The Homestead Blog

Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.

Beyond the Grave

How one dealt with the death of a friend or loved one changed dramatically during the time of the Workman and Temple families. In the 1830s, individuals were responsible for almost all aspects of burying a loved one. Locally, there was no such thing as paying for a grave plot and hiring an undertaker. By 1930, the norm was quite different. The majority of people were dying in hospitals, not homes, and a funeral director was hired to take care of all of the details. On October 25 and 26, the Homestead will host its annual weekend of Beyond the Grave tours, focusing on these dramatic changes.

The experiences of the Workman and Temple families provide us with many opportunities to explore issues related to death and dying. In the early 1850s, the Workmans established El Campo Santo, a small pioneer graveyard that survives today as part of the museum. William Workman’s brother, David, who died in a sheep-herding accident near today’s Stockton, is the first known burial in the cemetery. According to a rare newspaper account in the Los Angeles Star, his funeral was quite impressive, with over 200 people in attendance. It began inside the Workman House where the Los Angles Brass Band and about 50 Masons (of which both Workman brothers were members) led a procession to the gravesite.

After marching to the opposite end of the house from that in which they had formed, they entered the large room containing the corpse. The coffin was decorated with emblems and regalia of the deceased, who was a Royal Arch mason,… Upon returning to the house, Brother W. Workman extended the hospitalities of his mansion to about two hundred ladies and gentlemen. At a late hour of the afternoon the company bade a respectful farewell of the mourning family, and returned to their respective homes.

St. Nicholas chapel

St. Nicholas chapel, destroyed by fire in the early 1900s, was a notable feature of El Campo Santo cemetery.

By the time the Temple family established their residence at the Homestead in the 1920s, pioneer graveyards like El Campo Santo were far from the norm. Starting with Evergreen Cemetery in the late 1870s, Los Angeles saw a great change in cemetery management and design, and in the 1920s, this professionalization reached a whole new level. The concept of a “Memorial Park” emerged in Glendale; Forest Lawn Memorial Park was the first of its kind in the nation, with many other cemeteries following its model.

Starting in 1913, Hubert Eaton began to transform the struggling Forest Lawn into more of a suburban community that was orderly, attractive, and easy to maintain. He gave incentives to people who agreed to use flush-to-the-ground markers, which made upkeep of the lawns easier and cheaper, and turned Forest Lawn into a one-stop shopping center for all funeral needs, from tombstones to flowers.

Eaton found traditional cemeteries to be gloomy and morbid and called them, “…unsightly stoneyards, full of…depressing customs…” He wanted the living to have more than death to focus on when they visited Forest Lawn, so he began to acquire reproductions of great works of art. He also constructed chapels on the grounds where couples could be married and children christened, and even added a museum. What he ended up creating, in many ways, was a tourist attraction that was good for business.

Come and explore this rich history with us on October 25 and 26. Tours depart at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 p.m., and will include appearances by Victorian-era undertaker Mordechai Mudd and Madame Ludmilla the Medium! Space on each tour is limited. Admission (including refreshments!) is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students. The tour is recommended for ages 9 and up. The Homestead is located at 15415 East Don Julian Road in the City of Industry. Call (626) 968-8493 or visit our website for more information.

Special thanks to Alexandra Rasic, director of public programs, for contributing this post.

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