Guide to LA’s Cemeteries: Getting to Know the Ghosts of Hollywood Past
Silent film stars, murder mysteries, and the secrets behind LA’s most famous crypts.
Los Angeles may be youthful in comparison to metropolises like New York, Philadelphia, or Boston, but its designation as Tinsel Town means that there’s nowhere better to learn the history of Old Hollywood, including the secrets of beloved screen actors who have taken their final bow.
Keep reading for our guide to LA cemeteries, along with the stories of the Hollywood elite who rest within them, some of whom might otherwise be forgotten:
Built in 1899, the massive grounds of Hollywood Forever have cradled life as well as death: wandering peacocks, peahens, turtles, ducks, and geese also call the cemetery home.
Since 1999—with the exception of this year—the cemetery has hosted movie screenings every summer, inviting locals to picnic on a section of the Fairbanks Lawn (named after the silent actor Douglas Fairbanks) and enjoy evenings filled with live music and films projected onto the Cathedral Mausoleum. The Cathedral Mausoleum is the resting place of Alfred Hitchcock, Judy Garland, and several other members of Hollywood royalty.
Hollywood Forever is also the epicenter of activities that honor its residents. Though on hold this year, the annual Dia de Los Muertos commemoration is celebrated on two nights from November 1st and 2nd—the first “Day of the Innocents” is for the youth, while the second day is for the adults. For this traditionally Mexican holiday, participants decorate graves as a way of inviting their loved ones back to earth. Cemetery markers are dressed in colorful decor to celebrate the vibrant lives of those at rest. Marigolds, sugar skull calaveras, bread, wine, and other offerings are often placed upon graves for loved ones to feast on during their brief time back to earth.
Rockstar Johnny Ramone, actress and bombshell Jayne Mansfield, and voice actor Mel Blanc are also laid to rest here. Silent film star Florence Lawrence, the first person to have her name appear in movie titles, is buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds, while Gone With The Wind Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel has a special placard on the grounds as well. Lastly, there is a Toto statue to honor the beloved puppy from The Wizard of Oz.
Angelus-Rosedale was originally the Rosedale cemetery when it opened in 1884. Back then Los Angeles only had 28,000 residents and the cemetery was initially for members of government, including former mayor George Alexander; and David Burbank, the founder of the city of Burbank. It serves as the first integrated cemetery in Los Angeles and one of the first around the country to adopt the lawn style.
While Hattie McDaniel did end up with a placard at her burial spot of choice at Hollywood Forever cemetery, because Hollywood Forever was segregated at the time she passed, she is buried at Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. Her underground neighbors include famous silent femme fatale Louise Glaum, jazz singer Ivie Anderson, and Chinese actress Anna May Wong, who was honored with a fictional role in Netflix’s recent Hollywood series.
There are also a couple of notable dead that ended up here for less than glamorous reasons. Mabel F. Maher Monohan died during a home invasion in 1953. The people responsible for her death were charged and one of her murderers, Barbara Graham, was one of the four women executed at San Quentin. Louise Preslar Peete, a serial killer who shot her three lovers, is also buried here.
Small Woodlawn Cemetery holds over a century of history. It originally opened in 1875 and served as a place for Spanish settlers to honor their dead, but was purchased by the city of Santa Monica in 1897 and now acts as the only municipal-owned and operated mortuary in the country.
Like its historic roots, the mausoleum is filled with Spanish influences. The outside features Spanish architecture and was built with granite and marble from Italy. Stained glass windows adorn the building, which is proclaimed to be one of the first public mausoleums in the state. Colorful tapestries by artist Hugo Ballin, who is also interred on the grounds here, line the walls of the mausoleum.
You will find a number of historically relevant folks buried on the grounds. Among the famous are history-making astronaut Sally Ride, Olympic light-heavyweight gold medal winner Hayes Edward “Big Ed” Sanders, and All-American League women’s baseball player, Faye Dancer.
Once upon another time, the dead were buried on their family properties. Mountain View started out that way in 1882 before making its official journey to becoming a cemetery. The Giddings family, now over a hundred years later, still owns and operates the cemetery property.
The Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum is considered one of the most prestigious in the country and was created by Frank Lloyd Wright-mentored architect Cecil E. Bryan, who went on to build 80 mausoleums around the country. The stained glass windows that cast rainbow light across the mausoleum halls were created by Judson Studios.
While several famous folks are buried on the grounds themselves, several TV shows and scenes were also filmed here. The Office, Six Feet Under, Seinfeld, and even Desperate Housewives all filmed on these grounds.
Forest Lawn is a chain of cemeteries throughout Southern California, with its first location opening in Glendale in 1906. Originally segregated and operating as a nonprofit, Dr. Hubert Eaton and C. B. Sims immediately began changing the aesthetics of the grounds when they embarked on a contract with the cemetery In 1912. In 1917, Eaton took control and added his personal footprint there.
Eaton had a vision to transform cemetery life into something joyous for people to see. His Christian faith is apparent in the art he chose to decorate the grounds, which includes several reproductions of famous works such as da Vinci’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s David and Moses statues. The largest permanently mounted religious painting called The Crucifixion by Polish artist Jan Styka is also at the Glendale location.
The Hollywood Hills Forest Lawn location holds celebrity lore and a bit of magic among its history and characters. In the ‘90s, famed magicians Penn & Teller did a card trick called “The Eternal Trick” whose final result can be found on a cenotaph located on the grounds. The cenotaph was not easy to obtain, as Penn & Teller initially tried to get multiple placements around the country before landing at Forest Lawn in the same cemetery that hosts late comedian Lucille Ball.
Famously flamboyant Liberace is laid to rest here in the Hollywood Hills cemetery with a white towering monument. The grave of the original creator of Batman, Bob Kane can also be found in the Hollywood Hills location. Roy Disney, brother to Walt Disney is buried here, while Walt Disney is buried in the Glendale location. Famous Stooge Larry Fine is also buried in the Glendale location.
Inglewood Park Cemetery was founded in 1905. Back then the cemetery only hosted a few funerals per year; a number that, as the city has grown, has followed suit.
During the early days of the cemetery, funerals were held via horse drawn carriages. Years later, electric funeral cars like the Pacific Railroad Society Descanso funeral car (now available to view in the Pacific Railroad Museum) helped people attend ceremonies. These funeral cars serviced several cemeteries in East LA, including Rosedale and Evergreen Cemeteries.
Literature is a theme at this cemetery, and one of its newest projects includes The Gardens of Shakespeare, a landscaped area that’s divided into small sections with each corresponding to a flower or plant mentioned somewhere in the works of playwright William Shakespeare. In another area, you’ll find a water fountain that takes its name from the poem the Land of Nod, which was written by author Robert Louis Stevenson.
In non-COVID times, the cemetery hosts several events during the year, including jazz concerts, estate planning seminars, and of course, an annual Dia de los Muertos celebration. This year, they are hosting a contest for photos of the cemetery called The Soul of the City of Angels. Folks are encouraged to take photos of the grounds and use minimal effects to showcase the cemeteries stone angels found throughout the property.
Some famous cemetery residents include pinup icon Bettie Paige, the treasured Ella Fitzgerald, the late great entertainer Ray Charles, singer Jewel Akens, and many more.
The cemetery is also known for historic baseball graves. Several famous baseball players are laid to rest here including Chicago White Sox player Earl Battey, Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Al Cowens of the Kansas City Royals, and Hall of Famer Samuel Earl “Wahoo Sam” Crawford of the Cincinnati Reds.
Local historians Richard Schave and Kim Cooper at Esotouric Tours have regaled about the hidden treasure in Compton known as Angeles Abbey Cemetery. Built in 1923, the cemetery is a survivor of the famous 1933 Long Beach Earthquake.
Walking on the grounds is a colorful sight from the 1920s. It features Spanish, Byzantine, and Moorish architectural elements, with mosque-like roofs, ornately carved gateways, and gated arch windows will make you wonder if you are still in Los Angeles. Those looking with a careful eye will also find masonic touches throughout its cryptic corridors.
One of the few famous folks buried on these grounds is actor-turned-dress designer Roland Drew. Drew was in a selection of films from the 20s to the 40s. Two of his biggest films were Hitler: Beast of Berlin in 1939 and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe in 1940.
What LA cemetery tour would be complete without Marilyn Monroe? Built in 1905, this Westwood cemetery (originally called Sunset Cemetery) hosts some of the most quintessential Hollywood royalty.
Marilyn’s story isn’t without its quirks and in 2017, when Playboy founder Hugh Hefner passed away, he kept his long-time promise to be buried next to his favorite film star. The LA Times reported that the magazine magnate spent $75,000 to secure his spot in Monroe’s mausoleum. Monroe’s grave is easily found from the red lipsticked kisses that fans frequently leave on the wall.
Some of Monroe’s neighbors include Farrah Faucett, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, and Grumpy Old Men stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. There are also several famous writers including Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, and Robert Bloch. Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa are buried on the grounds in unmarked graves.
Holy Cross Mortuary opened in 1939 to the delight of many Catholics as it came at a time when other Catholic cemeteries in the area were rapidly filling up. It was opened by the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego and is reserved only for Catholic burials.
Culver City might not be a space where folks around Los Angeles might think to go to look for celebrity graves, but three hundred famous people are laid to rest in this cemetery including actors, former government officials, famous journalists, murder victims, and even a vampire!
Actress Sharon Tate, victim of the tragic Manson Family slayings, is laid to rest in Holy Cross, along with journalist Robert O. Brown, who died covering the Jonestown Massacre. Bela Lugosi, the actor who played Count Dracula in the 1931 film, and Jean Acker (famously married to Rudolph Valentino before later living her truth as a lesbian) join John Candy, Bing Crosby, Rita Hayworth, and many more.
Evergreen cemetery has been around since 1877 and is the oldest nondenominational cemetery in Los Angeles, though it was initially segregated by ethnicity. There are separate sections for Black, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Jewish, and Armenian residents.
Since 1896, this cemetery has conducted annual burials for the unclaimed dead who reside on the grounds. This cemetery might not be on your radar if you’re looking for celebrities but perhaps it should be as the unclaimed buried here also deserve to be remembered.
Every year in December, the cremated ashes of the unclaimed dead are laid to final rest in this cemetery. Their ashes are scattered at a special public ceremony where they are remembered with an annual plaque which honors them. The local chapel at the cemetery has books with the names of these individuals which tell some of the stories of how they came to end up there. These analog books can be viewed year round with advance appointment and request.
A few famous stars also lay to rest next to the everyday characters of Los Angeles. Some of them include famous child actor from The Little Rascals Matthew Beard Jr., famous baseball player and manager James “Biz” Mackey (who played in the segregated Black league), and Chinese actor H.T. Tsiang.