It’s a fact of life: For some people, earning a living means dealing with death. Sam McCleskey has spent most of his career as the country’s premier builder of mausoleums.
The earliest mausoleum was built between 353 and 350 B.C. for King Mausolus in present-day Turkey, and it is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. McCleskey’s modern creations are pretty wondrous, too. His company is now building a three-story structure in Los Angeles that will house 40,000 caskets. But that’s just the latest project in a long career.
“I’ve been responsible for designing and building more than 700 large community mausoleums in 32 states,” says McCleskey, who is a 2007 Distinguished Alumnus of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. “The smallest we’ve built is about 300 casket spaces, and the largest [prior to the Los Angeles project] is 10,000 casket spaces.”
Today McCleskey serves as chairman of the board of McCleskey Construction Co. and isn’t as involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. An avid traveler, he has visited all seven continents. But he remains fascinated by his profession.
“Above-ground burial has a long history. It just happened that when I came into the business in 1958, there was an upswing. And we’re still in it today.”
© 2014 Vanderbilt University
Conversation guidelines: Vanderbilt Magazine welcomes your thoughts, stories and information related to this article. Please stay on topic and be respectful of others. Keep the conversation appropriate for interested readers across the map.