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Last Rites: America's Most Expensive Cemeteries
Tom Van Riper, 10.26.07, 1:15 PM ET
Just down the freeway, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park's locations in Hollywood Hills and Glendale, a family mausoleum in a prime location costs up to $825,000. But a basic plot, complete with casket and various services, can be had for $8,000. Created in 1906 by Hubert Eaton, and now expanded to seven locations in the area, Forest Lawn is known for perfectly manicured grounds and a topography that tucks grave markers into hillsides in such a way as to make them virtually invisible to the naked eye from a distance. It was a first of its kind that still endures.
"Eaton wanted to create a view that celebrates life," says Sherri Hauer, Forest Lawn's merchandising manager. Famous Hollywood plots at Forest Lawn's various locations include those of Ricky Nelson, Rod Steiger, Bette Davis and Lucille Ball.
Other top cemeteries: Houston's Glenwood Cemetery, established in 1871, offers plots starting at $7,000 and Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, where you can rest your bones for $5,635.
Don't expect prices to come down. Though technically real estate, unrelenting demand helps cemeteries avoid the kind of market swings afflicting housing right now. About 2.4 million people in the U.S. die each year, with most buying property beforehand, according to Bob Ward, founder of Finalrestingplace.com, a Web site that provides a secondary market for cemetery plots. Also keeping prices high: Family purchases of burial plots and funeral services aren't done rationally, given the stress levels involved.
"People worry that they did the right thing, not 'Did we spend too much money?,' " says Ward, who thinks the lack of new cemetery building will keep prices rising for the foreseeable future.
Still, more families are skipping full burials in favor of cremations, a much less expensive formula for laying a loved one to rest. Cremations account for over 30% of all funeral services in the U.S., according to the Neptune Society, a Florida-based company that specializes in the service.
In Arizona, Hawaii and California, among other states, the cremation rate is over 50%. In addition to cost, lifestyle changes that have made Americans more mobile and spread out are also driving the trend. Local cemeteries don't make as much sense for families that aren't so dug in anymore, so to speak.
But if you want to die with the best of them, New York's famous 1800s-era Woodlawn and Green-Wood cemeteries are tough to beat, and continue to command big premiums. Green-Wood, the Brooklyn-based cemetery known for its elegant tombs, charges as little as $1,500 for a basic plot. A private mausoleum, though, can go for up to $300,000.
Woodlawn, in the Bronx, gets a flat $200 per square foot for basic plots, or $4,800 for a double-depth gravesite for two. Premium space for a family mausoleum can run to $1.5 million. That's just for the land--the mausoleum means a separate bill from an independent company. Permanent neighbors will include old New York business families like the Belmonts and Woolworths.
Both were modeled after Mt. Auburn Cemetery, built in 1831 in Cambridge, Mass., the first American cemetery in a park-like setting. It was based on a European model that came into vogue when urban and industrial growth rendered smaller graveyards obsolete.
"[It's] the granddaddy of them all," says Patricia Brooks, author of several books on famous cemeteries. With proximity to Boston Harbor, Harvard and MIT, it remains one of the most exclusive and most expensive. Still, $3,500 to spend eternity alongside Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Cabot Lodge? Not bad.
In Pictures: America's Most Expensive Cemeteries
(Click through to see all)
Basic burial plot: $7,000
Premium space: up to $25,000
Houston's first professionally designed cemetery, Glenwood's rolling hills make it look more East Coast than prairie country. The cemetery, home to the remains of big Texas oilmen like Texaco founder Joseph Cullinan, is developing 20 new acres of targeted for upscale burial prices. Management expects those future sites to fetch $100,000 and up.
Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park
Basic burial plot: starts at $5,635
Estates (premium space): $45,000 (going rate in secondary market online)
Bigwigs interred at Hillcrest include oilman H. L. Hunt, sports legends Mickey Mantle and Tom Landry, and U.S. Sen. John Tower.
Basic burial plot: $4,800
Mausoleum: up to $1.5 million
One of the East Coast originals, Woodlawn is the final resting place of prominent New Yorkers like George M. Cohan, F. W. Woolworth and Oliver and Alva Belmont. The $1.5 million price tag for an elaborate mausoleum, some of which include Tiffany windows, is just for the land. The construction bill from the monument company is separate
Basic burial plot: starts at $1,800
Premium mausoleum: $500,000
Kenisco's immaculate grounds include a man-made lake, big tombs and elaborate mausoleums. The cemetery lies right on the spot, where, in 1780, American patriots tracked down British Major John Andre, the officer who plotted with Benedict Arnold to surrender West Point to the British. Famous permanent residents include David Sarnoff, Danny Kaye, Tommy Dorsey and Lou Gehrig.
Basic burial plot: $1,515
Community Mausoleum: up to $27,800
Private Mausoleum site: up to $300,000
Another old original that gets high marks for elegant tombs and well-managed grounds. Characters of old New York counted among the 560,000 interred include mobsters Joey Gallo and Albert Anastasia, plus political kingmaker William "Boss" Tweed.
Basic burial plot: $2,600 to $4,000
Family estate lot: up to $120,000
Graceland holds all the movers and shakers of old Chicago, including George Pullman and Cyrus McCormick. The 119 acres include a major renovation to the chapel that's expected to be completed by 2009
Mt. Auburn Cemetery
Basic burial plot: $3,500
Premium plot: up to $500,000
The big price range hinges on location--shade, water view and prominent neighbors like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Henry Cabot Lodge have huge impacts on cost. The granddaddy of them all, Mt. Auburn, stands as a mid-19th century U.S. version of the European model. Some might call it the first real cemetery, as opposed to graveyard, built just outside city limits during a period of urbanization that restricted city space. Management just invested $3 million on a 400-foot wide memorial wall, designed to replace individual tombstones to mark the next wave of burial sites.
Basic burial plot: $4,510
This landmark of the old south has just six space plots left at a single price. Previously called Evergreen, Bonaventure gravesites overlook the water from what used to be a plantation. Lined with Spanish moss trees, the cemetery gained fame from its inclusion in the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
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