Forest Lawn was founded in 1906 as a not-for-profit cemetery by a group of businessmen from San Francisco. Dr. Hubert Eaton and C. B. Sims entered into a sales contract with the cemetery in 1912. Eaton took over the management of the cemetery in 1917 and is credited as being the "Founder" of Forest Lawn for his innovations of establishing the "memorial park plan" (eliminating upright grave markers) and being the first to open a funeral home on dedicated cemetery grounds. Eaton was a firm believer in a joyous life after death. He was convinced that most cemeteries were "unsightly, depressing stoneyards" and pledged to create one that would reflect his optimistic, Christian beliefs, "as unlike other cemeteries as sunshine is unlike darkness." He envisioned Forest Lawn to be "a great park devoid of misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and ... memorial architecture" A number of plaques which state Eaton's intentions are signed "The Builder."
Most of its burial sections have evocative names, including Eventide, Babyland (for infants, shaped like a heart), Graceland, Inspiration Slope, Slumberland (for children and adolescents), Sweet Memories, Vesperland, Borderland (on the edge of the cemetery), and Dawn of Tomorrow.
For many decades the cemetery refused black, Jewish, and Chinese burialsSong of the Angels by William Bouguereau, 1881.
The Forest Lawn Museum at Glendale was founded in 1957 and displays art, artifacts and also regularly hosts rotating fine art exhibits. The museum has hosted solo exhibitions for Henri Matisse, Winslow Homer, Ian Hornak, Goya, Rembrandt, Marc Davis and Reuben Nakian among many others. The objects in Forest Lawn's permanent collection represent specific locations and peoples from around the world. There are sections for India, Africa, the Middle East, East and Southeast Asia, the United States, South America, Australia and Europe. Perhaps the most famous object owned by Forest Lawn's permanent collection is William Bouguereau's 84x60 inch, oil on canvas painting, "Song of the Angels" created in 1881 and regarded as one of the most important examples of Bouguereau's work in United States. The permanent collection also includes one of the largest and most well respected stained glass collections in North America with over 1000 pieces primarily from France and Germany dating from 1200 a.d. through present. The stained glass collection includes portions of William Randolf Hearst's former collection and owns the work of Albrecht Dürerand Viet Hirsvogel the Elder. The Museum also houses Western bronze sculptures, American historical artifacts, paintings, actual examples of every coin mentioned in the Bible, exact replicas of the British crown jewels, world cultural artifacts and one of the Easter Island statues, rescued from the bottom of a boat where it was used as ballast. It is named "Henry".A copy of Michelangelo's David
The six Forest Lawn cemeteries contain about 1,500 statues, about 10% of which are reproductions of famous works of art, in various locations. Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper has been recreated in stained glass in the Memorial Court of Honor ‘in vibrant, glowing and indestructible colors.’ There are also a number of full-sized reproductions of other Renaissance sculptures, including Michelangelo's David and Moses. This cemetery is the only place in the world containing a complete collection of replica Michelangelo sculptures, which were made from castings taken from the originals and using marble from the same quarries in Carrara, Italy as used by Michelangelo.
Some of the inspiration at Forest Lawn is patriotic rather than pious, such as the Court of Freedom, with its large mosaic of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a 13-foot (4.0 m)-high statue of George Washington. On display in the "Hall of the Crucifixion" is the panoramic painting by the Polish artist Jan Styka entitled "The Crucifixion." It is the largest permanently mounted religious painting in the world, measuring 195 feet (59 m) in length by 45 feet (14 m) in height. The main gates of Forest Lawn – Glendale are claimed to be the world's largest wrought-iron gates.Mosaic of Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
Forest Lawn has three non-sectarian chapels: "The Little Church of the Flowers", "The Wee Kirk o’ the Heather" and "The Church of the Recessional", which are all exact replicas of famous European churches. Over 60,000 people have actually been married here, including Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman.
More than 250,000 people are buried at Forest Lawn, and over a million people visit it each year, including thousands of schoolchildren on field trips.
Forest Lawn's 300 acres (1.2 km2) of intensely landscaped grounds and thematic sculptures were the inspiration for the biting commentary of Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel The Loved One and Jessica Mitford's acerbic The American Way of Death. Many commentators have considered Forest Lawn to be a unique American creation, and perhaps a uniquely maudlin Los Angeles creation, with its "theme park" approach to death.
The Great Mausoleum was fashioned after Campo Santo in Genoa, Italy and contains many of the most highly sought after interment places within Forest Lawn, Glendale. Within the portion of the Great Mausoleum accessible to the public is the Court of Honor where individuals are inducted as "Immortals" by Forest Lawn's Council of Regents. The rest of the structure is protected by guards and is not accessible by the public. Time magazine described it as the "New World's Westminster Abbey". In 2009 the cemetery became the focus of intense media interest surrounding the private entombing of Michael Jackson in the privacy of Holly Terrace in the Great Mausoleum