Oklahoma doesn’t have any cemeteries that are quite as elegant and sprawling as New York’s Green-Wood or Woodlawn, but it does contain some that are just as historically and visually interesting. Over my winter holiday in Oklahoma City, my friend Sara and I went exploring in Fairlawn Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Oklahoma City. It was established in 1892, about fifteen years before Oklahoma achieved statehood in 1907, in what was formerly a cornfield.
The most striking structure in the cemetery is the huge Fairlawn Mausoleum, built in 1924 to hold 500 crypts. The Classical Revival-style mausoleum cost $70,000 to build, no small price for any time period, and was designed by Chicago architect Cecil E. Bryan. The complex included a $10,000 crematorium, which at the time was the only crematorium between St. Louis and San Francisco. As you might guess, Oklahoma was doing well at the time with the oil boom.
Inside the mausoleum is a stained glass triptych of an Angel, created by the Tiffany Studios of the great stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, even bearing his signature. I would guess it’s worth more than the cost of the original marble mausoleum.
Another landmark in Fairlawn is this military memorial created in 1919, following the end of World War I. It is still flanked by the two bronze cannons that were installed for its dedication.
Although it doesn’t look big from the road, Fairlawn has around 40,000 graves, many over 100 years old and memorializing the iconic families and people of Oklahoma City. They are in various condition levels, but even a quick exploration will take you on some cemetery symbolism and style time travel.
Okies are apparently secret society people, and once you start to notice the symbols in Fairlawn you see them everyone. Especially prolific are the Masons, many of whom were probably affiliated with the Scottish Rite Temple in Guthrie. The above star with the letters F.A.T.A.L. is not some morbid statement, but a symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic branch for both men and women.
The Woodmen of the World are also well-represented and easy to spot. Part of being a member of the society was that you got a tree trunk-shaped tombstone. The cut off branches are a symbol of the cutting of the tree of life.
Military graves have simple crosses over titles, and many individual tombstones have some interesting carvings. Above the gates of heaven have worn down, but you can still make out a star in the clouds.
Family mausoleums line the road that winds through the cemetery, and I peaked into one to see this Egyptian-style stained glass.
I feel like this dove might have been carved by the same artist who created the sheep shown at the top of this post. Both have an oddly whimsical style, innocent maybe. Which is fitting for these graves of people who died quite young. The West was not an easy place to live back in those days.
The oldest section of the cemetery is in a grove of trees, which I imagine is beautiful in spring. However, it wasn’t quite peaceful while we were there. A dog was sprinting around the cemetery road and howling its head off, paying us no mind. A little unsettling.
Hell hounds or no, I definitely recommend taking a stroll through Fairlawn on a sunny day and keeping your eye out for the names and images on graves for a glimpse into Oklahoma’s early history to today. I’m sure we will be back. I hear that the mausoleum is actually open on Memorial Day, and I would love to see that Tiffany window up close.