Lessons from Cemetery Design
To be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it takes more than just being old. These historic sites undergo a thorough process of researching, writing and reviewing. But the deciding factor has to do with how it stands out in the history of the region or the nation.
Io LandArch recently completed the successful nomination of Leavitt’s Mortuary and Aultorest Memorial Park in Ogden, which was added to the National Register in April! As we worked on the nomination, the designation changed from historic site to historic district, due to the number of historical features.
What is now Leavitt’s Mortuary & Aultorest Memorial Park was originally two separate cemeteries. The first was the Mountain View Cemetery, founded in 1884. Almost half a century later, in 1929, the Mount Ogden Memorial Park opened on the adjacent property. The unique mausoleum first opened there in 1930. All of these entities were combined under the Aultorest Memorial Park name and new ownership in 1946.
What Makes It Unique?
To many who drive by on 36th Street, it might seem like just another cemetery. But its story parallels the changes in our collective perception about death and the landscape. Also, it was the first in the area to follow nationwide design movements, on the separate occasions. These include the Rural Cemetery Movement, Memorial Park Movement and Community Mausoleum Movement.
An Escape from the City
The former Mountain View Cemetery makes up the western portion of the Aultorest historic district. When the Mountain View Cemetery began accepting burials in 1884, the only other major cemetery in the area was Ogden City Cemetery. Mountain View became the preferred cemetery for those who were of religious denominations other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was also one of the first places in the area to follow the Rural Cemetery Movement, which began in Boston in the 1830s.
During a period of industrial growth, factories and mills popped up all over the Northeastern United States. As workers left the farms to take these new jobs, city populations rose rapidly. Many lived crammed into buildings and worked 10- to 14-hour days. They began to miss the serenity, access to fresh air and exercise that they left in the countryside.
These growing cities led to growing cemeteries with little to no open space. In Boston, the water and air became badly polluted and foul smells emanated from the derelict graveyards. Monuments were vandalized and coffins were looted, often leaving the bodies exposed.
When city officials failed to come up with a solution, a group of citizens took it upon themselves to fix the problem. Led by doctor and gardener Jacob Bigelow, the group developed plans for a new cemetery outside the city. They purchased 72 acres of farmland and transformed it into a scenic landscape with forests, ponds and wetlands.
It opened as Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831. As the only well-manicured, natural space around, the cemetery grounds became a popular destination for Boston residents and even tourists who wanted to escape from the dark, dingy cities. By the 1850s, there was even a streetcar line that stopped at the cemetery gate.
Mount Auburn also reflected a shift in the perception of the dead and their relation to the living. There was a new emphasis on families, who could now purchase large burial lots to keep the graves of several generations together. Plot owners could add any kind of monument or even above-ground tombs, if they could afford it. As these types of cemeteries grew in popularity across the country, they became some of the first public recreational spaces, leading to the introduction of public parks.
Old plot map of Mountain View Cemetery in Ogden from the records of Leavitt’s Morturary.
Mountain View Cemetery was placed in the middle of farmland, away from Ogden’s city center. Instead of grid-based paths, Mountain View had curved paths and drives, with an emphasis on natural aesthetics. It was once described as having been designed in “the most elaborate manner to beautify this last resting place of departed loved ones with shrubs, artificial lakes, flower beds, together with porters, lodges, chapels, vaults, mausoleums, etc.,” and with “fine carriage roads,” and “an easy driving surface.” Today, the area has retained many of these features, with relatively minimal changes.
A New Vista
In 1913, the Memorial Park Movement began with the opening of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Similar to the Rural Cemetery Movement, the focus was on pastoral views and curving pathways. But this took it a step further by using only flat grave markers that didn’t extend above ground level. This greatly changed the overall look and feel of the space. Without the large headstones of various styles and forms, the grounds become more like a scenic park. The in-ground headstones also made it much easier to maintain the grounds, therefore making burial plots more affordable. Another difference was the emphasis on automobile circulation over pedestrian circulation, a common element of 20th century design.
The first to follow this movement was the Mount Ogden Memorial Park, directly to the east of Mountain View. It opened in 1929 and soon the name was changed to Aultorest. The differences in the two movement styles make it easy to tell it apart from the former Mountain View section to the west.
Looking northwest across the memorial park.
Aultorest was also an early adopter of a trend to include all related services in one location. For example, the mortuary, crematory, funeral chapel and interment grounds would be combined to cut down on the need for transportation of the deceased and to offer more affordable services.
When the two cemeteries merged in 1946, it was led by James Harbertson, who was a colleague of Hubert Eaton, the founder of Forest Lawn in California. The two developed this idea together and Aultorest opened their on-site mortuary just a few months before Forest Lawn opened theirs.
More Options for More People
Aultorest Mausoleum in 1946. Photo courtesy of Leavitt’s Mortuary.
Arguably the most distinct feature of the historic district is the 1930 mausoleum. This was part of yet another nationwide movement – the Community Mausoleum Movement. Before this, mausoleums were only built by and for wealthy families. Community mausoleums made above-ground interment a viable option for the general public and required far less land.
The Aultorest Mausoleum is the earliest example of such a place in Weber County and the surrounding area. It was one of the last to be designed by Cecil E. Bryan, who was at the forefront of the movement and designed more than 80 mausoleums in 17 states.
A Living Connection to History
Many of the sites listed on the National Register have often been converted to other uses over time. But here, the burial grounds and mausoleum have continuously been used for the original functions. The respective movements and design styles are still represented well, showing how society’s treatment of the deceased has evolved over the past two centuries. It remains a place where we can learn about history by personally visiting the place, rather than just reading about it.
That’s what makes the National Register of Historic Places so important. We can see how pieces of the past survive, how they develop, what works and what doesn’t. Then we can use those lessons to improve the future.
Many Stories Remain Untold
Just as with Aultorest, there are many other stories waiting to be told. It doesn’t have to be as complex as the Aultorest Historic District. It may be a home where an influential person in history once lived or a building or landscape where something notable occurred. We work with Evalogue.Life to thoroughly research your property and with the State Historic Preservation Office to submit the paperwork to the National Park Service. If you think you have a site that might deserve a spot on the National Registry, let’s talk.
Comparison views of Aultorest Memorial Park in the 1940s and today.