dallas after this trip.