Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY, has been on my radar since 2014 when I went to Hartsdale's other famous burial space, America's first pet cemetery. I had intended to also walk to Ferncliff that day, but I spent more time at the pet cemetery than I had anticipated, and the route to Ferncliff didn't look too pedestrian-friendly. When my Uncle visited recently, he suggested that we take a day trip to Ferncliff to pay our respects to some of its celebrity residents, and I've never turned down an invitation to explore a cemetery.
Ferncliff isn't a traditional cemetery in the sense that it doesn't have upright headstones—outdoor graves are marked with flat markers—but the majority of its residents are housed in three large, multi-level mausoleums. The first one, just called Ferncliff Mausoleum (or the Cathedral of Memories), was built in 1927. In 1933 they began to operate a crematory and it's still very much an active cemetery—Ferncliff currently performs approximately 10% of all cremations in New York State.
Ferncliff is a beautiful, obviously well-maintained burial space, but I couldn't help but notice that a lot of the letters and numbers have fallen off over the years and don't seem to be replaced. It must be a budget choice—to do stick-on letters or have the information carved directly into the marble—but I appreciate whoever took matters into their own hands and augmented Alfred's dates with ballpoint pen.
We went to Fercliff in search of celebrities—Joan Crawford, in particular—and we stopped at the office for a map to help us. We mostly stayed in the Ferncliff Mausoleum and although the map had exact coordinates for each person, it was almost impossible to find our way around with out some help. We eventually deciphered the system enough to find everyone we were looking for, if sometimes only by accident.
There aren't a lot of contemporary celebrities buried here, but some of the notables include James Baldwin, Aaliyah, Malcom X, Ed Sullivan, and Thelonious Monk. Jim Henson, Nelson Rockefeller, John Lennon and Christopher Reeve were all cremated at Ferncliff, but are interred elsewhere. Unfortunately I came a few months too late to visit Judy Garland—at the request of her three children, Garland's remains were moved to California in June and reinterred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery (perhaps I'll visit her next week!).
Actively searching for a few key people helps direct any cemetery visit, but I also like the unexpected surprises you encounter just by wandering—some of my favorites were the Fish / Salmon pairing, the Baumanns and their kisses and Dr. Luigi Mottola's epitaph, "Let Us Talk."
280 Secor Road,
Hartsdale, NY 10530
Open daily, 9am-4pm
Take Metro North to Hartsdale and the cemetery is an 8-minute car ride away
(I don't recommend walking from the train station; the route is definitely not pedestrian-friendly).