SALT LAKE CITY — Stroll through the Salt Lake City Cemetery and you'll find the graves of 11 of the past presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You'll also discover a wealth of resting places for numerous LDS Church members — representing a large variety in both epitaphs and monument styles.
What's the most popular image on headstones for church members?
"We put the Salt Lake Temple (image) on a lot of stones," Mike Ellerbeck of Salt Lake Monument, 186 "N" Street, said, as the most popular request.
Other temple images appear too, and it can be challenge for monument markers to keep up images of the newer temples, when needed.
And, while many church members favor images of temples on graves, Ellerbeck said LDS Church presidents don't follow that trend. They may have large stone monuments but not images on them. For example, he said that when the Kimball family was consulting with him for what President Spencer W. Kimball's monument would be, the family declined the idea of a temple image. Ellerbeck said that's because the family believed anyone who know President Kimball would already know how important temples were in his life.
Ellerbeck also said "Families are forever," "Together forever" and "For Time and Eternity" are among the three most popular epitaphs inscribed in members' headstones these days.
But he said perhaps the key LDS-oriented feature on headstones is the emphasis on genealogy. Listing children on a headstone is a practice widely done only by church members. While not a unique practice, far more LDS members do it than the general public.
Ellerbeck said you'd never know this if you haven't closely inspected cemeteries outside Utah or the Mountain West, but the headstone of church members routinely list the day and month of birth and death, instead of just the years.
"Again, it's an emphasis toward genealogy," Ellerbeck believes.
Now, he said, you will find the full dates or birth and death also listed on some of the headstones in the adjacent Catholic and Jewish cemeteries, but he feels that still is based much on the local LDS Church influence because outside the west, full dates on headstones are far less common.
Some headstones of church members even tell their conversion story. For example, Seth Taft (1796-1863) has a 13 line account of his conversion, beginning with "Joined the church ..." on his headstone.
Others include some highlights of the church in their lives. For example, the grave of Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball (1818-1898) lists nine of her accomplishments on the back side of her monument, under the heading of "Charity never faileth."
Some of the oldest graves of some church members look like their stones had much to tell, but time and the elements have worn off most or all of the writings.
Ellerbeck said that's because the early settlers used sandstone or marble for monuments, and those are much softer materials than the standard material today — granite. In fact, he said granite is up to three times harder. Plus, today's inscriptions are cut a little deeper into the rock than those in previous times.
The Salt Lake City Cemetery is located at 200 N. C St. on some 250 acres.
Where are the graves of LDS Church presidents?
President Gordon B. Hinckley's grave is located just south of 10th Avenue, between the cemetery's Main and Hillside streets.
The grave of President David O. McKay is a little south of the Hinckley family site. Apostle J. Reuben Clark is to the southwest. The resting place of President Harold B. Lee is to the north, across Oquirrh Avenue.
However, the largest concentration of former LDS Church leaders is southwest of the Hinckley site, between Grand and Eighth Avenue. That's where Presidents Joseph Fielding Smith, Joseph F. Smith, Wilford Woodruff and some other former LDS leaders are.
The graves of Presidents Heber J. Grant and John Taylor are situated a little north of that area.
An exception is President Spencer W. Kimball, who is buried at the extreme north end of the cemetery, just above Wasatch Avenue. Another is the grave of President Howard W. Hunter, northeast of President Kimball's.
President George Albert Smith is also is buried there.
Presidents Taylor and Grant have stately monuments marking their graves, each one about 25 feet high. Markers for others, such as Presidents Lee and Woodruff, are much smaller. The Hinckleys' monument is also of more modest size.
Those LDS prophets missing from the Salt Lake Cemetery are Joseph Smith, who was laid to rest in Nauvoo, Ill.; Brigham Young, who was buried at his private cemetery in downtown Salt Lake City at 140 E. First Avenue; Lorenzo Snow, who was buried in Brigham City, Utah; and Ezra Taft Benson, who was buried in the Whitney Cemetery in southeastern Idaho.