Indiana contains over 100,000 cemeteries, graveyards, and burial grounds, and only a fraction of these graves have been documented (here’s a list in pdf). Luckily, we have technology on our side when it comes to documenting and viewing these relics of American history.
Twenty years ago, we could hardly imagine having access to such a treasure trove of high-resolution snapshots, beamed by satellite through the vacuum of space. I think our fascination stems from perspective. In these photos, we see the familiar in a completely unfamiliar way.
If you haven’t tried to checked out Google Earth Pro, I cannot recommend it enough*. It’s free, it’s easy to use, get it.
*I don’t get a kickback from Google.
The 100 Steps Cemetery: Clay County
Formally known as the Cloverland Cemetery, this 150-year-old cemetery is home to over 300 graves, many over a century old. Like thousands of other cemeteries in Indiana, the distance between the living and dead has become so tenuous that dark and gooey legends have grown from the 100 Steps Cemetery like mushrooms in the dark.
For some reason, this burial ground seems to attract the most legends. The most common one I share above, concisely recounted by a 3rd-generation German-American Hoosier in 1996.
The Hack Family Cemetery: St. John
This cemetery is the last resting place of the Hack family, the first settlers in St. John, Indiana. John Hack cleared land and built a 400-square foot church, a distillery for peach brandy, and a home. Then he battled his neighbors over religious minutiae for the rest of his life.
After he passed, his homestead became a family plot and the residents demolished the remaining structures. There only remains this tiny cemetery, left to nature for decades, then restored by a dedicated Eagle Scout in 2013.
If you want to know more, read “Tiny Graveyard, Huge History.“
Central State Hospital Cemetery: Indianapolis
Central State Hospital, once called Central State Hospital for the Insane, had thousands of patients by 1928, over 70 years after its construction. The hospital campus was a sprawling, ornate labyrinth of gardens, paths, and outbuildings, all orbiting the two primary facilities—one for males, one for females. The population of patients decreased as the costly buildings fell into disrepair.
By the early 1990s, amid rumors of abuse and neglect, the hospital closed. The cemetery was poorly marked and actually lost for a period of time. Although a handful of markers remain, most graves have no indication they are graves at all. Ghost hunters have a field day with that.
If you’d like to learn more about the Central State Hospital, read the oddly-titled “This Indianapolis Museum Features Brains Suspended in Formaldehyde.”
The Dollhouse Grave of Lova Cline: Arlington East Hill Cemetery, Arlington.
In 1908, a chronic affliction took the life of 6-year-old Lova Cline, a little girl an entire community adored. As a way of honoring his daughter’s memory, her father installed a large dollhouse—rumored to be her favorite toy during her short life—over the grave. Lova’s mother then filled it with some of her favorite toys. Eventually, the entire Cline family would share the family plot.
Despite some dastardly vandalism in the 1970s, the Arlington community now cares for the grave and dollhouse, going to great efforts to restore it. In the last century, Lova’s grave has become a symbol of the community’s history and unity.
If you’d like to know more, read “Lova Cline’s Memorial: Indiana’s OTHER Famous Dollhouse Grave.”
The Boone-Hutcheson Cemetery: Putnam County
Some records refer to it as the Boone Cemetery. Some say the Hutcheson Cemetery. Local historians have compromised and simply called it the Boone-Hutcheson Cemetery. Graves date as far back as 1812.
Although you won’t find Daniel Boone buried there (he’s buried in either Missouri or Kentucky…long story), you’ll find many of his relatives. Efforts to expand and renew this frontier cemetery have been successful, and those interested can even purchase a new plot.
The Grave of James Dean: Park Cemetery, Fairmount
It’s not hard to find James Dean’s grave stone in this Fairmount cemetery. It’s not because the cemetery is so small, but because Dean’s stone is the only one covered with flowers and memorabilia. It’s the only one that has a footpath worn through the grass from so many visitors.
It’s also the only gravestone covered in lipstick kisses.
James Dean produced only a handful of films in his short life, but the cult of personality surrounding the talented actor looms as large as ever. So many visitors have taken “souvenirs” of the original gravestone that it had to be replaced. A bronze bust of the actor disappeared only a week after being installed. Even hand-lettered signs giving visitors directions to the site were snatched up. It’s hard to believe that an actor that starred in three films and a handful of television episodes still inspires so much interest.
Plague Cemetery. Indianapolis, Indiana
The oldest cemetery in Indianapolis, established in 1821, sits in the middle of the congested IUPUI campus. Early documentation occasionally calls this site the “Burying Ground,” but more often it’s referred to as the Plague Cemetery. In 1821, Indianapolis was mostly swampland and marshes, and a wave of (probably) malaria wiped out the new settlers. They were hurriedly buried here, but no stones remain. A glossy boulder affixed with a memorial plaque marks the site today.