Serenity Falls – Forest Lawn Cemetery
GPS/Locations: Serenity Falls: (N 42.92424 / W 78.85795)
Frank Loyd Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum: (N 42.92298 / W 78.86254)
Directions: Forest Lawn Cemetery is located in downtown Buffalo near 198 at the Delaware Ave exit (384). There is an entrance on the corner of Delaware and Delavan Avenues and another on Main St. just past Delavan Ave. Serenity Falls is closer to the Main St. entrance. Once through the Main St. entrance arch turn right. You’ll drive over a bridge (crossing Scajaquada Creek). Make the first left (at the mausoleum). You’ll pass another road on your right. Halfway between this intersection and the next is where you will want to pull over. This is “Section 20” of the cemetery. You should be able to hear the waterfall to the south.
Or use Google Maps (Google Maps will get you to the right entrance, but does not cover the cemetery roads).
Parking: Parking spots are scarce at this cemetery. You can park at the entrances and some roads are wider than others. If you aren’t going to walk around the cemetery, park on the side of the road next to the falls. Do not park or drive on the grass.
Information / Accessibility / Accommodations
Number of falls: 1.
Size/Types: A long series of small slopes and ledges totaling no more than 15 feet. It’s nothing special.
Best time to visit: Spring through fall.
Waterway: Scajaquada Creek, which begins in the east in Lancaster, flows through Depew, and then into the city, where it flows completely underground. It emerges from a culvert just upstream from Serenity Falls, passes through the cemetery and Delaware Park, where it is dammed into a small lake. It then goes through the rest of Buffalo and into the Niagara River at Squaw Island.
Time: A few minutes.
Seasons/Hours: Year-round. The hours change depending on the season.
April through October:
- 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. via Delaware Avenue gate
- 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. via 2 Main Street gates
Once Daylight Savings Time begins, the cemetery closes earlier, but these times are not set in stone. Call 716.885.1600 for exact hours.
Handicap accessibility: No.
Pets: Pets are strictly forbidden in the cemetery.
Accommodations: Cemetery office (at the Delaware Ave. entrance), tours (see schedule), several businesses in the vicinity.
Forest Lawn is more than just a cemetery. It also serves as a park, arboretum, and outdoor museum for the thousands of visitors who pass through each year. Within a small valley surrounding Scajaquada Creek, this peaceful setting houses over 152,000 permanent residents in seclusion from the surrounding city of Buffalo.
Numerous mausoleums and large monuments are scattered amongst the common graves and are as visually fascinating as they are historic. The Blue Sky Mausoleum in particular, was designed by visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The cemetery gates and Birge and Blocher memorials, among countless others, are crafted in intricate detail and add plenty of character to the surroundings. Not only are the structures themselves interesting, but their arrangement throughout the cemetery is quite unique in its own right. It almost has to be seen from above to be fully appreciated. Rows of monuments twist and turn with the landscape and pathways. Arrangements complement the landscape perfectly, as if painted in by an artist.
The cemetery also serves as an arboretum of sorts, with abundant tree and bush species on the grounds. The trees make this a great stop for migrating birds passing over Buffalo. With over 240 species of birds having been spotted in the cemetery, it’s not uncommon to find folks walking through the cemetery with binoculars in hand.
Serenity Falls is located on Scajaquada Creek in the southeast corner of the cemetery, where it pours over the Onondaga escarpment. Unlike the surrounding grounds, the creek here is filled with soda bottles, plastic bits, paper, and other forms of junk. It almost looks like an environmental disaster. This is no surprise considering that the creek flows underground through much of the city of Buffalo before it passes through here. When we visited in the fall, the creek reeked of sewage and the turbidity was high. The falls themselves are nothing special; just several ledges and slopes that mix and shuffle the water enough for it to be considered a waterfall. It is not easy to view the whole falls even from the bridge just downstream. One must scramble down the embankment to get to the creek bed next to the falls for a peek. Once down there, the piled up trash and smell is quite a distraction from what little potential the falls has to begin with. Despite its problems, this is the only natural waterfall in Buffalo and is worthy of being noted.
Hiking / Walking Trails
Distance: 30-40 feet from the cemetery road.
Description: Although this waterfall is just feet away from the road, in order to get to the stream bed for a closer look, one has to scramble down a wooded embankment. Be careful; it is often muddy. Once you descend to the creek bed along the falls, you can’t walk much further.
Serenity Falls Interactive Map
As the Erie Canal brought unprecedented business and growth to Buffalo, the need arose for a large formal cemetery. In 1849 Charles E. Clarke, a Buffalo attorney, purchased 80 acres of land a few miles north of the city. Clarke hoped to build a cemetery in the vein of the beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. His vision was to create a cemetery not just to house the dead, but for the living as well. The cemetery would have to integrate seamlessly with nature and to allow visitors to walk the grounds to admire the art and the romance of the setting. This was to be a cemetery to accommodate burials and to serve as a museum and work of art for the people of Buffalo. The subtle valley surrounding Scajaquada Creek, with its fertile land, spring-fed ponds, and seclusion from downtown Buffalo was an ideal setting.
The first burial, for John Jay, Jr. took place on July 12, 1850.
A few years after the cemetery was built, Clarke began commissioning art work to display in the cemetery, beginning with a sculpture of renowned Seneca chief and orator Red Jacket. Several other sculptures followed in subsequent years and were erected throughout the cemetery, helping to grow it as an outdoor museum. Mausoleums by notable artists, such as Harriet Frishmuth and Nicola Cantalamessa, blend art with memorial, creating eerily beautiful sights throughout the grounds.
Over the years several notable persons made Forest Lawn their final resting place:
Millard Fillmore: our thirteenth President
Seymour Knox: Woolworth Five and Dime co-founder
Mitchell Mark: designed the first movie theater;
William Fargo Transportation pioneer (Wells-Fargo)
Lawrence Dale Bell: Founder of Bell Aircraft
Frederick Cook: Explorer
Rick James: Superfreak
Find more here.
Today the 269 acre cemetery is encapsulated by the city of Buffalo, but still maintains the tranquility and beauty that Charles E. Clarke envisioned.
Serenity Falls Media
Forest Lawn Tours
Tours of the cemetery run during the summer months. It is one of the best ways to learn about the history of the cemetery and get all the
Scajaquada Creek runs a total of 13 miles with a watershed of approximately 29 square miles. While it passes through Buffalo it is diverted through underground culverts, with the exception of Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Blue Sky Mausoleum
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum can be found in the south end of the cemetery between the two entrances. It was designed by Wright in 1928 as part of a commission for Darwin D. Martin, but was not completed until 2004 by one-time apprentice of Wright’s, Anthony Putnam. The mausoleum’s bold stairway leads to a large stone monolith overlooking two small spring-fed ponds. It is certainly one of the most unique resting places in the cemetery, and definitely one coveted by many architects. There are 24 crypts available.
Photographing the Falls
- You’ll have to scramble down the embankment to get to a spot from where you can photograph the falls. Make sure to protect your gear.
Around the cemetery
- The interesting landscaping, various ponds, and numerous monuments in the cemetery offer several photo opportunities.
- Bring your telephoto lens. Over 240 species of birds have been spotted here.
- Daylight will cast uneven shadows through the canopy and cause sunspots in your shots. It is best to wait for an overcast sky for this one.
Silky Water Effect
- To get that smooth cotton-candy look to the falls, you need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter on your lens. The ND filter will block some of the light from entering the lens without altering the color, and thus allow your shutter to stay open longer. This blurs the water and creates a soft white gloss to the foamy areas of the falls. Check out the article for the all the details.
- See the Articles for more photography tips.