Ten weeks after his untimely death, Michael Jackson was finally laid to rest last night at Forest Lawn Glendale in the Great Mausoleum, Holly Terrace, during a much publicized private funeral.
I was invited to be a guest commentator on ZDF German TV and would like to say a big, big thank you to producer-reporter Melanie Hillmann for arranging my media credentials. While there, I was also interviewed by Channel One Russia, BBC World News and our local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press.
As a cemetery historian, it was an unparalleled experience to be a part of the scene outside the park gates on Glendale Blvd., which had been closed to traffic for the historic event.
Michael Jackson's casket prior to entombment (© Reuters 9/3/2009)
The Jacksons filmed the funeral (speculation abounds that the footage will be used in their upcoming A&E reality show) and provided a public video feed of the guest arrivals. Beamed around the world by a pool camera, the feed cut out once Michael's casket arrived at the Great Mausoleum in a hearse after a short drive from the cemetery mortuary.
After the ceremony, I was told by eyewitnesses that once the funeral was over -- which was a loving celebration of Michael's life -- no one from his family opted to watch his casket be entombed. (This is not an unusual practice.) Forest Lawn personnel handled the sacred, solemn task with dignified professional aplomb, sealing Michael and his gold casket into an elaborate marble sarcophagus some time after approximately 9 p.m.
Based on insider descriptions of the immediate area, my best guess -- and this is ONLY an educated grave hunter's guess, not an officially confirmed fact -- is that Michael now rests on the main floor of the terrace, at the end of a sanctuary hallway with cathedral ceilings, under three stained-glass windows which are a re-creation of Nicola D'Ascenzo's "The Ascension."
No public photos have been released of this stunningly gorgeous location since Michael was possibly entombed there less than 24 hours ago. But a quick look through my Forest Lawn archival materials produced this promotional image, released by Forest Lawn in 1952, showing a final resting place that is truly fit for a king:
Word has it that the price tag, which also
includes an unspecified number of nearby crypts reserved for other
family members, is in the neighborhood of $600,000.
This sarcophagus was one of the last (and possibly the last) remaining interment type of its kind on Holly Terrace or within the entire mausoleum itself. It has remained largely unchanged since it was constructed 50 years ago. I saw it in person about a year ago. The photo does not do it justice. It's breathtaking.
At that time it was also notable because it remained seemingly unoccupied, sans any engraved names, dates or epitaphs.
The only difference I noticed from the original photo was the addition of a marble and brass waist-high gate in front of the steps, which partitions it off from the rest of the hallway. Update: the partition was always there per other vintage photos I've seen. The photo above was taken from inside the gate.
Construction began on the Great Mausoleum in late 1917. It was constructed of steel and concrete, with each terrace on its own foundation, although they are all connected in a "building within a building" architectural style.
Engineers designed the entire structure to be earthquake-proof, and their work stands up today in spite of several monumental tremblers over the decades.
Holly Terrace was opened to the public on March 21, 1949. Forest Lawn invited and encouraged the public to visit the new terrace with a promotional campaign that included large ads in newspapers like The Los Angeles Times.
Glorious artwork such as a marble replica of Donatello's St. George statue and a stain-glassed re-creation of Raphael's "Madonna of the Chair" painting were the attraction -- pre-need purchases of cremation niches, crypts and sarcophaguses within "the finest mausoleum memorial property available anywhere" was the sell.
Since the Great Mausoleum is rumored to be fairly sold out (no official figures are available) I wonder if this could be an additional reason as to why the public visitation policy (now limited only to the Memorial Terrace to see The Last Supper Window) has radically changed over the years? It seems to make dollars and sense to me.