October Dawn at Crown Hill

A murder of crows, typographers, a homocidal general and creepy statues

Dead plant in front of the gothic chapel- rather poetic, right?

As I drove up to the imposing gothic gates of crown hill at 8:00 October 28th, the sun had barely crept over the horizon. Driving into the woods right behind the gate, I was a little apprehensive about this assignment- sure, I like talking about old dead Vice-Presidents, but will the Echo’s audience be interested?

A dead Vice-President

As the car stopped and I got out by the chapel, I immediately turned my head to see a massive murder of crows soar overhead. Perhaps it was a bad omen for me, or for this story. Regardless, I set off to find some dead people, preferably interesting ones.

Murder of crows- best group name ever.

First on my list was Vice President Fairbanks, but I was quickly sidetracked by a set of identical tombs, all clustered around a single monument reading “Indiana Typographical Union.” What was this- some sort of mass grave? No, as some later research revealed. Back before “right to work” laws destroyed the strength of unions, one of the things they guaranteed for all workers was a decent funeral and a plot of land to be buried.  Each of these individual tombs is a sort of monument to the common man- no more must he be buried in a paupers grave, but in a place of honor next to generals and vice presidents.

After that little digression, I came upon what is in my opinion the most impactful sight in the whole cemetery.  Rows upon rows of white graves stand in solemn lines, as if still standing in formation. They are the final resting places for soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam. 

Reminds me a little of Arlington.

Buried among these soldiers is a former governor of Indiana. Oliver Morton was the Civil War governor of Indiana, who is remembered for his uncompromising stance on support for the Union. Even back then, Indiana was a fairly southern state, and he had to fight viciously against people in the southern half of the state who sympathized with the confederacy. He said his entire purpose as governor wasto denounce treason and uphold the cause of the Union.” He also leaned a bit on the paranoid side, and Lincoln called him “a good fellow, but at times he is the skeeredest person I know.” At his death, he was buried in an unassuming grave among the soldiers who aided in the fight for his beloved union, but his supporters thought that he deserved a bigger monument, and constructed the huge bust which glared down on me as I photographed it.

His eyes seem to follow you.

Across the path, I came across another civil war figure, albeit a more interesting one. Jefferson Davis: not the president of the confederacy, just a random guy from Indiana who happened to have the same name and fight against Jefferson Davis. A rising star in the union army, his rapid rise in rank was stopped when he murdered his commanding officer, General William Nelson, after Nelson personally insulted Davis. Normally, a soldier who did this would be hung, but due to the lack of experienced generals he was released and returned to duty. He never was promoted ever again, and after the war he became the commander of the department of Alaska, which basically the American equivalent of exile to Siberia.

Rather unfortunately named, don’t you think?

I next came to the grave of Mr. Richard Gatling, inventor of the gatling gun. Unless you’re a 19th century weaponry fan, I don’t really know what to say about him. He basically invented the first machine gun.

Probably the doctor responsible for the most deaths ever. (He had an M.D.)

Driving a little further, I came upon the statue of  Ella McGinnis. She was a young girl who died of lung congestion, whose family wanted to contribute some sort of lasting monument. First, the famous sculptor Lorado Taft presented a sculpture, but that was refused. They eventually erected this eerie statue, made in Italy, and is supposed to represent the fleeting nature of life. There is a rather sweet tradition of leaving one flower in her arms.

Very lifelike- maybe a little too much.

Up next: The Vonnegut family plot. Here we see the Vonnegut dynasty of architects and – wait, where’s Kurt? I know he’s not in Crown Hill as he said Crown Hill got my sister Allie. It didn’t get Jane. It won’t get my big brother Bernie. It won’t get me.” Where is he buried? I googled desperately, and finally found myself at 5 a.m. on a thread on r/vonnegut on Reddit, in which I learned that according to “Vonnegut lore” Kurt’s burial place is hidden, and nobody knows where it is. Who knew Reddit could be so informative?

Personally, I think he may have been cremated.

Here is a rather spooky statue. Who was Brown? Where is his or her head? Beats me, but it was definitely spooky enough for the season.

I could loose my head if I continue to see statues like these…

What’s the matter with Harrison? He’s alright (and dead). Thus goes the campaign song for our Hoosier president (not the dead part), buried under a mass produced grave at the foot of the Crown, which is the hill in the middle of crown hill. Harrison is one of those presidents who no one remembers, mostly due to a lack of war during his administration, but is actually a pretty cool guy. You should look him up.

His wife, buried next to him, is also facinating- she founded the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Now, the final leg: up the hill! First, to a very distinctive grave. It has no date, no name: only the last name Irsay and a horseshoe. Now who could that be? A note to Bob Irsay: Not everyone is a colts fan. You could at least do us the favor of putting your name on the grave.

I actually had to ask a friend who this was.

Climbing the final stretch here, I come to a grave that sticks out. A very modern grave stands up with a very distinctive name: Eiteljorg. Mr. Harrison Eitljorg was a businessman who just happened to collect African and western art and donated it all to museums. Anyway, keep climbing.

He wins the title of most unspellable name.

Finally I reach the peak of the crown. For the highest point in Indianapolis, it’s actually sort of disappointing. I didn’t expect a mountain, but at least a tall hill, not this bump. Here before me sits the tomb of the Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley. I think his poetry is very unappreciated, and I was glad to see him remembered so well. The little boy reading the book is a nice touch.

“I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead. He is just away.” -James. W. Riley

Looking down from the Crown, I look down on the panorama of the city. The downtown skyline rises up from the dip it is built in, and- it’s 9:02. I’m late! Maybe they’ll be time to wax poetic later- not when I have math first block.

This is sort of a low highest point in the city- you can really see how flat Indy is.