Crown Hill Cemetery, I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis - Let's Love Local

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I was not raised a spiritual person. I never went to church or was forced to participate in religious activities or had any real interest in being involved in any of that. Christmas was the tree. Easter was a giant rabbit. Even now, for better or worse, I’m not at all interested in organized religion and have only a very nebulous concept of what I hope is really out there.

So maybe I don’t have a deep spirituality to guide me, but I also ain’t afraid of no ghost.

I love exploring the traditional “creepy” aspects of a city because, rather than holding onto fear of the paranormal, these places and their histories simply unfold before me like a really good book come to life. Honestly, the fear that a tormented soul is coming for you really puts a damper on exploring a good many offbeat locations – or so I’d guess.

I’m telling you this all, I guess, because I’m trying to explain that wandering around a cemetery at dusk seems like a good idea to me if not to other people (AKA my ever-patient/terrified husband).

We did just that a while ago, exploring the grounds of Crown Hill Cemetery in attempt to whittle down my Indy bucket list. It’s a great choice for those who like a little adventure in their life: founded in 1863, the cemetery is a massive 555 acres which affords not only a great view of downtown Indianapolis but a few creepy stories to get your heart racing as you crunch across the autumnal leaves.*

*This makes Crown Hill the largest non-government cemetery in the US!

OK, I hear you saying, it’s a graveyard. Of course it’s creepy. What makes this place so special?

Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Crown Hill actually began its major growth period thanks to a rash of grave robbings which occurred in a now-gone downtown graveyard called Greenlawn. The relatives of those buried in the compromised cemetery moved the bodies left en masse in order to get their loved ones to the safer, more secure area Crown Hill provided. What they found was… not that great. At some point at the start of the 20th century, Indianapolis officials found that in reality few, if any, bodies buried before the 1890s were still left in their graves. Why? Our ancestors were a lot less afraid of ghosts than even I am, apparently, as robbers excavated bodies even the night of their burial and sold them as medical cadavers.

Pro: scientists had the chance to learn more about the human body.
Con: well, grandpa was no longer in his final resting place.

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis

What else ups Crown Hill’s creepy factor?

Some paranormal experts claim that Crown Hill could be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States (of course they do). While there may not be many individual stories, Crown Hill has several mass graves full of unidentified bodies ripe for producing restless spirits:

  • It’s no surprise that every night brings tales of wounded Civil War soldiers returning to the battle fields since 1600 Confederate and 700 Union soldiers call Crown Hill their final resting place.
  • If you’re wandering around late at night, be sure to head to section 37: a mass grave from the start of the 20th century holding the remains of nearly 700 orphans who died while living in local orphanages. Many believe that these small spirits are still searching for their parents and a sense of peace or a place to belong in safety. On the other hand, others claim you can often hear the children playing happily since someone has come to care for them… so who knows?

I’m pretty disinclined to think there are spirits anywhere, but Crown Hill is just such a pleasant, peaceful place it’s really hard to imagine that anyone interred here would be too upset.

So who’s here?

Crown Hill Cemetery isn’t just notable for its sheer size, but also for the well-known (well, at least in Indiana) historical people it hosts. Highlights include:

John Dillinger [section 44, lot 94] a notorious bank robber during the Depression
Benjamin Harrison [section 13, lot 57] 23rd President of the United States
Colonel Eli Lilly [section 13, lot 19] colonel during the Civil War, failed plantation owner, pharmacist, and general rich guy who went on to found Eli Lilly & Company.

Plus innumerable Illinois politicians, US vice presidents, artists, soldiers, and more. Other points of interest include the eerie Gothic chapel built in 1875. The Indiana AIDS Memorial and the Hearts Remembered Memorial (dedicated to the orphaned and abandoned children buried here in unmarked graves) are both incredibly touching.

Oh, and don’t forget to trudge up to the very tippy top of the hill and get an epic view of downtown Indy from James Whitcomb Riley’s memorial. Known as the “Hoosier Poet” and the “Children’s Poet”, Riley is famous in Indiana and has been honored with a large memorial in Crown Hill (the little girl in the first picture of this post is reading one of his stories on his grave).

There! little girl; don’t cry!
There! little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your heart I know;
And the rainbow gleams
Of your youthful dreams
Are things of the long ago;
But Heaven holds all for which you sigh. —
There! little girl; don’t cry! James Whitcomb Riley

While I’m not a huge believer in the paranormal, I am pretty susceptible to suggestion so just the idea of tromping through a cemetery without another soul in sight (aside from the jumpy Russian with me, which wasn’t much consolation) was pretty frightening in the best way possible. Particularly as the light began to wane and we tried to get out. Trust me when I say: Crown Hill is gigantic. Even armed with a handy map, we didn’t see everything we wanted.

We got turned around and couldn’t find unit markers for several areas leaving us all confused. Finally we began crossing through the lawn in the general direction we thought we ought to be going in. It worked out well enough but… at some point when we were looking for John Dillinger’s grave, we just got tired. With over 25 miles of paved road (seriously), Crown Hill is definitely meant to be driven.

  • 700 W 38th St, Indianapolis, IN 46208 (main entrance on 38th street, gates open until 6 PM)
  • Oh and by the way: if you’re like my husband and I, who decided to stroll from the funeral home to the 34th Street exit later in the evening, know that the gates on 34th close at 5 PM. We did not know this. Luckily, the cop who was stationed right outside of the gates (this area may not be ripe for grave robbings now, but is still not the cleanest neighborhood) just stared at us as we clambered over the gates. So yeah, not really a big deal apparently.
  • Here’s a map of Crown Hill Cemetery, denoting all the high points to visit
  • Interested in taking an official tour of Crown Hill? They’re offered in spring and fall yearly. Find out more here.

Overall the experience at Crown Hill was pretty cool and a definite must-do for visitors, particularly when the leaves are changing so spectacularly. If you’re a bit of a wimp, don’t be too scared: overall the cemetery was incredibly peaceful and the space is so large there are actually whole herds of deer prancing around to put you at ease.

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis - Let's Love Local


A weekend guide to Indianapolis

A weekend guide to Indianapolis
A weekend guide to Indianapolis

While I wouldn’t consider myself an Indianapolis expert (yet) I have made some valiant efforts to get out and see what’s good in my new city. I’d like to think I’m slowly on the path to becoming a well-informed local. How? You see, to me, traveling like a local consists of two main things:

  1. Asking. Quiz everyone you meet. Stalk influencers on social media. Whatever you have to do to figure out what the cool kids are doing, do it! After all, it’s easy to do a quick search for the tourist spots; what makes a trip really special is that magical, unexpected adventure that comes flying out of left field.
  2. Getting out there. I mean this in the most basic, simplest sense ever: pound the pavement and really get to know a city on the ground level. No car to take you whizzing past the “boring” parts of town. No rushing directly from one point of interest to the next. Just exploring the city like an everyday citizen – you’d be surprised what you might discover when you’ve slowed down enough to see what’s around you.

So with that in mind, here’s all the good stuff I’ve discovered about Indianapolis so far, handily compiled into this weekend guide to Indianapolis. This is neither an extensive, nor definitive list, simply a record of the experiences I’ve had so far which I feel confident recommending to you in order to travel like a local in Indianapolis:

What to do

Indianapolis Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
Huff & puff your way up the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Marking the very center of downtown Indianapolis, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is a towering obelisk completed in 1902 and dedicated to the common soldier. The outside is made up of so many design elements it actually took me a while to figure out you could actually go inside and up to the top. While you can take an elevator up to the cramped observation deck, I call that cheating. (Actually what I think I said was “What?! I have to pay $2 to ride the elevator? No way!” Instead, get your exercise for the week by trudging up all 331 stairs and be rewarded with a view of the surrounding area.

The museum and observation deck are open 10:30 AM – 5:30 PM, Wednesday – Sunday (between May and October) or Friday – Sunday (between November and April). Note that the observation deck is closed if the temperature reaches 95 degrees due to health concerns.

Go on a brewery tour. Try Brewery Tours of Indianapolis ($30/person for 4 breweries + samples; TH-SU) or Indy Brew Bus (same as Brewery Tours). If you’re feeling particularly intrepid, you could try one of the beer carts that force you to work pedal for your beer.

Crown Hill Cemetery Indianapolis

Crown Hill Cemetery

Visit Crown Hill Cemetery. Probably the one place I can confidently say it was so nice, I visited twice. Not only are the grounds absolutely beautiful, but you can almost forget you’re in the city – Crown Hill is the largest non-government cemetery in the USA. Plus, I love the creep factor of the whole place, and not in the way you might think. Crown Hill actually began its major growth period thanks to a rash of grave robbings which occurred in a now-gone downtown graveyard called Greenlawn. The relatives of those buried in the compromised cemetery moved the bodies left en masse in order to get their loved ones to the safer, more secure area Crown Hill provided. What they found was… not that great. At some point at the start of the 20th century, Indianapolis officials found that in reality few, if any, bodies buried before the 1890s were still left in their graves. Why? Our ancestors were a lot less afraid of ghosts than even I am, apparently, as robbers excavated bodies even the night of their burial and sold them as medical cadavers.

FYI: The 34th street gates close at 5PM so be sure to move your car if you have one. I just hopped over the fence as a bored policeman watched from across the street, so it’s not a big deal if you’re late, apparently.

Shopping local, let's do this! - Let's Love Local
Walk up Mass Ave & visit Homespun Indy. Mass Ave is one of those pesky diagonal-running streets that always get you turned around in a new city; thankfully, the offerings all along the street are just so damn cool you won’t even care. (After a massive gentrification effort in the 80s Mass Ave has become the place to be.) From countless great restaurants to theaters to off-beat shopping destinations, you’ll be hard-pressed to not enjoy this stretch of Indy. That is, if you can see anything through the crowds of Midwestern hipsters that crowd the street on weekends!

So far my favorite finding has been at the far north end of Mass Ave (seriously, if you go a few hundred feet further you’ll meet the highway!): Homespun Indy and all of its one-of-a-kind goodness! Homespun offers clothing, prints, and other home goods from small artists from both Indy and beyond – the perfect place to find a souvenir for yourself your friends and family.

Homespun Indy (869 Massachusetts Avenue) is open daily. Incidentally, the November newsletter‘s giveaway item is from Homespun! All you have to do to win is be signed up!

Walk down one of Indy’s trails. I was frankly shocked at the number of trails here available to intrepid bikers or runners. Try the Indy Culture Trail (eight miles leading through some of Indianapolis’ cultural gems), Monon Trail (10.4 miles leading from 10th to 96th street), Fall Creek Trail (seven miles along bucolic Fall Creek), and many more found here.

City Market Catacombs Indianapolis

City Market Catacombs

Take a tour with Indiana Landmarks. Indiana Landmarks – an organization dedicated to defending “architecturally unique, historically significant, and communally cherished properties” – offers tons of tours around the city. You can tour Monument Circle, the Morris-Butler House, historic downtown, Old Northside, as well as the landmark center itself. I went on the City Catacombs tour through Indiana Landmarks this Halloween; while the guide was quite dry, the area itself and the stories surrounding it were fascinating.

The full list of tours – as well as times and prices – can be found on the Indiana Landmarks site. All prices are very affordable, even for a cheap skate like me!.

Where to eat

Sip on some coffee or wine at the Thirsty Scholar. We live really close to here and I’m pretty sure every time I walk by with someone I’m compelled to exclaim “did you know you can buy coffee AND wine there?!”. Somehow the intimacy of a coffee shop paired with some kick ass wine offerings had never occurred to me. Now that I’ve experienced it, my life will never be the same. But in all seriousness, the Thirsty Scholar is a great place to hang out and get some work done or just hang out and listen to live music later at night.

The Thirsty Scholar (111 E 16th St, suite 101) is open 8AM – 1AM (Sunday 9AM – midnight) $

Grab a cocktail & dessert at the Eagle’s Nest. No weekend guide to Indianapolis would really be complete without an AMAZING view. Yes, that rotating restaurant at the top of the Hyatt I talked about here. If you get a bit seasick from the uncanny motion, the views will soon distract – promise! Plus you can enjoy an excellent cocktail in the sky at (relatively) rock-bottom prices. (Seriously, have you ever seen a $7 cocktail in a hotel bar?!)

The Eagle’s Nest (1 South Capitol Avenue) Take the glass elevators at the far end of the lobby all the way to the top floor. $$$

Try some amazing Indian at Haveli. One day I was craving Indian food and randomly picked Haveli out of the mix – boy, am I glad I did! The food was almost the best Indian food I’ve ever had (the best? A place in southern Moscow) and both my husband and I were ready to re-order immediately after we’d finished our first dishes. With great vegetarian and carnivorous options, everyone’s going to be happy! (Bonus: they deliver!)

Haveli Indian Cuisine (235 S Meridian St) $$

Brunch at Mesh. Mesh is one of those Indianapolis must-dos even though when I went I wasn’t totally overwhelmed with the experience. That’s not to say it was a bad experience; just with big hype comes big expectations. My advice? Ignore they hype and head to Mesh on a non-game day when it’ll be a little more quiet. Grab one of their great sandwiches or do as I did and grab the delicious biscuit/jam array to save money and space for more mimosas!

Mesh (725 Massachusetts Ave) $$

Best corner of the city

I may be biased because I live here, but I think just about every bit of the Old Northside district is pretty fine! The old houses… quiet side streets… independent shops… seriously, what’s not to love?! If you do nothing more than just wander through the streets I’d call the day a success, but I know some people like the concept of a plan so let me reel off the highlights. The Benjamin Harrison home (1230 North Delaware St) is gorgeous and the lawn is perfect for a picnic, the Morris-Butler house is another great beauty (1204 North Park Ave), and the Great Oak Commons is a Victorian-style public park that really takes you back in time.

Benjamin Harrison Home Indianapolis

Gettin’ that model wind at the Benjamin Harrison Home.

To get the full scoop on the Old Northside district, you can check out the official website.

Where to sleep

  • Indy Hostel. is an awesome hostel north of downtown. The staff is incredibly friendly and the vibes are amazing. Check out my full review of Indy Hostel. $
  • If you can afford to splurge, try The Alexander just south of downtown. It’s a trendy boutique hotel that I’ve walked past several times and the atmosphere is undeniably cool. $$$
  • Have a tent? Try the no-frills Indiana State Fairgrounds Campsite north of downtown Indianapolis. For $20 a night you get space to put your car, indoor showers and toilets, potable water, as well as washers and driers. $
  • Follow Yelpindy on Twitter. Seriously, you will be overwhelmed by all the amazing inspiration Brittany (the local Yelp guru) can give you.
  • Be warned Indy is HUGE. For all my talk of walking, it may behoove you to rent a car to get around the longer distances. Buses are also a decent option and can get you most places without too much struggle.
  • NO ALCOHOL SOLD ON SUNDAYS. In the whole state. Thankfully, restaurants and bars are safe, but you can’t pop into the store for a six-pack or a bottle of wine on the day of rest. Think ahead or else suffer a major buzzkill.

Have you ever been to Indianapolis? What would you add to complete this weekend guide to Indianapolis?


6 Staycation ideas that don’t suck

6 Staycation Ideas that Don't Suck

Did you know that in 2013 the average vacation expense per person in the United States was $1145? That sounds incredibly high, but once you factor in plane tickets, accommodations, activity fees, and food, I guess it’s not that outrageous of a sum. That being said, a $1000+ vacation is definitely not always feasible whether it’s due to low funds or time constraints.

But vacations don’t have to be that expensive – honest!

Consider the humble staycation – a term I absolutely loath but which encapsulates a concept I adore. If you’re not sure, a staycation is exactly what it sounds like: a vacation where you stay… at home. But before your crinkle your nose, roll your eyes, and make a noise of disgust, hear me out.

A staycation is only staying at home if you make it. The fact is there are plenty of ways to make a weekend or holiday break stuck at home far more interesting than just sitting in your dark house, twiddling your thumbs. Don’t believe me?

Staycation ideas that don’t suck

But first: a few tips to get the most out of your at-home vacation experience:

  • Disconnect. I get it. You’re technically still at home so it’s easy to slip into the same old habit of getting up, checking your email, and doing what you do every day. Stop. On your staycation you are band from all non-essential work and the only data you should be using is to upload sweet, sweet photos of your adventures (be sure to tag them with #LLLADVENTURE!).
  • Don’t give in to the pull of your to-do list. Again, just because you’re in the same city doesn’t mean you can’t have a break. Don’t do your chores. Don’t stop by the pharmacy for floss while you’re adventuring. Take this break seriously or it’ll feel like just another day.
  • Plan like you would for any trip. In my case, this means not at all. But if you’re one of those strange people who don’t like traipsing around without a plan when they travel, be sure to plan your staycation just as thoroughly. If you’ve got a set plan with exciting activities throughout the day/weekend, you’re much more likely to get into that awesome vacation spirit!
  • Make a budget and stick to it. Again, treating this break like any other trip is important so you can enjoy the experience – both before and after (ie. without being shocked by your empty bank account!). If you’re a staunch anti-spender like me, this may swing the opposite way: if you decide to spend $X, spend it! Don’t shortchange yourself by being stingy – this is a legitimate break and worth spending what you’ve saved.

Can you agree to those simple, logical rules? Of course you can. So let’s get straight to the staycation inspiration:

Vintage staycation - dinosaur land


DO | Sometimes I think hipsters have the right idea (I mean making the past cool, not those thick-rimmed glasses). Do something a step out of time by enjoying a vintage staycation. Ideas for vintage-themed adventures include pulling up to a drive-in for a movie, visiting an antique bowling alley or skating rink, or exploring one of the strange attractions near you c/o Roadside America. Alternatively, cuddle up and watch a vintage movie paired with a perfect old-school cocktail.

EAT | Is there anything more retro than dining at a perfectly intact vintage diner? Chances are you already know of one near you – head over and order something you might not normally. If you’re not sure of the diner closest to you, Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives has a great list of the some of the best places from all over the States!

STAY | Retro Roadmap has an incomplete list of hotels but all are great if you can find one near you. Most major highways have vintage-style hotels dotted along the side hearkening back to a time when the road trip was king. Alternatively, you can get really old-school and choose one of the still-open hotels on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list.

Staycation Ideas that Don't Suck

Grab an AirBnb & be a tourist

DO | Being a tourist in your own city can be a ton of fun if done right. The trick? Put as much effort into discovering cool things as you would on a trip somewhere else! It also helps if you’re not waking up in your own bed which can make your staycation feel like just another day.

Great ideas for exploring your home turf:

  • Check with your local tourism board for events going on during your staycation.
  • Search for any walking tours offered (usually through the tourism board or a local historical society).
  • Do as the tourists do: choose something from the top 5 rated activities on TripAdvisor.


EAT | On my staycations (again, yes, I really do this and it’s awesome!) I love picking out a restaurant to splurge on. Usually it’s an expensive place that I haven’t been able to justify going to in my everyday life – but hey, not traveling long distance has put some extra money in your account perfect for that culinary splurge you’ve been waiting for!

STAY | I am an embarrassingly late convert to the AirBnb hype, but I’ve finally tried it out twice and had a great experience both times. For the purposes of this staycation, choose an apartment within your price range in a relatively unfamiliar neighborhood of your city to get a taste of something different. USE THIS LINK TO GET $20 OFF YOUR 1ST AIRBNB BOOKING!

Indiana State Capitol

Plan a Yelp-venture

DO | For those of you who don’t know, Yelp is a site/app with user reviews and recommendations of local restaurants and businesses. Yelp is huge now and probably in your city already (NOT in Russia sadly…) Check out the right column of Yelp’s main page and you’ll see plenty of local events listed, most of which are free or low cost. Be sure to also check out the ‘Local Flavor’ page for your area, full of your cities best-of-the-best, according to Yelp.

EAT | Try breakfast/brunch at one of those top-rated restaurants you’ve been meaning to try for ages. For lunch, mix it up a bit by checking out the highest-rated deli or specialty food shop and grabbing something to go for a picnic. Finally grab drinks at the best dive-bar in town and stumble out for a late-night snack at the closest 4*+ place around!

STAY | What really gives me a heart eyes emoticon about Yelp is that you can easily sort through their reviews not only by rating but by price. So no matter if your budget is $ or $$$$, Yelp’s got you covered. Simply search for ‘hotels’ in the main search bar and dive into plenty of no-holds-barred reviews about local hotels.

Mini Staycation Ideas

  • Let your day be led by a scavenger hunt. I have not done this, but some of my Russian friends swore by these types of scavenger hunts that took them all over the city. For my Stateside friends, the company Crazy Dash offers scavenger hunts in a large number of US towns. In their words, “all you need is a Smartphone and a sense of Craziness.” Each hunt comes with eight or more checkpoints where you’ll have to answer a question or complete a task; plus, there’s a local guide always available if you end up having trouble. Best of all there’s a great Groupon deal right now – $20 for a two-person adventure.
  • Adventure with Groupon. Groupon has great deals for all kinds of services, but for a truly memorable staycation idea look into their adrenaline-pumping offers. (Head to ‘Things to Do’ –> ‘Activities’.) For example, I found a $150 paragliding offer for an introductory lesson. Let’s be honest – how often would you otherwise do this unless you were on a staycation?
  • Hunker down in a cabin. Best undertaken in winter months accompanied by the bae, a heavy blanket, and plenty of hot chocolate, renting a cabin in the colder months is often far cheaper than you might thing. Check out this TripAdvisor page for local cabin rentals.

6 Staycation Ideas that Don't Suck - Let's Love Local

Have you tried the whole staycation thing? If so, has it worked for you? My favorite “at-home vacation” involved staying in a fancy hotel and eating dinner at a restaurant with panoramic views of Moscow – definitely not my day-to-day experience in Russia and it certainly felt like a vacation!