Visit ancient Egypt without ever leaving Lancaster County

If you visit Lancaster’s 48-acre Greenwood Cemetery and walk to its highest point in the Buchanan Section, you will be greeted by the most curious sight. Once heralded as “Lancaster’s Westminster Abbey” sits the Greenwood Cemetery Mausoleum.

Entrance to the Greenwood Cemetery Mausoleum.
The entrance to the Greenwood Cemetery Mausoleum.

Valley of the Kings

When you first see the magnificent mausoleum, your thoughts immediately leap to ancient Egypt. The nearby river is not the Nile but the Conestoga. The massive granite structure is 140 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 40 feet tall. Like the Pharaohs of old, this mausoleum acts to preserve the remains of Lancaster’s nobles.

The building was designed by famous architect C. Emlen Urban and was dedicated in October 1915. The 6,000-square-foot building cost $85,000 or $2.1 million in today’s dollars.

C. Emlen Urban, 1863-1939. (Image courtesy of
C. Emlen Urban, 1863-1939. (Image courtesy of

The Great Sphinx of Lancaster

Two stoic sphinxes guard the mausoleum’s massive bronze-doored entrance. In the Greek tradition, the sphinx has the head of a woman, the haunches of a lion, and the wings of a bird. She is mythicized as treacherous and merciless. Those who cannot answer her riddle suffer a fate typical in such mythological stories, as they are killed and eaten by this ravenous monster.

However, unlike the Greek sphinx, which was a woman, the Egyptian sphinx is typically shown as a man. Furthermore, the Egyptian sphinx was viewed as benevolent but having a ferocious strength similar to the malevolent Greek version. Both were considered guardians and often flank the entrances to temples.

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Egyptian sphinxes guarding the mausoleum’s entrance.

Above the door is a stained glass transom depicting the Cross of Calvary. Even higher on the granite tower are five pillars in front of four stained glass windows with scenes of wreaths and inverted torches. In funerary symbolism, an inverted torch can mean two things. If the torch has a flame, it symbolizes the fire of eternal life and the Christian belief in resurrection. If there is no flame, it means the extinction of life and mourning. 

Upon entering the mausoleum, two additional stained glass windows come into view. They represent Christ beckoning the soul to rest and the everflowing River of Life.

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Tales from the Crypt

The interior finish of the mausoleum is Vermont marble, and the concrete ceiling is painted and frescoed. The longitudinal aisles are ten feet wide. At the intersection of the corridors are ten compartments enclosed by bronze doors and grills. Each compartment contains six crypts and is intended for use by an entire family. Along the sides of the two corridors are 360 individual tombs, each numbered, with an entrance slab providing room for suitable inscriptions. In observance of superstition, there is no crypt with the number 13 listed.

Each crypt has its own system of automatic ventilation with an inlet and outlet for the passage of air. Also, Chloride of lime is utilized to ensure a thorough absence of any offensive odors.

In 1915, the cost of the crypts ranged from $200 to $300 each. In today’s dollars, it would set you back somewhere between $5,000 and $7,500. I’m unsure if any crypts remain available today.

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Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery was first charted in 1895. It contains more than 15,000 graves. It also has a chapel and crematorium that dates back to 1884. The crematorium is no longer in use. Greenwood Cemetery is currently owned by an outside corporation, StoneMor Partners.

Planning Your Visit

Greenwood Cemetery. This 48-acre property is located at 719 Highland Ave, Lancaster, PA 17603. Click here for directions.


Before You Go

If you do visit, keep in mind that you are in a cemetery and should conduct yourself in an appropriate, respectful manner.

Learn More

Read the original October 2, 1915, Lancaster, New Era article dedicating the building.

Sphinx Article


7 thoughts on “Visit ancient Egypt without ever leaving Lancaster County

  1. I have lots of articles on Greenwood Cemetery, including the advertisement that ran in the newspaper. I researched it from when they were planning to build it.

  2. Greenwood has some great stones in general. Our Scouts put out flags there every Memorial Day. Have found vets from every war including the Spanish American. Once says simply “Died in France 1918”

    There is a Civil War section toward the back, someone told me they were black soldiers, if anyone can confirm.

  3. I’ve seen many cemeteries where as the board had approved historical tours, ghost tours and many other activities that have generated funds for care and maintenance.
    Purchases for souvenirs dedicated decorations for sale for vets, Dignitaries and others buried there. Some families may not realize they have forgotten family members entered there. Many love a history lesson.
    Stop thinking of it as an unmanageable piece of land and think about what interests can be sparked generating revenue and historical interests.

  4. I recently stumbled on this place wandering from Woodward Hill where President Buchanan has his tomb and went across the street to check out the first operational crematorium erected in this country at Cedar Lawn. Superstitious or not, I got to an area that just seemed off though I felt compelled to walk up the summit on roads that were the worst I’d seen anywhere else since visiting Pennhurst Asylum some years ago. Like that place, there was an uncomfortable feeling that made what should have been a wondrous discovery a disappointment. It is as if that mausoleum was ashamed to be seen. I had ceased taking any pictures except for the Vietnam War veterans memorial there but past that, even the recently mowed lawns just revealed more of what needed to be done. I made a brisk retreat away from there back to Woodward. I havebsince found out that Greenwood has been closed to the public pending much demanded renovations from angry relatives who made numerous complaints about the conditions of their relatives’ graves and the neglect to the mausoleum. Where it supposedly had stained glass, now has wooden plywood boards and the statuary are covered in botanical grime. I later photographed that rather impressive gateway whose appearance and texture suggests a skull—quite Burtonesque_-and is surmounted by a Phoenix coat of arms and a pleurant of a forlorn child looking upward. I had heard that one of Lancaster’s movers and shakers buried there, John McKaskey, was honored a decade ago by descendants-relatives and town officials and pictures of the ceremony show the grounds in better shape than they currently are now. I hope these conditions are remedied.

  5. I visited Prospect Hill and was stunned to find another mausoleum like this one designed by Urban that sits on the north summit. I learned from a docent at the office that he sold the basic design to Mount Rose in South York as well. All three share the same basic designs with variations in the Sphinx statue and scale. Greenwood was the first and largest of these with Urban being buried in that cemetery. Mount Rose is situated in the south central portion and is level with the street.

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