Skip to content


Crystal Shrine Grotto

Learn the history
The only man-made crystal cave in the world.

Memorial Park: The Glory of Nature and Art.

Founded in 1925 by E. Clovis Hinds, an entrepreneur, Memorial Park’s most outstanding feature is its beauty and naturally rolling terrain. Much of the 1930s were spent transforming Memorial Park into the premier cemetery in the Mid-South. Several features were added to the landscape to enhance its beauty. Just inside the entrance is a gracefully curved reflecting pool and a three-tiered fountain.

As you drive to the east of the fountain, you will cross the stone bridges and come across the first of several fascinating constructions by Mexican artist, Dionicio Rodriguez. These works include Annie Laurie’s Wishing Chair and Rose Garden, The Wishing Well and the Fountain of Youth. The high point of Rodriguez’s work is the Crystal Shrine Grotto, which Mr. Hinds described as the only man-made crystal cave in the world.

E. Clovis Hinds – A Man of Vision

E. Clovis Hinds was a smart entrepreneur who wanted Memphis to have a place of beauty and peace, where people could visit and feel inspired and uplifted. After a visit to Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA, the country’s first “memorial park”, a cemetery in which no upright markers or monuments would be allowed. Hinds was inspired to create his own nonsectarian cemetery, adorned with works of art representing legendary and Judeo-Christian themes. He was attracted to the idea of “democracy in death,” where there were no monuments to human wealth or pride, no ‘spooky tombstones’, but only the glory of nature and art.

After returning to Memphis, Hinds sold his Life Insurance business and bought the first 54 acres of land that would become Memphis Memorial Park, now simply Memorial Park. Right away Hinds began to advertise Memorial Park, ‘the cemetery beautiful’. It would be, he said, “a place of lakes and fountains, broad driveways, spacious lawns, beautiful shrubbery, trees and flowers”. It was 5 miles east of the city. The first ads offered a family group of six grave plots for $150.

The Story of the Crystal Shrine Grotto

One day in February 1935, vision shook hands with genius. That is, the tall and distinguished Hinds met the short, proud Mexican Artist SeƱor Dionicio Rodriguez. Over the next eight years, their unlikely partnership as patron and artist would produce a treasure trove of folk art in Memphis that to this day attracts visitors from all around the world. No one knows where he got his training or what he knew of other artists doing similar work. Rodriguez called his method el trabajo rustic, or rustic work. Many folk artists were creating rustic designs presenting natural elements like stone and wood, but Rodriguez seems to have created the best kind of sculptures.

The ‘stumpy little brown man’, as he was described in the newspapers of the day, arrived at Memorial Park with an interpreter. Hinds and Rodriguez negotiated a price - $75 per week for Rodriguez and a helper – and Hinds gave Rodriguez plans for the first sculpture wanted, Annie Laurie’s Wishing Chair.

Like all the sculptures Hinds would commission, this one had a story behind it. Annie Laurie lived in Glencairn, Scotland. When she died in 1764, she was buried in a churchyard. The Stones from the Altar where she prayed were used to make a chair. According to legend, this chair was blessed by fairies, so that any boy and girl, who sat in it, held hands and made a wish, might have that wish come true.

Rodriguez fashioned the double-seated chair from concrete, which he scored and stained to look like stones. As Rodriguez said about his own work, “It doesn’t take much material or time, and gives wonderful results.” Hinds must have agreed, for the Mexican artist was soon at work on many more concrete sculptures.

Visitors came to Memorial Park on Sunday afternoons to watch the curious little man work. To make his sculptures, Rodriguez would first create a support structure of steel and copper tubing; he never welded but wired these pieces together for strength. Over this he would shape a rough form out of wire mesh, filled with rubble. Then with one sack of cement at a time, adding no sand, he applied this wet cement to the form, shaping and carving it with his hands, with twigs or kitchen utensils - forks, spoons and knives. The sculpture took shape as Rodriguez added layer upon layer of cement. While the cement was still wet he added stains and dyes he mixed to give it color.

Rodriguez jealously guarded the secrets of his trade, especially the formulas he created for coloring the concrete. He worked in a tent where no one could see him mixing the colors and stains in glass jars. Sometimes he kept these jars in the trunk of his car, and if anyone approached he quickly slammed down the trunk lid. When he emptied or finished with a jar, he would soak the label off, tear it up, throw it away and break the jar.

The second sculpture that Hinds commissioned was the Broken Tree Bench. Like his other work, Broken Tree Bench was sculpted from concrete, but it included minute details to make it look like wood. Rodriguez created the texture of bark, some of it peeling off, with knotholes and worm holes and other imperfections to make the bench seem more like real wood. Many people have mistaken it and his other sculptures for petrified wood. The next sculptures Rodriguez did for Hinds were inspired by the Bible. Abrahams Oak (near the entrance to the Crystal Shrine Grotto) is 15 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter.

It is a representation of an old hollowed-out tree, large enough to walk through, with benches carved inside. It stands near the Pool of Hebron, inspired by the water reservoirs created by King Solomon for the arid land of Judea. Hebron was a town about 20 miles south of Jerusalem, and it was Abraham’s home. Behind the Pool of Hebron, Rodriguez built an interpretation of the Cave of Machpelah. The cave was the tomb for Abraham and his family. Hinds wanted it to be represented in his cemetery because it was the first burial place mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 23).

An Enduring Legacy

A stunning landscape was taking shape at Memorial Park. No one who knew him could have been surprised at the magnitude of Hinds’ plan. He was a vibrant man, full of ideas and enthusiasm. He was already 56 years old when he established Memorial Park. He had a successful life insurance business, but at an age when other men might be considering retirement, Hinds was motivated to create a new business venture.

By 1935 Memorial Park was well established and Hinds was building upon a tradition of making the cemetery more than just a burial place. In the 19th century, when there were few if any public parks, cemeteries were used as places for quiet family recreation. Owners encouraged families to take walks and have picnics in their cemeteries. In some, the trees and plants were labeled, as in botanical gardens. The cemetery was a place to visit not only in the times of bereavement, but also to experience beauty and spiritual uplift.

Today, Memorial Park proudly carries on this tradition. The Grotto is arguably the favorite outdoor venue for local photographers. On any given day, the Grotto plays host to family photos as well as photos for weddings, graduations, proms, etc. It also serves as backdrop to the annual Easter Sunrise Service, a Mid-South tradition that spans generations. Perhaps the biggest testament to the Grotto’s place in local culture is this: Although it sits within a cemetery, numerous weddings are also celebrated at the Grotto each year—all at no cost. At Memorial Park, we spend every day celebrating life.