Each morning, my husband and I wake up to Morning Edition on NPR and usually hear a jarring barrage of campaign orations, weather reports, or obituaries.
At this rainy August dawn, I picked up on something that’s apparently been going on all summer but escaped my drowsy attention: A series called Dead Stop – featuring visits to cemeteries and burial grounds across the country.
I went online to see what I had missed and thought these stories, many off-beat or quirky, worth sharing. For the most part, it’s a lighthearted look and means no disrespect to the more somber and sorrowful side of death. But these stories do shed light on the traditions and transgressions of how the dead are buried and remembered.
- One story focused on Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Ariz., visited by almost 150,000 people annually. The gift shop sells souvenirs and fudge made on the premises and the site was immortalized by Johnny Cash in “The Ballad of Boot Hill.” Headstones include:
Killeen, 1880. Shot by Frank Leslie.
Red River Tom, shot by Ormsby.
Marshal Fred White, 1880. Shot by Curly Bill.
- There’s the Ben and Jerry’s “Flavor Graveyard” in Waterbury, Vt. where old flavors die but are not forgotten.
- Fascinating that Dorothy Parker’s ashes are buried in Baltimore, not her beloved New York. The reason: she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King, Jr. – who knew? – and when he died, the NAACP inherited both her ashes and literary rights. She’s buried next to their headquarters.
- Andy Warhol, another famous New Yorker, is not buried there either. He was buried in 1987 next to his parents in the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, not far from downtown Pittsburgh where he was born.
- Bill Wilson’s grave in Vermont attracts visitors who credit him with changing their lives: he was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- There’s Eklutna Cemetery in Alaska, near Anchorage, a territory once claimed by imperial Russia. Native Americans and Russian Orthodox spirits live on in small houses placed atop the graves.
- When Stonewall Jackson was wounded in battle, his amputated arm received a Christian burial in a private cemetery near the field hospital in Orange County, Virginia – but when he died a few days later of pneumonia, the rest of his body was buried in Lexington, a hundred miles away.
- There’s the Hollywood Hills cemetery where Bette Davis and Buster Keaton are buried, not to mention Frank Inn, trainer of celebrity animal stars.
- How sad that jazz legend Billie Holiday is not buried in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery with other well-known entertainers – Duke Ellington, Celia Cruz, Miles Davis and Lionel Hampton – but was placed, instead, in a much cheaper resting place in the Bronx.
- The Garden of Peace in Flint, Mich. was created in tune with Muslim burial traditions – all facing the same direction, east.
- Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas, not far from the Mexican border, is 52 acres with 60,000 people buried – Chinese, Jewish, Mormon, Masonic and African American.
- Lincoln Cemetery in Montgomery, Ala., was established in 1907 for African-Americans, and was designed for 700 graves. So far, a volunteer corps restoring the neglected burial ground has recorded more than 6,700.
All of these stories are worth a listen if you have a curious moment during these end-of-summer days when other activities don’t quite fit the cusp between seasons and the change of focus from vacation to the upcoming fall swirl of events leading into the holidays.
Next up:Natural Burial Grounds Are An Ecological Alternative
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.
Images: 1 Wikimedia Commons/kafziel, 2 Flickr Creative Commons/Woody H1, 3 Wikimedia Commons, 4 Wikimedia Commons/Theoliane, 5 Wikimedia Commons/Groknix