Nebraska is often described as a “fly over state” with very little going on in the way of cultural and artistic expression. When you are busy flying over in your cramped coach seat, you miss the beautiful and often subtle representations of artistic talent that can be found hidden throughout the state and within Omaha specifically. Many of these monuments have been painstakingly produced by artists who took the time and considerable effort to craft their art by hand. These artists are often ordinary people whose influence has impacted generations and undoubtedly will continue to do so.
One such artist is John McDonald, an architect from Prince Edward Island, Canada. As a young man, McDonald moved to Omaha and soon opened his own firm (1). His friendship with George Joslyn, the wealthiest man in Nebraska at the time, created many opportunities for his creative talents to soar. Most notably, his development of the Joslyn Castle, a historic Omaha landmark designed in the Gothic Revival style (2). Many of the breathtaking historical structures in Omaha are a result of McDonald’s architecture. Some of his lesser known pieces include the Historic Chapel.
Located among the rolling hills of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, the historic chapel stands peacefully as a symbol of hope and love. Construction on this incredible structure began in December 1977, with the laying of the cornerstone ceremony. Following this, each aspect of the chapel was hand crafted and placed by skilled laborers who took great care completing their task. Everything from the marble slabs to the small square tiles on the floor was hand cut and arranged. No expense was spared in the construction including “mosaic inserts of gold and mother of pearl” and the inscription “Until the day break and shadows flee away” in pure gold across the chapel walls (3). McDonald’s architecture, the incredible Colorado Yule Marble Quarry, and countless other artists resulted in a chapel that provided peace to those who had suffered the loss of loved ones.
The use of the Historic Chapel was not restricted to any denomination or religion. Forest Lawn Memorial wanted to create a space where everyone could find comfort regardless of who they were. This coming together of professional artists allowed this dream to become a reality. To this day, the chapel can be utilized as a space where the grieving can lay their loved ones to rest in peace. John McDonald’s artistic talents helped provide the refuge for countless people across the country.