The Most Famous Cemeteries In America

The real problem with life is that it always ends in death. In the United States, there were 3.4 million deaths in 2020, which is equivalent to 9,315 deaths a day or 6 to 7 deaths a minute (via the CDC). Each death causes grief, suffering, and a terrible vacancy in someone's family. Collectively, all those deaths also create a practical problem: what to do with 3.4 million bodies?

Fortunately, American families have at least 144,847 choices in the form of at least 144,847 cemeteries, according to data compiled from OpenStreetMap by visualization expert Joshua Stevens. That number doesn't include home burials, burials at sea, or the place where you spread grandpa's ashes, so really, there are infinite options. You can choose a traditional churchyard cemetery, a big urban cemetery, or a tree (via Better Place Forests) — you can even be mummified (via Atlas Obscura). Or, maybe you'd just like to be buried somewhere notable. After all, if you can't be famous, you can at least be buried somewhere famous, maybe even a few tombs down from a celebrity.

If you're planning your afterlife, here is a short list of some of the most famous cemeteries in the United States. Keep in mind, though, that "famous" is subjective. Some cemeteries are locally famous, some are famous for their quirks, some are famous for their occupants, and with 144,847 graveyards to choose from, many famous locations did not make this list.

Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC

Arlington National Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it both a graveyard and a popular tourist destination. And like most tourist destinations, it's not too hallowed to take your money (As of 2022, an official tour costs $17.95 a person if you'd rather explore the grounds by tram than by foot). Arlington attracts over 3 million visitors a year (via Arlington National Cemetery), so as final resting places go, it's not especially peaceful. 

According to the official Arlington brochure, the cemetery has more than 400,000 occupants, ranging from active duty service members to veterans to their family members. Arlington National Cemetery's two most famous graves belong to the "Unknown Soldier" (or, more accurately, the "Unknown Soldiers") and John F. Kennedy. The tomb of the unknown soldier is the final resting place for three unidentified soldiers from three wars: World Wars I and II, and Korea. 

Kennedy's grave is his second "final" resting place: the original site proved inadequate for hosting the 16 million people who visited in the first three years after his death. The current location features an "eternal flame," lit by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1963, and then transferred to the new site in 1967 (via Arlington National Cemetery). Incidentally, the "eternal flame" isn't literally eternal, since it's been extinguished at least twice: when some kids poured holy water on it (per Arlington National Cemetery), and when it was doused by a particularly violent rainstorm, as reported by The Tuscaloosa News.

Old Burying Point, Salem, Massachusetts

One of the oldest cemeteries in the U.S. is Old Burying Point in Salem, Massachusetts — yes, the town that gained infamy for murdering its own townspeople because of false accusations made by children.

Also called Charter Street Cemetery, Old Burying Ground dates all the way back to 1637, though none of the original grave markers survived since they were made out of wood. According to the town's government website, the oldest headstone in the cemetery belongs to Doraty Cromall, who died in 1673 and was fortunate enough to have her name carved in stone instead of wood.

Old Burying Point does contain the graves of a couple of people associated with the Salem Witch Trials: Mary Corey, wife of the unfortunate Giles Corey, an old man who was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to participate in the stupidity by entering a plea (via ThoughtCo), and John Hathorne, who was one of the trial judges and was therefore probably a terrible person. Underrepresented — actually, not represented at all — are the people who were accused and executed: Witches weren't supposed to be buried in consecrated ground, so they got thrown into pits instead. According to legend, some were retrieved in secret by family members so they could be properly buried. Today there is a memorial just behind the Old Burying Point Cemetery, featuring the victims' names, execution dates, and some of their statements of innocence.

Myles Standish Burial Ground, Duxbury, Massachusetts

New England Today calls the Myles Standish Burial Ground "the oldest maintained cemetery in America," with the first burials at the site dating back to 1638. This particular cemetery isn't just famous for its age, though: it's also famous for its occupants. Children who grow up in the U.S. and attend grade school typically spend the last weeks of November, around the Thanksgiving holidays, making handprint turkeys and wearing black paper capotains with giant paper buckles — and learning about Myles Standish, military captain and strong arm of the Plymouth Colony.

According to Atlas Obscura, Standish was buried in the cemetery in 1656, but no one knew exactly where, until the locals decided he simply could not suffer the indignity of resting in an unmarked grave. So they dug him up.

Two bodies were found in 1889, but because it was 1889, it's not like they could definitively identify either of them by comparing DNA to living relatives. Undeterred, they kept digging, and in 1891 they found three more long-dead corpses — a male and two females. The male was triumphantly identified as Standish, based on historical records indicating he'd been buried between his daughter and his daughter-in-law. New markers were placed, and they all died happily ever after.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

According to the "Dictionary of American Family Names," "Bonaventure" comes from the Italian name Bonaventura meaning "good fortune" (via, so it could be said that Bonaventure's occupants are indeed fortunate to have their own piece of 2.5' x 8' real estate in one of America's most beautiful cemetery.

The Bonaventure Historical Society calls Bonaventure a "traditional Victorian cemetery," but it isn't just the old stones and monuments that make it beautiful: it's the Spanish moss that grows on the live oak trees, giving them the appearance of being draped in soft netting (via Bonaventure Historical Society). The effect is both lovely and eerie at the same time. Visit during the day, and you'll be overwhelmed by the almost otherworldly beauty; visit at dusk, and frankly, you might be a little creeped out.

Bonaventure's most famous occupant is Gracie Watson, who died of pneumonia at the age of six. Gracie didn't accomplish much in life (because she was six) other than being especially cute and popular with the people who stayed in the Savannah hotel her father managed. Her notoriety happened after her death, when her father commissioned a life-sized sculpture of Gracie to mark her grave. According to Atlas Obscura, the sculpture is said to bear a keen resemblance to the little girl, which naturally means it's also haunted. In fact, Conde Nast Traveler says if anyone removes any of the flowers or toys left at the gravesite by random people, the sculpture will cry tears of blood.

Colma Necropolis, Daly City, California

The Colma Necropolis isn't just a cemetery: it's a whole town of cemeteries. In fact, according to Atlas Obscura, in Colma, the dead outnumber the living by about 750 to 1. Why are there so many dead people in Colma? Well, in the early 1900s, when San Francisco had around 340,000 residents (via the United States Census Bureau), it was struck by a number of big disasters (fire, earthquake, and bubonic plague). The dead piled up and cemeteries eventually started encroaching on the land of the living.

San Francisco was a popular place to live then as it is now, so it was little surprise that developers, even back in those days, didn't want dead people taking up all the valuable real estate. So in the 1950s, the city disinterred 130,000 bodies and moved them to mass graves in Colma (via NPR). Mostly, the grave markers got left behind because there were either no living relatives, the living relatives didn't know they were living relatives, or the living relatives weren't willing to pay the city to preserve and transport their loved ones' headstones. So the stones were sold to public works projects like San Francisco's Buena Vista Park, which used them to line its gutters (via Atlas Obscura).

Colma's most famous (dead) residents include Wyatt Earp, William Randolph Hearst, Levi Strauss, and Joshua Norton — self-declared Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California

Besides having one of the oddest names for a cemetery anywhere, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of stars from old Hollywood films, including Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and a bunch of other people you may never have heard of. Some rock stars are buried there, too ... according to the cemetery's website, visitors can view the graves of Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, and grunge legend Chris Cornell, who died in 2017.

Weirdly, besides being a place of eternal rest, Hollywood Forever also calls itself "Los Angeles' most dynamic cultural event center." This is probably a debatable claim, but to be fair, it might be the only local venue where ordinary people can mix with hundreds of Hollywood stars, as long as you don't actually care if those stars are breathing or not. Hollywood Forever has it all — it's a gravesite, it's a concert venue, it's an outdoor movie theater, which also means it isn't super peaceful, but hey, it's not like the stars buried there came to Hollywood because they were looking for a quiet afterlife.

Hollywood Forever also hosts the nation's largest Dia de Los Muertos event, an all-day event that includes music, arts and crafts, costume contests, and Aztec dancers. Locals build "altars" to remember deceased loved ones, and, quite often, deceased celebrities (via Hollywood Forever).

Neptune Memorial Reef, Miami, Florida

Neptune Memorial Reef is an artificial reef, nature preserve, and "eco-friendly resting place" located about three miles off the coast of Miami. According to the Neptune Memorial Reef website, families can have their loved ones' ashes blended into a cement memorial, which is marked with a copper plaque and added to the artificial reef. The memorials can be crafted to look like sea creatures — options include a 24" manatee, a sea turtle, and a stingray, with prices starting at just under $16K. Over time, the memorial becomes a coral habitat, attracting sea sponges, sea urchins, crabs, and 56 different species of fish (via Neptune Memorial Reef). Also, the setting looks like Atlantis, complete with sunken pillars and stone lions.

You might think an oceanic final resting place would be peaceful, but Neptune Memorial Reef is also a tourist attraction. It's popular with scuba divers, and it's also a destination for marine biologists and students, so there are usually a lot of flippered people swimming around and boats motoring back and forth overhead. Still, if you love the ocean and don't mind sleeping with the fishes, it's a beautiful setting, an eco-friendly burial option, and only marginally more expensive than a typical cemetery burial (per everplans).

Neptune Memorial Reef is a work in progress: It's currently just one acre, but by the time it's finished, it's expected to cover around 16 acres of ocean floor, and contain more than 250,000 memorials (via Neptune Memorial Reef).

Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York

With more than three million occupants, Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York, is the largest cemetery in the United States by population (Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California, is the largest by acreage, but it has just a half million occupants, via San Gabriel Valley Tribune). Calvary Cemetery was established out of necessity back when diseases like cholera and yellow fever were producing more corpses than churchyards could manage. According to Atlas Obscura, Calvary's oldest grave dates back to 1848, and during its early years, it was mostly a Catholic church-funded free burial site for poor immigrants. Over the years, it gained some famous occupants, including Annie Moore, the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island, and mafia bosses Joe Masseria and Thomas Lucchese.

If you love the big city and constantly being elbow-to-elbow with other humans, and you think you might like to be buried at Calvary, well, you can't, though Atlas Obscura does say new burials are "rare," which implies there might be a loophole. For the most part, though, Calvary is at capacity, and since it's also right next to the Long Island Expressway, you might prefer to find a quieter place to spend eternity anyway.

Three million dead people is a lot of dead people, but it's worth noting that Calvary is not the world's largest cemetery — that honor goes to Najaf Cemetery in Iraq, which is believed to host more than five million graves (via the BBC).

Key West Cemetery, Key West, Florida

Death is usually a sad affair. Still, sometimes a little humor can go a long way, even when marking a sad occasion. No cemetery exemplifies this quite so much as Key West, a 19-acre cemetery that has three times as many occupants as Key West itself (via Atlas Obscura).

Because the water table on the island is high, many of the graves are above ground, so there are a lot of interesting features to see, including mausoleums, structures that look like crumbling layer cakes (via the Key West Bus Tour), and even a stone coffin propped on pillars (per Find a Grave). Many people who aren't visiting loved ones come for the epitaphs, though. The site is known for its humorous grave markers — the most famous belongs to B.P. Roberts, noted hypochondriac, which reads, "I told you I was sick." Other morbidly funny examples include "I'm just resting my eyes," "Good citizen for 65 of his 108 years" (via Daily Journal), and "devoted fan of Julio Iglesias," though that last one may only be accidentally funny.

There's also a horrible story attached to the Key West cemetery about a man who dug up a woman's body, preserved it, dressed it in a wedding gown, and kept it in his bed — for seven years.

Forest Lawn, Glendale, California

Forest Lawn Glendale is one of 11 Forest Lawn locations in Southern California, but it's the original and, therefore, the most famous. The celebrities buried there are mostly old Hollywood stars like Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and Errol Flynn. Walt Disney and Michael Jackson are there, too, though the latter is in a private crypt that you're not allowed anywhere near (via the BBC). According to Seeing Stars, it's not exactly easy to even find celebrity graves at Forest Lawn on account of the staff not really wanting you to, and also not providing maps with gravesite locations, or directions when you ask for them.

There's also an art museum at Forest Lawn Glendale — its most famous piece is "The Crucifixion" by Polish artist Jan Styka, which is 195 feet long and 45 feet high. The painting was abandoned by the artist in 1904, because the poor man couldn't afford to pay the export duties and was unable to bring it home from an exposition — that it wasn't even displayed in — because it was so freaking huge. It remained in storage until 1951, when Forest Lawn put it on display in an exhibition hall built specifically for it (via Forest Lawn).

If you want to visit modern Hollywood celebrities, you can try the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills location, the final resting place of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds (via the Guardian), and "Fast & Furious" star Paul Walker (via Find a Grave).

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery & Crematory, Hartsdale, New York

Loved ones aren't always human, and some people choose to memorialize their furry loved ones in exactly the same way as the not-furry ones.

There are a lot of pet cemeteries in the United States, but the most famous is also the oldest: Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, established in 1896. You can bury your pet at the Hartsdale location for as little as $2,500 (via Hartsdale Pet Cemetery), as of 2022, though that doesn't include the cost of the casket or headstone, so some people might find this type of memorial a little cost-prohibitive. Still, Hartsdale says it has more than 80,000 occupants, and it isn't just dogs and cats — it's also rabbits, birds, reptiles, and humans. That's right, if you want to be buried next to your pet, Hartsdale does human internments, too, though you'll have to be cremated first.

Notable Hartsdale occupants include an adult Bengal Tiger named Ming and Mariah Carey's cat Clarence (via Roadtrippers). Besides all the touching monuments to devoted pets, the site also has things other pet cemeteries do not, like a National War Dog Memorial and a 50-ton mausoleum that is the final resting place for just four dogs. Hartsdale also prides itself on its inclusivity: "There's no separation of religions or species," it promises, and "no hierarchy that guarantees more desirable spots for the pets of the rich and famous."