Memorial Park

Memorial Park’s most outstanding feature is its beauty and naturally rolling terrain. Founded in 1925 by E.C. Hinds, an entrepreneur, much of the 1930s were spent transforming Memorial Park into the premier cemetery in the Mid-South. Several features were added to the landscape to enhance its beauty. Just inside the entrance is a gracefully curved reflecting pool and a three-tiered fountain. As you drive to the east of the fountain, you will cross the stone bridges and come across the first of several fascinating constructions by Mexican artist, Dionicio Rodriguez. These works include Annie Laurie’s Wishing Chair and Rose Garden, The Wishing Well and the Fountain of Youth. The high point of Rodriguez’s work is the Crystal Shrine Grotto, which Mr. Hinds described as the only man-made crystal cave in the world. The Grotto is arguably the favorite outdoor venue for local photographers. On any given day, the Grotto plays host to family photos as well as photos for weddings, graduations, proms, etc. It also serves as backdrop to the annual Easter Sunrise Service, a Mid-South tradition that spans generations. Perhaps the biggest testament to the Grotto’s place in local culture is this: Although it sits within a cemetery, numerous weddings are also celebrated at the Grotto each year—all at no cost.

E. Clovis Hinds was a smart entrepreneur who wanted Memphis to have a place of beauty and peace, where people could visit and feel inspired and uplifted. After a visit to Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA, the country’s first “memorial park”, a cemetery in which no upright markers or monuments would be allowed, Hinds was inspired to create his own nonsectarian cemetery, adorned with works of art representing legendary and Judeo-Christian themes. He was attracted to the idea of creating a cemetery highlighting the glory of nature and art. After returning to Memphis, Hinds sold his Life Insurance business and bought the first 54 acres of land that would become Memphis Memorial Park, now simply Memorial Park. Right away Hinds began to advertise Memorial Park, ‘the cemetery beautiful’. It would be, he said, “a place of lakes and fountains, broad driveways, spacious lawns, beautiful shrubbery, trees and flowers”. It was 5 miles east of the city. The first ads offered a family group of six grave plots for $150.

One day in February 1935, vision shook hands with genius. That is, the tall and distinguished Hinds met the short, proud Mexican Artist Señor Dionicio Rodriguez. Over the next eight years, their unlikely partnership as patron and artist would produce a treasure trove of folk art in Memphis that to this day attracts visitors from all around the world. Rodriguez called his method el trabajo rustic, or rustic work. The ‘stumpy little brown man’, as he was described in the newspapers of the day, arrived at Memorial Park with an interpreter. Hinds and Rodriguez negotiated a price - $75 per week for Rodriguez and a helper – and Hinds gave Rodriguez plans for the first sculpture wanted, Annie Laurie’s Wishing Chair. Rodriguez fashioned the double-seated chair from concrete, which he scored and stained to look like stones. The second sculpture that Hinds commissioned was the Broken Tree Bench. Like his other work, Broken Tree Bench was sculpted from concrete, but it included minute details to make it look like wood. Rodriguez created the texture of bark, some of it peeling off, with knotholes and worm holes and other imperfections to make the bench seem more like real wood. Many people have mistaken it and his other sculptures for petrified wood.

The next sculptures Rodriguez did for Hinds were inspired by the Bible. Abrahams Oak (near the entrance to the Crystal Shrine Grotto) is 15 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. It is a representation of an old hollowed-out tree, large enough to walk through, with benches carved inside. It stands near the Pool of Hebron, inspired by the water reservoirs created by King Solomon for the arid land of Judea. Hebron was a town about 20 miles south of Jerusalem, and it was Abraham’s home. Behind the Pool of Hebron, Rodriguez built an interpretation of the Cave of Machpelah. The cave was the tomb for Abraham and his family. Hinds wanted it to be represented in his cemetery because it was the first burial place mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 23). By 1935, Memorial Park was well established and Hinds was building upon a tradition of making the cemetery more than just a burial place.

Through the years, Memorial Park has been an anchor point in the lives of so many Memphians. The cemetery was a place to visit not only in the times of bereavement, but also to experience beauty and spiritual uplift. Parents would bring their children to feed the fish in the Pool of Hebron or tour the Grotto. Thousands would flood the adjacent hillside for the annual Easter Sunrise Service. The Hinds family brought his dream to fruition; Memorial Park was truly a destination cemetery, well ahead of its time. As services were expanded over the years, a funeral home was built on the cemetery’s southeast corner in 1977. That funeral home has now grown to be the most selected funeral home in the Mid-South, joining the cemetery to create the largest combination facility in the state of Tennessee serving over 1,000 families each year.

As part of that growth, Memorial Park has continuously added modern offerings to accommodate today’s changing culture while remaining true to our roots of unprecedented beauty and superior service. The cemetery now boasts a sprawling mausoleum complex for those that seek above ground entombment in a community mausoleum. There are also private mausoleums for single family entombments on a private, custom estate dotted throughout the park. Carrying on the park’s tradition for serene fountains, Fountain Crest Memorial Estates was added in 2014, offering both traditional burial and extensive cremation options surrounding a beautiful 12 ft fountain that rests in the comforting shade of towering oaks. Memorial Park also added reception services to its offerings with the addition of the Parkside Event Center in 2014. Here, families can gather for receptions or full meals before, during or after visitations and funeral services.