The Architecture of Death



I invite you to appreciate the awesome art of  cemetery entrance gates. These are not just  the simple wrought iron gates, but  ornate massive structures with towers, belfrys, rooms and more.

German Waldheim Cemetery – Forest Park, Illinois



They are much more than  keeping people out of the cemetery after closing. During daylight hours they welcome the visitor and establish the character of the cemetery grounds. They create a sense of arrival for the funeral procession, a proper sendoff for the deceased if you will.

I think they speak to us. A massive cemetery gate seems to be a metaphor, a  powerful symbol illustrating our journey from our earthly life into the hereafter, and  even into the presence of God. Theology aside, the architects certainly had a broad canvas to create a strong and powerful focal point at the entrance to the cemetery.  The imposing beauty  welcomed the mourner or visitor alike. Many are no longer with us so let’s look at these amazing works of art.

Mt. Olive Cemetery, Chicago



Sanborn Fire Map 1905 of Rosehill Gate


Many large  gate designs included additional features . There were in some cases, offices,  a ladies waiting room, a chapel, a guest cottage,  a caretaker’s residence whose occupant met guests at the entry and cared for the cemetery, Some gates had a  waiting station, a welcome place to rest after one’s often-long journey to the cemetery . Before everyone travelled in individual cars, they may have ridden in a trolley, funeral train or carriage to the cemetery. There they would wait for the rest of the funeral party to gather before entering the cemetery and follow the casket to the grave.

Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Evanston

Did the gate architects have  theology in mind?. Long thin pinnacles, , and  pointed arches stretch upward and seem to point toward the heavens to touch the face of God.  


Psalm 100 teaches us to “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise”. The “courts” and ‘gates” refer to the temple of the time, the Old Testament place of worship. The gates were a part of the outer wall that surrounded the temple grounds. One entered the temple complex through the gates. So, it may be thought that today,  we too symbolically pass through the cemetery gate, coming into His presence, thankful for a life well lived.

forest home 1893
Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park
lake forest2
Lake Forest Cemetery



gr copy 1863z
Graceland Cemetery Chicago 1863


Rosehill-Chicago-maingateMeet the poster child of all Chicago cemetery entrances, the magnificent Rosehill Cemetery gate at 5700 N Ravenswood Avenue.The castellated gothic entrance gate was designed by William W. Boyington, four years before he designed the Chicago Water Tower. It was  registered as a Chicago Landmark on October 16 1980. Gothic is a term that was adopted during the Renaissance to describe the architectural style that dominated European church construction. The Gothic-styled churches were meant to be awe inspiring. And so, many cemetery gates also mimic that sense of height and grandeur with elements found in traditional Gothic architecture. 

An early etching




Meet William Warren Boyington . He was born July 22 1818 in Southwick, Hampden County, Massachusetts. . He was first trained as a carpenter, then later as an architect in New York City. Prior to arriving in Chicago in 1853, he served in the Massachusetts State Legislature. .Boyington’s work in Chicago was extensive.  Just a few of his buildings included the Chicago Water Tower and pumping station,  The first LaSalle Street Railroad Station, the first Sherman House,  the Joliet Prison and many more. 

Boyington moved in 1874 to Highland Park, Illinois after having lost two residences in Chicago to fire. While in Highland Park, he served two terms as mayor. Boyington died  Oct 16 1898 at age 80. His funeral, on the way to his gravesite passed through the very gate he designed.images0040O6BW





And lastly, while you are here, check out my gallery, and small sampling,  of my favorite gates and gatehouses  in other parts of the country.

allegheny cem
Allegheny Cemetery Pittsburgh Pennsylvania



The Gothic Revival gates and the waiting station at the Crown Hill Cemetery at Indianapolis, Indiana, were designed by Adolph Scherrer in 1885


brooklyn greenwoodGreen-Wood Cemetery – Brooklyn New York- High Gothic Revival entrance gate by Richard M. Upjohn


Greenwood cemetery caretaker’s mansion new York

fairmount denver
Fairmount Cemetery, Denver Colorado



Maimonides Cemetery, New York
Abandoned – Mt. Moriah, Philadelphia


westview-cemetery-gate atlanta 1890
Westview Cemetery, Atlanta Georgia
nottingham cem
Nottingham, London England


And lastly, closer to home, the unusual all wood gate house and entrance to Calvary cemetery at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

calvary milwaukee wood
Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Thanks for reading! Check out my many other blogs

5 thoughts on “The Architecture of Death”

  1. Thank you for sharing these photos. Many of my family ancestors are interred in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. I visited there when I was very young. At 74 years of age, I had forgotten how impressive the entrance was.


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