Among the graves of President Benjamin Harrison, several vice presidents, and dozens of famous Hoosiers, a monarch butterfly named Warren is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.
On a cold autumn day years ago, Marty Davis found a moth dying in the sand at Warren Dunes State Park in northern Indiana. His wings were torn, but when she held him in her hand, he came back to life.
Marty has spent most of her life caring for others – whether it’s raising monarch butterflies, rescuing house rabbits, or helping make Crown Hill Cemetery a place of remembrance for people who are grieving.
So, naturally, Marty brought the butterfly home, nursed it and nursed it on the beach where it was found.
Despite his weakness, Warren lived for weeks – had it not been for Marty, he would surely have died that day. When he died, she buried him in her plot in Crown Hill.
Marty, 65, retired in early August after 40 years at the Crown Hill Cemetery and Funeral Home, much of which he spent with the Heritage Foundation at the cemetery.
Marty’s husband, 69, does the rounds and is a cemetery historian in his spare time. On the same day his wife retired from his job as an accountant.
For Marty and Tom, Crown Hill isn’t just a workplace – it’s a site of history and natural beauty to be cherished and preserved. It’s full of stories – a “people’s museum,” as Tom likes to say.
“These people are not just someone underground with a tombstone on top,” Marty said. “They lived a life.”
40 years of history
Marty and Tom have been married for 44 years, and Crown Hill has been present in their lives for almost a long time. They met in college at Indiana State University, through a Christian fellowship group. In 1982, when they moved to Indianapolis with their church, Marty announced herself to work on The Indianapolis Star. She was assigned to Crown Hill, and began work in the service yard.
“I wasn’t really looking for any kind of specific job when I started here,” she said.
This has been a topic over the years. Marty a Renaissance Woman: PR and Tour Coordinator, Graphic Designer, Photographer, Social Media Director, Event Planner.
Longtime co-worker Marianne Rangelovich said her contributions to the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation have been invaluable.
“When she needed and wanted to develop a new skill and take advantage of that skill to enhance and enhance the cemetery experience, she did so,” Randjelovich, the foundation’s vice president of development, told IndyStar. “Whatever she thought, she accomplished.”
Their enthusiasm for Crown Hill and its history is one of many shared passions—hiking and travelling, appreciating living things (they are part of the Indiana House Rabbit Association) and family—their son, Zane, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters.
Tom got “tight up,” Marty said, for tours of Crown Hill sometime in the mid-1990s. His degree in English, along with his passion for history, books, and research, made him an ideal mentor.
“If you want to know where something is, ask Tom,” Randjelovich said. “It’s like a cemetery walking encyclopedia.”
Tom and Marty are on social media, and the Crown Hill newsletter. Tom and Marty will write double duty: editing and writing occasionally. Tom’s creative streak can sometimes get in the way of Marty’s immediate preferences—it’s not harsh, he said, but it can be private.
“Because she’s taking over the cemetery, she sometimes mods me like that,” Tom said.
Marty also captured her love for Toon Hill through “many, many, many, many thousands of pictures.” Her passion is categorized by intimate images of deer, perfectly lit tombstones, and gorgeous sunsets. Generations of visitors will see the place as you do – and we hope you know that beauty and sadness can coexist.
“I just hope I did the place justice,” she said.
Calling all angels
On a Saturday night in August, a crowd gathers as the sun sets on Crown Hill. The light is great at this time of day — when the sun is low in the sky, says Marty, casting a glow over the green hills.
Tom modified the headphone microphone. Wearing an aqua shirt emblazoned with skulls and crossbones, he was ready to take this group on a tour of the many angel statues in the cemetery.
The twenty or so assemblers were a mixture of strangers, Marty and their granddaughters and several of Tom’s former co-workers and their families. It might be an unusual place for happy hour at work, but it’s convenient.
Karen Earnest, Tom’s former classmate, said he wouldn’t let them throw a retirement party for him, so they decided to come over to him.
Before Earnest recognized Tom, she would see him reading the obituary on his desk. While her immediate reaction was skepticism, as soon as she learned of Tom’s work at Crown Hill, she was moved.
Although Earnest said they eventually had to move Tom to a different room so people wouldn’t get the wrong idea, his unusual hobby has been replaced by his goodwill.
“If they were buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, they deserved the same level of his time as … presidents, race car owners and bank robbers, and that he would still learn about them, and that everyone would get that level of attention, at least he would know their names,” Earnest said.
Tom was standing in front of the crowd. As the tour went through the various tombstones, he presented facts about the tomb’s inhabitants as if he were describing an old friend.
As the sun went down, Tom directed the group to a grave with a unique feature. The stone statue, more than a century old, was dried up, with the angel pointing to heaven while the girl was directed to stare. But the tombstone, in a paternalistic manner, only identified the occupant as “John C. Fisher’s wife,” who died in 1886.
“It’s always bothered me that you know, here’s () the most beautiful statue in the cemetery,” Tom told the group, “and we don’t know her name.”
But Tom is not one to let the riddle lie. He did some research and found legal documents detailing who could be buried in the lot, which led him to conclude only one possible person – Anna Marie Fisher.
A place of sadness and beauty
Imagining Crown Hill as a nature reserve contrasts with the way most people view the place. But for Marty, the opportunity to work abroad is one of the things in her career that she is most grateful for.
Deeply rooted in her faith, she sees God in the wonders of the natural world. She said that nature saved her life when she was young, when she was going out to escape an abusive childhood.
“I’ve seen the most beautiful things here,” she said of Crown Hill.
However, this natural beauty exists alongside sadness and mourning. Crown Hill comes alive, although its purpose is rooted in death.
For years, Marty sat in her office, watching from her window thousands of new Crown Hill residents and their loved ones pass through the gates on West 34th Street and Boulevard Place.
She will tell you herself that she has always been “passionate about bereaved people”. Marty’s father committed suicide when she was twelve years old. She knows what it’s like to be grieving — and healing.
“It has been a lifelong honor to work in a place where we help people remember and bury their loved ones with honor and dignity,” she said.
Marty, in all aspects of her life, is not disturbed by grief. She has an extraordinary ability to comfort those who are in their deepest grief.
“She’s the kind of friend who can sit with you in your pain, and not try to fix it,” said Ann Ryder, a former WTHR-13 anchor and longtime friend.
The two met in Camp Healing Tree A camp for children who have lost loved ones, where Marty volunteers and runs an annual release of the monarch butterfly.
Among Marty’s many passions, the kings are the first in their minds. She’s been raising them for years – from eggs to whole butterflies.
Marty’s legacy at Crown Hill will be a butterfly garden that bears her name – filled with different species of milkweed, the only plants that royal caterpillars eat. The garden will be in the shape of a butterfly wing across from the building where I worked for many years.
Marty said the process by which a caterpillar turns into a butterfly is a spiritual one. The transformation indicates that they “threw everything they knew, becoming everything they had never seen before”.
“There’s a lot of hope in that,” said Marty, “which I like to convey to people, that death really isn’t the end.”
“Flying towards the light”
While Marty and Tom have retired from full-time employment, Crown Hill will continue to be in their lives.
Tom will still work as a tour guide. Marty aims to work about 10 hours a month, taking photos and helping with projects. Both will continue to use their social media and newsletter. But for the first time in more than 40 years together, most of their time is free.
They are passionate about traveling – they love the American Southwest – and hiking and spending time with their grandchildren. But even positive change is bittersweet.
On one balmy August evening, the final step in the transformation of monarch butterflies occurred – the launch.
The backyard of Tom and Marty in Indianapolis is full of green. There is a pond bordered by milkweed for the larvae to eat and where the kings can return to lay eggs. But that night, the butterflies were ready to let go.
Each king lingered for a moment, streaming into the mesh enclosure that was their former refuge. But at last they all flew in the same direction: toward the sun, and soared higher and higher until every one was out of sight.
Marty noted, “There is something to be said, about flying toward the light.”
Contact popular IndyStar reporter Clairerafford at [email protected] or on Twitter @clairerafford.
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