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Posts Tagged ‘graves of famous people’

I love to visit graveyards.

More specifically, I enjoy visiting cemeteries where famous people are buried.

In fact, it’s become a bit of a hobby.

My interest began many years ago when I visited London and bought a small booklet in the Westminster Abbey bookstore on where famous people were buried.

Then I purchased a copy of Tod Benoit’s outstanding book Where Are They Buried?

And then I ran across the website Seeing Stars, which has tons of information about Hollywood celebrities, including the location of their final resting places.

Why would anyone be interested in locating the graves of famous people?

First, it’s fascinating to compare where people have been laid to rest.

For example, here’s the memorial for the famous singer Al Jolson:

Al Jolson's Memorial @ Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California

Al Jolson’s Memorial @ Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California

Then there’s this bronze memorial for actor Don Knotts:

Grave of Don Knotts @ Westwood Memorial Park in California

Grave of Don Knotts @ Westwood Memorial Park in California

And here’s the crypt for the greatest basketball coach of all time, UCLA’s John Wooden:

Crypt of John Wooden @ Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills

Crypt of John Wooden @ Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills

Why are the memorials for Jolson and Knotts so elaborate while Wooden’s is so simple?

Does it have to do with the finances of these men’s survivors?  To what degree do these graves reflect their personalities and final wishes?

You can enjoy a whole evening of conversation on that topic!

Second, it’s fun to find people’s graves.

My father died when I was 13, and during the ensuing few years, our family visited his gravesite quite often.

Sometimes my cousins would come along, and while the grownups talked, we’d play “Find the Grave.”

One of us would walk around, notice someone’s name on a gravestone, and then tell the others, “Find Joe Shlabotnik.”  The first one who found Joe’s grave would take the next turn.

Well, last November, my wife and daughter joined me in walking from downtown Cambridge, Massachusetts to the famous Mount Auburn Cemetery … a walk of about two miles.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

There were 7 or 8 famous people buried there, and we wanted to see their graves.  We immediately found the grave of Phillips Brooks, a well-known preacher from the 19th century … best known as the writer of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Tombstone of Phillips Brooks, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tombstone of Phillips Brooks, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Then we went looking for the grave of behaviorist B.F. Skinner … but all we found was encroaching darkness:

Graves at Dusk at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Graves at Dusk at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Fortunately, we didn’t give up, returning to Mount Auburn two days later.  With the aid of afternoon light, we finally located Skinner’s final resting place:

Grave of B.F. Skinner and his wife, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Grave of B.F. Skinner and his wife, Mount Auburn Cemetery

Even with a map, it can be a challenge to find the graves of certain well-known people … not because they’re hidden, but because they’re buried alongside thousands of others.

Third, I feel a connection with famous people when I visit their graves.

I’ve never met Calvin Coolidge, or Napoleon, or John Bunyan, but when I visited their final resting places, I felt like I somehow knew them:

Grave of former US President Calvin Coolidge in Vermont

Grave of former US President Calvin Coolidge in Vermont

If I’d seen these men in real life, they might have had Secret Service protection, or been kept at a distance from the public, or avoided crowds of commoners.

But death is the great equalizer.  I could walk right up to the graves of these people … think about their impact in my life … and even pose for a photo (in most cases).

Although there are a few celebrity graves that the public cannot visit … like those of Michael Jackson and Lady Diana … the average person can visit 95% of them.

And most of the time, you can linger and reflect … like the day I visited the grave of Winston Churchill … with nobody around.

Fourth, visiting graveyards is free.

Every cemetery I’ve visited does not have an admission charge.  I did pay $5 for a map of the grounds at Hollywood Forever, but it was well worth it.

While I hesitate to say that they’re entertaining, they’re certainly sobering … and even spooky at times:

Twilight at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Twilight at Mount Auburn Cemetery

While most cemeteries lack any kind of amusement factor, some cemeteries do offer “entertainment.”

For example, Hollywood Forever shows old movies on its grounds at night on a regular basis.

By the way, Westwood Memorial Park is the best cemetery I’ve visited as far as value.  Dozens of famous people (Will and Ariel Durant, for example) are buried there, but it takes the average person less than two minutes to walk across the whole place in either direction:

Westwood Memorial Park

Westwood Memorial Park

Finally, graveyards tend to be places of peace and rest.

My wife and I currently live in a 55+ community where it’s perpetually quiet, but we’re moving to a neighborhood full of shouting kids and screeching brakes.

It’s nice to know that in the midst of a noise-filled life, there are some places one can visit where it’s usually serene.

Many cemeteries feature manicured green lawns … gentle rolling hills … beautiful statues … and lovely landscaping.  For example, here’s a photo of Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills:

IMG_2859

I’ve got quite a list of cemeteries I’d still like to visit, especially Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.

One grave I’d like to see is that of Babe Ruth, who is buried north of New York City.  (So is Lou Gehrig, but they’re in different cemeteries.)  My wife and I searched for it last fall, but came up empty.  Next time!

I’d also like to visit more of the graves of US Presidents, as well as members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

From time-to-time, I’ll write more about this topic.  But for now, let me share with you a picture of one of my favorite tombstones:

Grave of American TV talk show host Merv Griffin

Grave of American TV talk show host Merv Griffin

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