From The New Yorker Magazine Online, 8/29/05
Tad Friend talks about Tyler Cassity, green burials, graveyard tourism, and the future of funerals.
Issue of 2005-08-29
This week in the magazine, Tad Friend writes about the California cemeterian who is trying to redefine the idea of last rites. Here, with Amy Davidson, he talks about green burials, graveyard tourism, and the future of funerals.
AMY DAVIDSON: The central character in your piece is Tyler Cassity, who has been an inspiring and at times frustrating figure for everyone from California environmentalists to the producers of “Six Feet Under.” You write that he may end up having a significant influence on the American way of death. How so?
TAD FRIEND: Tyler Cassity is a powder keg of ideas. He rose to prominence in the so-called “death care” industry by taking a bankrupt cemetery in a borderline part of Los Angeles and turning it into Hollywood Forever, where he had movies projected on the side of Rudolph Valentino’s mausoleum, and displayed his “LifeStories,” which are A&E-style video biographies of the dead. The idea of video tributes has been widely adopted by funeral directors across the country. (Cassity doesn’t talk as much about his idea for displaying DNA samples of the dead in an illuminated globe—a concept that had only three takers. And the globes leaked.) His newest project is green burial; if it takes off, it could change our expectation of what will happen to us when we’re dead—and how we relate to nature.
What is green burial?
Green burial entails placing a body in a grave in either a shroud or a biodegradable wooden box—or, in a variation that Cassity is currently working on, a papier-mâché “egg” that resembles a seed pod. The idea is that the body will swiftly rejoin the ecosystem as fertilizer for the grass and trees above it. In a way, it’s a very old-fashioned idea—as Cassity notes, Jews have, essentially, conducted green burials for five thousand years—but it’s also a striking departure from the way most American bodies are now buried.
And how are most American bodies buried?
They are usually embalmed with chemicals so that the body looks fresh for the viewing, and then buried in metal caskets that are placed inside cement vaults or in aboveground crypts. An embalmed body goes into the ground with three gallons of formaldehyde and mercuric chloride in it, all of which merely slows, rather than forestalls, the process of bacterial decomposition. It turns out that the “sealer” caskets that kept all air out—a refinement of casket technology intended to reassure families that their loved ones would “sleep” undisturbed—only hastened the decay. I don’t want to go so far as to say that you can see slime oozing out of crypts, but, actually, you can.
You write that one of the insights behind green cemeteries is that they not only minimize the environmental impact of a burial—the metal coffin, the formaldehyde—but actually conserve land. How so?
The most expansive vision for green burial is that environmental organizations would use cemeterians such as Cassity to help them conserve land: he would bury people on, say, five hundred acres of a five-thousand-acre tract, and the money from that would go toward restoring and preserving the remainder of the land. So far, the idea has yet to be implemented, as there turn out to be a raft of legal and ecological issues that environmental organizations want to work through before they join up with someone who’s going to be planting corpses in their open space. One place where Cassity would like to work with an environmental partner is Carmel Valley, California, a beautiful condor habitat. But the environmentalists are concerned that families visiting the bodies there might carry the sudden-oak-death fungus with them on the soles of their shoes. They also want to make sure that Cassity or his investors can come up with half the purchase price of the land up front—some ten million dollars.
Tyler Cassity initially worked on Fernwood, a facility in Marin County, with two other people, Billy Campbell and Joe Sehee. After a while, they were no longer on speaking terms. What happened?
Dr. Billy Campbell started the country’s first green-burial cemetery, in South Carolina, in 1998, and Joe Sehee had been Cassity’s media consultant. The three men agreed to work together in 2003, hoping to establish “memorial landscapes” across the country. Campbell’s goal was to save a million acres from development by putting bodies in the ground, a strategy that Sehee likes to call “conservation through consecration.” But it all fell apart, slowly and then, this February, abruptly. The rupture was both personal and philosophical. Cassity might argue that Campbell and Sehee were business novices who, in the end, brought neither funding nor realistic expectations to the equation. Campbell and Sehee might argue that Cassity avoided formalizing the partnership—and that, at Fernwood, his primary concern seemed to them to be not saving land and the environment but, simply, making a profit. Despite all the fury and the consultations with lawyers, though, both Campbell and Sehee really seemed to miss Cassity, and in my piece I write about what happened when they all tried to reconcile not long ago.
You portray Cassity as a dramatic man, whether he’s dealing with life or with death. Is that part of a funeral director’s job description, at least in America?
All of the other funeral directors I spoke with, in the course of my reporting, were genial people who took pride in their function. None of them seemed to spend quite as much time as Cassity does philosophizing—for example, about how film embalms time, or how a cemetery is “a library of bodies catalogued by name and date.” Nor, for that matter, did the other funeral directors I spoke with spend as much time being beaten with eucalyptus branches in a Russian bathhouse or musing about the publicity benefits of dying young.
Cassity’s family owns several cemeteries, as well as a funeral-insurance business—an angle that is very “Six Feet Under.” What’s his connection to the show?
He’s been a consultant to the show, though any resemblance between him and the character of David Fisher—a gay funeral director who fights with his older brother—is purely coincidental, as Cassity didn’t begin to work with the show until after the pilot. It was Cassity, however, who gave the show’s writers the idea to have Nate receive a green burial after his death on the show, a few weeks ago.
You mentioned Hollywood Forever, which had revenues of more than nine million dollars last year. How did Cassity manage that?
He spent two million dollars just getting the place running—mowing the lawn, straightening the gravestones, scooping the rats out of the ornamental pond. Then he began screening movies, throwing parties, and building new mausoleums, turning the cemetery into a sort of city commons. And it probably didn’t hurt that Dee Dee and Johnny Ramone both chose it as their final resting place. Johnny’s not there yet—his wife is still holding on to his ashes—but his monument, a statue of himself playing the guitar, is a siren call for a certain kind of customer, one who imagines the afterlife as like a really long night at CBGB.
That raises a question: Who are cemeteries for? The living or the dead?
They’re for the living; the dead can’t enjoy them. The trick for cemeterians is to get the living to come to them, since once the “season of death”—the first three months—has passed, the average grave receives only two visits. That’s why Hubert Eaton, who ran Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, which was one of California’s top tourist attractions in the nineteen-fifties, put in lots of art works, like a huge stained-glass replica of Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” and Tyler Cassity has peacocks strutting the grounds of Hollywood Forever.
Fernwood and Hollywood Forever are both, in their own ways, archetypally Californian. You mention that some funeral directors believe that green burials and similar ideas might work for California but not for anywhere normal. Do they have a point?
Almost everyone I have mentioned the idea of green burial to seems to find it instinctively appealing. The question is whether enough green-burial facilities can be established to make it a practicable option in the rest of the country. Owing to community resistance, only about three municipal cemeteries are approved each year, nationwide; people just don’t like having bodies next door. With green burial in particular, people worry about disease spreading from unembalmed bodies, or foxes or coyotes digging them up and trotting by carrying someone’s foot. If the body is properly buried, then it doesn’t and they won’t.
Marin County, where Fernwood is situated, is also, you write, a stronghold of hospices and “home funerals”—which involve people who act as “death midwives.” This suggests a connection to the home-birth movement, with its goal of getting childbirth out of the hospital. What is going on here, culturally?
There’s a “We read about how to do this on the Internet, so why should we pay you to do it?” feeling in the air in Marin. The area is ground zero of the baby-boomer generation’s desire to wrest control back from the experts in green scrubs. To make a wild generalization that I’m sure can easily be refuted, liberal areas such as Marin seem to focus this desire on the beginning and the end of life, and in more conservative areas it gets expressed at other life stages—such as with homeschooling.
Has Fernwood delivered on its promise yet? Has green burial?
Fernwood doesn’t even officially open till November, so it’s too early to say. As for green burial: no and yes. No, because fewer than two hundred people, nationwide, have had green burials. Yes, in the sense that many of those people’s families have been uplifted by the experience. And yes, too, in that, judging from the unusual standard of success for this technique, it seems to work. As Billy Campbell told me at his green-burial facility, in South Carolina, “In the woods, after a while, all that’s left of a body is a dark spot and a few teeth.”
So is green burial an ethical choice or an aesthetic one?
It’s both. At the moment, at Fernwood, more people are choosing to be cremated, and to have their ashes scattered or buried in nature, than to have their full bodies fertilize the soil. This suggests that people like the idea of being in nature but don’t feel that they have to be actively contributing to its renewal—ashes, or “cremains,” have no nutritive value. And burying ashes is a lot cheaper than burying a full body.
What does Cassity want to happen to his body when the time comes?
He would like to be memorialized at Hollywood Forever with a circular monument of Carrara marble set in the ornamental lake, atop which will be a statue of a naked Narcissus on all fours, gazing at his reflection. Which is weird, because that was also my plan.
From The New York Times, August 13, 2005
Eco-Friendly Burial Sites Give a Chance to Be Green Forever
MILL VALLEY, Calif. - Tommy Odom's remains lie on a steep wind-swept hill at Forever Fernwood, beneath an oak sapling, a piece of petrified wood and a bundle of dried sage tied with a lavender ribbon.
When he died in a traffic accident last year, Mr. Odom, 41, became the first of 40 people at Fernwood cemetery to move on to greener pastures - literally. He was buried un-embalmed in a biodegradable pine coffin painted with daisies and rainbows, his soul marked by prairie grasses instead of a granite colossus.
Here, where redwood forests and quivering wildflower meadows replace fountains and manicured lawns, graves are not merely graves. They are ecosystems in which "each person is replanted, becoming a little seed bank," said Tyler Cassity, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who reopened the long-moldering cemetery last fall.
With Fernwood's debut, Mr. Cassity, who likened Mr. Odom's burial to the musical "Hair," became an impresario in a fledgling movement that originated in England.
Fernwood, which has designated about half of its 32 acres green, tries to make death palatable to baby boomers and to simplify an inevitable aspect of life dominated by "the black suits" in America's roughly $15 billion funeral industry. In the United States, the "green" concept is now in use at a handful of cemeteries, compared with about 140 woodland cemeteries in England.
In the green scheme of things, death becomes a vehicle for land conservation and saving the planet. "It is not enough to be a corpse anymore," said Thomas Lynch, an author, poet and Michigan funeral director. "Now, you have to be a politically correct corpse."
But just what is a politically correct corpse is an increasingly thorny issue. In recent months, there has been a struggle for the soul of the emerging industry between Mr. Cassity, an enfant terrible of the funeral business, who has made a fortune producing A&E-style digitized biographies of the dead, and Dr. Billy Campbell, who pioneered the movement in the United States and who has the studious intensity of a somewhat nerdy birder.
Dr. Campbell, a small-town physician prone to quoting John Muir and Coleridge, opened the first of the United States' green burial grounds, the 350-acre Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster, S.C., in 1998. There, the departed are buried dust-to-dust-style without embalming - a practice called toxic, artificial and bizarre by critics - in biodegradable coffins or cremation urns that make impervious coffins and grave liners obsolete.
Dr. Campbell was consulting until seven months ago on Fernwood, where eco-interment, also known as an "easement," can cost upward of $15,000 for a prime plot or as little as a few hundred dollars for a scattering of ashes.
Frustrated that conservation easements were not yet in place, he left to form a nonprofit group and a consulting firm in Marin County, Calif, dedicated to land conservation and "little boutique cemeteries with a social justice component," in the words of Joe Sehee, 44, a former Jesuit lay minister and marketing consultant, who is Dr. Campbell's partner.
Dr. Campbell and his former partner are a study in contrasts: Mr. Cassity fantasizes about being buried in cashmere; Dr. Campbell, in a shroud made up of old T-shirts, including "inflammatory ones from the last election," he said.
They are vying for the millions of baby boomers who are expected to die by 2040. The generation of composters who wrote their own wedding vows and opted for natural childbirth is expected to look for something different in death, as a lead character in the HBO series "Six Feet Under" did recently, receiving a green burial in a wooded nature preserve.
"There is a huge generation of people entering accelerated mortality who grew up with the first Earth Day," said Dr. Campbell, who started his eco-cemetery after he was left cold by the prepackaged funeral for his father. "People are ready for something more meaningful."
Mr. Cassity, a GQ-ish sort with rock-star stubble who wears sunglasses indoors, has cultural feelers well tuned for the business. He previously did an extreme makeover of Hollywood Memorial Park, the formerly bankrupt final resting place of Cecil B. DeMille, Tyrone Power and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Sr. With his brother Brent, 38, he runs Forever Enterprises, a Missouri company with cemeteries, cremation societies and a coffin business.
Together, they transformed the once-derelict cemetery into Hollywood Forever, a pastoral "Sunday on La Grande Jatte" of death, where weekend screenings of classic films projected onto the side of Rudolph Valentino's mausoleum attract 2,500 picnickers.
As Forever Hollywood tapped into the zen of Southern California, an oasis for the Rodeo Drive dead, so Mr. Cassity anticipates Fernwood will do for the mountain-biking, Luna bar-eating culture to the north.
"We're in a market, Marin County, where 81 percent chose cremation, an extreme and unprecedented number," Mr. Cassity said.
"Death goes in cycles," he continued. "My best guess is we're finished with the nihilistic 'Let's get it done quick and throw me into the sea thing.' Now, it's, 'Return me to nature and help save the planet.' "
The presence of Fernwood, where the official hearse is a black Volvo S.U.V., in the cool verdant shadows of Mount Tamalpais, reflects Northern California's status as the nation's capital of alternative, artisanal death. The area is home to the death-midwifery movement, supporting home funerals, as well as a cottage industry in plain pine boxes and Funeria, a fraternity of funerary artists who have their own Biennale in San Francisco.
Those opting for eco-burial at Fernwood can buy coffins made of wicker or bamboo, shrouds in a hemp-silk blend and soon, $5,000 "Eco-pods" - a British import made from recycled newspapers and non-toxic glue meant to be a cross between a sarcophagus and a seed pod.
Near the forest path here lies Carolyn Reese Sloss, who died this year at age 84, her cremated remains interred in a biodegradable papier-mâché urn.
Her daughter, Martha Sloss, 52, a psychotherapist, and son-in-law, Murray Silverman, 62, a professor of management at San Francisco State, have reserved their easements in the natural part of the cemetery, a woolly landscape devoid of conventional headstones and navigated by a handheld GPS system. (To come is a lightweight computer that will allow strollers to view digital biographies.)
"As an American, I take up too much of an environmental footprint already," Mr. Silverman said. "To me, taking up more of one after I die is pathetic."
This year, Dr. Campbell, 49, "went ballistic," he said, when he discovered that Fernwood was not adhering to strict environmental precepts, planting inappropriate trees in coastal prairie and digging up land reserved for natural burial with a backhoe.
Dr. Campbell also said he thought that refrigeration would be promoted rather than embalming, which still endures in the older, conventional part of the cemetery, accomplished by a freelance embalmer, known as Dead Ed, on a bicycle.
Dr. Campbell's nonprofit Center for Ethical Burial is developing environmental standards and a strict eco-aesthetic that will preclude hothouse flowers or "gaudy markers marching up the hill," he said.
Ernest Cook, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land, the national conservation group, who is on the center's board, said that although cemeteries were by nature essentially open spaces, conservation easements to nonprofit land trusts or government agencies would ensure that "the environmental values and concepts you're buying into would be absolutely guaranteed in perpetuity."
If the cemetery is part of a larger landscape undergoing conservation, people who wish to be interred or their heirs could bequeath money to the cause. "If land can be preserved and restored," Mr. Cook said, "it could potentially change the way Americans feel about burial."
The future of green burial may lie with people like Jerry Draper, 53, a computer systems analyst and organic farmer in San Anselmo who is thinking about putting in a green cemetery on an 11-acre lot he owns to avoid selling it off for subdivisions.
"It's about taking responsibility, leaving the campground cleaner than when you left it," he said. "It's about being a Prius instead of a Hummer."
From the Associated Press, 8/21/2005:
Grave hunters bring lively activity to cemeteries in search for famous
Some focus on film stars, sports or military figures
August 21, 2005
ALBANY, N.Y. - Here lies President Chester A. Arthur, amid the tall trees and tousled grass of Albany Rural Cemetery.
A dribble of people still visit the Victorian-style grave of the little remembered 19th-century president. More than a century after his death, Arthur is something of a cemetery star.
Patrick Weissend has traveled hundreds of miles to see Arthur's grave - twice - as part of his quest to visit all 38 presidential graves in the country.
"This kind of thing gets you off the expressways and you get to see America," said Weissend, a 37-year-old museum director from Batavia, N.Y.
Weissend is part of the thriving community of people whose idea of fun is checking out lonely roads and rows of granite. They are sometimes called "gravers" or "grave hunters." They are an odd assortment of history buffs, celebrity hounds, military aficionados, amateur genealogists and the occasional Goth kid.
They like the tranquillity, the connection to the past, the beauty, the thrill of the hunt and the buzz of being close to famous people - albeit dead ones.
"People initially think it's this morbid, weird fascination," said Jim Tipton, proprietor of the popular Find A Grave Web site. "I'm not there thinking about what their decaying body looks like or anything like that. You're thinking about their life."
Cemetery tourism is nothing unusual. Visitors flock to Arlington and Gettysburg national cemeteries, as well as to the handful of star-packed graveyards around Hollywood. Grave hunting is a bit different. Gravers typically seek out individual plots of specific people, be it megastars such as Marilyn Monroe, less lustrous lights such as Gen. George Armstrong Custer, or their great-uncle.
Some, like Salt Lake City-based Tipton, will visit graves of famous people even if they're not quite sure who they were. He once searched out Cy Young's grave in Peoli, Ohio, on a cross-country trip with his sister even though they were not sure what sport Young played.
"He has a baseball with wings on it on his grave," he said. "We said, 'Well, that pretty much definitely answers what sport he was involved in.'"
Then there are the specialists. Weissend began focusing on presidents after a visit to Millard Fillmore's grave in nearby Buffalo, N.Y. He has since crisscrossed the nation visiting the graves of 30 dead presidents, often notching more burial sites during side trips to events such as Kiwanis conventions.
Other hunters limit themselves to Civil War figures or movie stars. Then there are grave canvassers: Deborah Dash is in the process of taking pictures of thousands of graves near her home in the San Francisco area and then logging the data on Find A Grave.
She likes looking at the words etched into stone and considering the mysteries they convey.
"You read stones from the turn of the century where you've got a married couple and they have five kids who all died in infancy," she said. "And it's, 'OK, was it a smallpox epidemic? Was it the flu? Was it an accident?'"
That sense of connection is common among gravers. Weissend describes the poignancy of visiting Calvin Coolidge's hillside grave in Vermont - a simple headstone befitting a farmer.
Tipton talks of visiting gangster Al Capone's grave before it was moved from Chicago to Hillside, Ill., and feeling "something powerful" being six feet up from the iconic gangster. It got him hooked. He has now visited about 1,200 graves and maintains the Web site full time.
Tipton relies on an army of volunteers to contribute to Find A Grave, making it a Wikipedia-like listing of graves of just about anyone who amounted to something in anything ("Where's the Beef?" lady Clara Peller is listed as resting in the Chicago area). Celebrities actually make up a small fraction of the 7.9 million graves listed, since registered contributors can also put their dead grandparents or anyone else on the site.
Tipton said he'd like to get every grave in the nation cataloged eventually.
Other sites have a narrower focus. The Political Graveyard bills itself as "The Web site that tells where the dead politicians are buried."
A number of sites are devoted to dead celebrities, such as Karen McHale's Hollywood Underground. Her site gives tips like this one from Home of Peace Memorial Park: "Jerome 'Curly' Howard - Actor, Curly of the 'Three Stooges' and brother to Shemp and Moe. Location: Western Jewish Institute Section, SW Corner, Plot 1, five rows back."
The wealth of detailed information can make "grave hunting" seem like a misnomer, since most of the famous graves are logged already. But there are still challenges such as finding poorly marked graves and the occasional hassle.
McHale says that while staff at some more heavily trod cemeteries are unfriendly, gravers should stand their ground: "As long as you are unobtrusive and stay out of their way, then there's not a whole lot they can do. Open ground is fair game."
LA Times (subscription only), 1/15/05:
In Death, He Wants to Be Celebrated
By Geoff Boucher
Times Staff Writer
January 15, 2005
Lions of literature and war heroes get grand memorials, but rock stars usually
get scruffier send-offs — consider the years of vandalism inflicted
on Jim Morrison's grave in Paris or the fact that Kurt Cobain is celebrated
in his hometown by a papier-mache statue in a muffler shop. Johnny Ramone
wanted better, and on Friday the underground rock hero got it.
The 55-year-old Ramone, who died four months ago in Los Angeles of cancer,
spent the final weeks of his life buying legacy insurance in the form of a
$100,000 bronze statue of himself, which was unveiled Friday on a prime plot
at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
The gleaming statue, which shares real estate with the headstones of Tyrone
Power and Rudolph Valentino, arrived with a star-studded ceremony, some R-rated
eulogies and about 1,000 cheering fans.
Ramone, for the uninitiated, was the former construction worker who as a
young man taught himself to play guitar, and in a band called the Ramones
played deliriously fast and loud music that was at the center of the American
punk movement that rattled the 1970s music scene.
That legacy brought a crowd to the proceedings Friday unlike that usually
seen among the reflecting ponds at Hollywood Forever. There was even a T-shirt
sales booth and roaring Harley-Davidson engines that gave a rare fright to
geese that skim the pond behind the statue.
Ramone had been inspired to craft the entire event while he watched the state
funeral of former President Reagan from his bed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
His widow, Linda Ramone, said she repeatedly assured her ailing husband that
the price tag was worth it because it would be "bigger than Jim Morrison's
Ramone is not the first musician or even the first Ramone in the cemetery;
bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, who died of a drug overdose in 2001, is nearby. But
Johnny arrived with the loudest moving-in party and the most dramatic architecture.
"He's in very good company," said Theodore Hovey, who nodded toward
the more sedate masonry marking the plots of Ramone's nearest neighbors, among
them Fay Wray and Hattie McDaniel.
Ramone's path to Hollywood Forever was an odd one. He was a blue-collar kid
who used his military academy background to become the drill-sergeant figure
in a band whose members had pre-music hobbies such as sniffing glue and bombing
New York pedestrians with televisions dropped from rooftops.
He was hailed at the proceedings by film and music stars, among them Oscar-winner
Nicolas Cage, who imagined young children skipping over the headstones of
Old Hollywood and going straight to the Ramone plot. "Who's the guy with
the guitar and the leather jacket and the funny-looking haircut? I want to
be that guy."
The guitarist, born John Cummings in Long Island (all the band members adopted
the surname Ramone, which they had heard Paul McCartney used as an alias while
traveling), was full of attitude. That was reflected in the ceremony.
Actor Vincent Gallo struck a frequent theme when he described his late friend
as intellectually fierce, stridently opinionated and always confident in his
status as a rock legend.
"What good things can I say about Johnny Ramone that he didn't say about
Ramone was famously right-wing in a rock scene that always exits stage left,
and that, along with his crusty exterior, made him an intimidating character
to many. But Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the band Pearl Jam, in a halting
voice, described him not only as a "strict teacher" but also as
an affectionate father figure.
Three of the band's four original members have died in recent years, even
as the Ramones' music enjoyed a renaissance.
Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin, who sat near members of the Red Hot Chili
Peppers and Lisa-Marie Presley during the proceedings, said the music of the
Ramones was as influential within the rock world as the Beatles, but the mainstream
"There was the music before them and the music after," he said
after the event.
Earlier in the afternoon, the last survivor from the original line-up, Tommy
Ramone, mused that the memorial was not for the man as much as it was for
the idea of Johnny Ramone.
"He wanted the fans to have a place to come and a way to feel in touch
with this music that got so many things right."
But punk rock was counterculture; how can its hero end up amid manicured
hedges? The question was met with a friendly shrug by Steve Jones, the former
guitarist of the Sex Pistols and the British punk equivalent to Ramone.
"It's all show business. I want a statue over there. Only a bigger one."
San Jose Mercury News (Associated Press), 1/7/04:
Graveyard statue honors late punk legend Johnny
LOS ANGELES - Late punk guitarist Johnny Ramone is being immortalized
with a bronze statue at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Ramone, co-founder and guitarist of The Ramones, was 55 when he died of prostate
cancer on Sept. 15, 2004, at his Los Angeles home. The statue is near the
grave of bandmate Dee Dee Ramone, who died of a drug overdose in 2002.
The Johnny Ramone monument, created by artist Wayne Toth, shows Ramone playing
his Mosrite guitar and it features the words, "If a man can judge success
by how many great friends he has, then I have been very successful. - Johnny
Ramone's widow Linda will unveil the statue Jan. 14 during a two-hour afternoon
public ceremony featuring testimonials from friends. Johnny Ramone was cremated
and his wife has the ashes, spokesman Jason Padgitt said Thursday.
Hollywood Forever is the final resting place for hundreds of Hollywood icons,
including Rudolph Valentino, "Ten Commandments" producer Cecil B.
DeMille and Bugs Bunny voice Mel Blanc.
The Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Where the famous are dying to get in
By Richard Morrison
THESE are exciting times for the world's great burial-grounds. Grandiose
Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, where 2 million visitors flock each year
to gawp at its 1 million residents – but chiefly to smoke dope round
Jim Morrison's grave – celebrates its 200th birthday this summer.
And the French have been trumpeting its attractions, which are manifold.
Thirty-three years after his untimely death, the lead singer of the Doors
is still the main draw. But those of a necrolatric bent will find that the
cemetery also contains the graves of Proust, Chopin, Balzac, Moliere, Bizet,
Piaf . . . and Oscar Wilde, whose tombstone is easily identified by the purple
lipstick smudges left by gay admirers – a comparatively recent tradition
that amuses his French custodians not one bit, since the lipstick is eroding
Pere Lachaise's bicentenary isn't the only momentous anniversary in the world
of the dead. Yesterday, the City of London Cemetery – twice the size
of Pere Lachaise, making it Europe's largest municipal graveyard – held
an open day to mark the centenary of its crematorium. It is a gloriously leafy
place, not in the City of London at all, but sprawling over 81ha near Epping
Forest. But it must be admitted that its celebrity-count is not in Pere Lachaise's
league. The most famous residents are footballer Bobby Moore and a couple
of Jack the Ripper's victims.
So where, besides Paris, would you want to be buried if you craved famous
neighbours? As a music lover I would find Vienna's Zentralfriedhof cemetery
irresistible: it contains Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Strauss. Or possibly
the lugubrious St Petersburg cemetery where Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov
and Mussorgsky are buried.
But as an incurable fan of Romantic poetry I would also be tempted by Rome's
Protestant Cemetery, where I could await the Last Trump in the company of
both Keats and Shelley (or at least what remained of Shelley after Byron had
finished burning him on the beach). Britain also has its valhallas of fame.
Kensal Green Cemetery, near Paddington, arguably has a more varied roster
of resident celebrities even than Pere Lachaise.
It includes a trio of famous Victorian novelists (Thackeray, Trollope and
Wilkie Collins), two Brunels, W. H. Smith, Freddie Mercury and a couple of
George III's children who had fallen out with their mad old dad and didn't
fancy whiling away the long hours in eternity in his company at Windsor.
Even more fashionable among arty types is Golders Green Crematorium in North
London, where the roll-call reads like the guest-list for the greatest Groucho
Club party never held. Kingsley Amis, Sigmund Freud, Anna Pavlova, Peter Sellers,
H. G. Wells, Peggy Ashcroft, Ronnie Scott, Ivor Novello, Keith Moon and Marc
Bolan are all memorialised there.
But when it comes to spine-shivering spookiness, Highgate Cemetery, a couple
of miles east, is top of the league. Quite apart from its tangled vegetation
and eerie catacombs, it has so many oddities. Everyone knows Karl Marx is
buried there, but not many realise that the monument to which generations
of communists have paid homage is nowhere near the man's remains, which are
on the side of the cemetery you can't usually reach.
Highgate was also the scene of a great Victorian scandal. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
had his wife's grave reopened, at dead of night, seven years after she had
committed suicide, in order to retrieve a notebook of his unpublished poems
which he had impulsively buried with her, but now wanted to flog. That macabre
incident, some say, was in Bram Stoker's mind when he was writing Dracula,
since he located the busy tomb of the vampire Lucy Westenra in a London cemetery
that is recognisably Highgate. Even today, if you know the book and linger
there on a gloomy afternoon, it is quite easy to get spooked.
No wonder Stoker decided he would rather be buried in Golders Green.
From the NY Post, 7/26/04:
goes the neighborhood.
Hotel empress Leona Helmsley is plotting to uproot beloved hubby Harry from
his final resting spot at Woodlawn Cemetery — because his "view"
will soon be ruined by a high-rise crypt condo set to house the lowly masses.
Leona has slapped a $150 million lawsuit against the historic Bronx cemetery
for constructing the massive, public mausoleum directly opposite Harry's palace.
Leona is arguing that she planned for the couple's deaths in high style, constructing
the family's own mausoleum in one of the city's premier resting places. There,
she and kin would be rubbing elbows throughout eternity with the cream of
the dearly departed — from Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses to Joseph
Pulitzer, J.C. Penney and salsa legend Celia Cruz.
But in what has become the first New York real-estate nightmare to strike
from beyond the grave, a livid Helmsley says the neighborhood's new death
digs — marketed as an affordable burial option for thousands of little
people — will soon permanently block her tomb with a view.
"I paid them for the mausoleum. What they did is a disgrace!" Leona
In addition to the suit against Woodlawn — where the elite have met
in death since 1863 — Leona is hanging a "for-sale" sign on
her exclusive mausoleum.
That's right — Leona plans to disinter the remains of her late real-estate
magnate husband and those of her son, Jay Panzirer, and relocate them to the
Now the Helmsleys, whose name is as embedded in this city as the Empire State
Building, of which Leona is part-owner, are set to become everlasting residents
of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery near Tarrytown.
In that bucolic setting, which dates back to 1692, the Helmsleys will have
all the time in the world to schmooze with such luminaries as Walter Chrysler,
Andrew Carnegie, Washington Irving and Louisa May Alcott.
"Whenever I think about it, I feel like crying," said Leona. "I
have a child there [in Woodlawn]. I have Harry."
In Leona's lawsuit, filed quietly in Bronx Supreme Court, the 84-year-old
hotelier demands that the not-for-profit Woodlawn Cemetery pony up $100 million
for causing "severe anguish and emotional distress . . . as well as destroy[ing]
the open view, serenity, tranquility and enjoyment of the Helmsley burial
Where once Leona's mausoleum looked out on a gated field, now it's "directly
opposite and in full view of what will be a busy necropolis thoroughfare,"
her suit complains, "in which thousands of individuals will be interred
and which will likely attract many thousands of visitors."
She claims that Woodlawn led her to believe this field would remain vacant.
Leona is also demanding another $50 million from Woodlawn to cover the cost
of moving the Helmsley mausoleum — which features a lavish, pink-marble
interior and is decorated with three stained-glass renderings of the Manhattan
skyline. The structure currently sits on a 2,064 square-foot funeral plot
that Leona purchased in 1978 for $59,856.
In addition, her lawsuit asks for $1 million — a day — "until
the nuisance is removed." That "nuisance" is Woodlawn's soon-to-be-completed
Garden Conservatory Mausoleum, designed to house the bodies or ashes of nearly
But Leona says she is dropping her demand that Woodlawn demolish the mass
mausoleum, "out of respect for the families" who have purchased
James Zirin, an attorney for Woodlawn, says, "I think you can assume
the cemetery believes [the lawsuit] is totally without merit." He declined
to comment further, citing the pending litigation.
Sources close to Leona say that when she filed her suit back in December,
Woodlawn offered to move her loved ones elsewhere on the property. But negotiations
broke down when an acceptable site could not be found.
Then Leona bought a 30,000-square-foot plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for
an undisclosed sum. The new place sits atop a hill near the Pocantico River.
Rather than try to move the mausoleum, Leona plans to sell it and build a
new and bigger one, which one day will be home to Leona as well as her brother
and sister-in-law, Alvin and Susan Rosenthal.
Harry's crypt will forever bear the inscription: "I never knew a day
I did not love you — Leona."
If he only knew.
From the Los Angeles Time, 12/10/03:
Nearer My Sod to Thee
Entrepreneurs are responding to a growing desire for eco-friendly
burials, with simple caskets and cemeteries in fields and forests.
By Steve Chawkins
Times Staff Writer
December 10, 2003
When it came time to bury his dad, Billy Campbell wanted a plain pine
box — no frills, no satin lining, no filigree. But the only wood
casket at his local mortuary was a varnished beauty of Spanish oak
that would have been suitable for the leader of a small republic. The
funeral director pointed out it was the same model used by Dan
Blocker — Hoss, of the old "Bonanza" television series —
Campbell that was cold comfort.
An environmental activist and a small-town South Carolina physician,
Campbell is a big believer in simplicity. To him, "dust to dust"
not include formaldehyde injections, fancy monuments or marble- finished burial
vaults guaranteed to protect the deceased from dirt
and moisture for a century or more. He had hoped his furniture-dealer
father could simply become part of the earth instead of being gussied
up as if to attend "the great sales meeting in the sky," he said.
Eighteen years later, Billy Campbell is at the vanguard of the tiny
but growing "green burial" movement in the U.S. He is also the
inspiration for a Los Angeles cemetery entrepreneur who is planning a
nature-friendly burial ground that will be a haven for hikers as well
as a home for those who have taken their final step.
The entrepreneur, Tyler Cassity, is the head of Forever Enterprises,
which runs Hollywood Forever Memorial Park, the resting place for
such film legends as Rudolph Valentino and Tyrone Power. His company
owns seven other cemeteries, as well as a unit that does video
biographies of the deceased for display in cemetery kiosks.
Cassity has purchased a suburban San Francisco cemetery with 20
pristine, wooded acres that will remain just that, even after graves
are dug amid the trees. There will be no emerald-green lawn with row
after lock-step row of white monuments. New arrivals will not be
embalmed. Some could be planted sans casket.
In a multiple use never envisioned by the U.S. Forest Service, hikers
will meander down woodsy trails as the less fortunate come to the end
of theirs. With the deal just recently concluded, Cassity plans to
open his green-burial ground next year.
Such cemeteries could give the dead a way of making a statement from
the grave. Cassity sees them as prototypes for larger natural
cemeteries in Southern California, where land preserved for the dead
could be protected from suburban sprawl.
"This would give people a tangible way to put a permanent stop to
that with their own bodies," he said. "You would know that your
is a way of preserving a piece of this world forever in its natural
A partner with Cassity in the pending venture, Campbell points to his
Ramsey Creek Preserve as a model.
Amid the hardwood trees and longleaf pines on his 350 acres outside
Westminster, S.C., two dozen families have buried their loved ones in
shrouds, in biodegradable boxes of unfinished wood, and in nothing at
all. The bodies are not embalmed. There are no burial vaults. There
are no plastic flowers. Some graves are unmarked while others are
unobtrusively topped with small, flat, inscribed stones.
"It's not a one-dimensional deathscape," Campbell said. "It
looks mainly like the woods."
The only doctor in a town of 2,300, Campbell treats patients in one
part of his office and arranges burials in another, taking pains not
to mix the two.
"This is the South," he joked. "We used to have a place here
sold tombstones and fireworks."
The founder of a conservation group called South Carolina
Forestwatch, Campbell speaks wistfully of the woods along Ramsey
Creek. Wild turkeys and deer roam there, and a boy sometimes comes by
to splash in the creek and visit his stillborn sister Hope. Death
doesn't have to keep its sting, Campbell says; Ramsey Creek will be
used for weddings, nature walks, art classes — anything that fits in
a quiet, green corner of the land.
Despite such pastoral visions, his plans for a similar spot in rural
San Diego County met an untimely end three years ago.
"The neighbors didn't want a 'cemetery' next door," Campbell said.
In his hometown, some of Campbell's clients are ardent
environmentalists, but many are local people drawn by low prices and
a pretty setting. One man was buried with country music blaring and
friends tossing cigarettes in his grave. A neighbor who initially
opposed the zoning for Ramsey Creek is buried there in his
overalls. "There are Southern Baptists who like the neo-traditional
aspects of all this," Campbell said.
Running Memorial Ecosystems Inc. with his wife Kimberley, Campbell
has conferred with proponents of "woodland burial" in Great Britain,
where more than 180 sites have sprung up in the last 10 years. He
also has been a guiding force for groups around the U.S. that are
interested both in open-space preservation and in alternative burials.
In the panhandle of Florida, the Wilkerson brothers are trying to
save the family farm by opening a part of it to the dead. In addition
to gravesites, the Wilkersons offer homemade caskets that can be
fitted with shelves and used as pre-death bedroom dressers.
"It's a plain-vanilla box," said John Wilkerson, who with his brother
Bill grows a wild-turkey feed called chufa. "We can make a casket on
site from trees that grow on site and put people in the ground to
provide nutrients for the trees."
The Wilkersons' Glendale Preserve has yet to hold its first burial,
and the brothers don't have the $50,000 fee required by the state to
sell spaces "pre-need." Even so, John Wilkerson said, 30 to 50
prospective clients have made firm commitments to head his way when
the Grim Reaper calls.
In Huntsville, Texas, George H. Russell, founder and bishop of the
Universal Ethician Church, just opened an 81-acre swath of woods for
family green burials. Graves must be dug with shovels instead of
heavy equipment. Deceased horses and other large animals must be left
out for "sky burial" by vultures before their remains are interred
beside their owners'.
The dead "will re-nurture the circle of life, fertilize the soil and
provide a perpetual legacy to beauty," Russell said. "It doesn't
sense to destroy rain forests by making mahogany coffins, or even
worse, turn a person into a toxic pickle."
Green-burial proponents also say it makes no sense to needlessly
shell out thousands of dollars.
In 2001, the average cost of a standard funeral was $5,180, according
to the National Funeral Directors Assn. At Ramsey Creek, burials run
about half that.
Campbell says his environmental bent helps keep customer costs down.
His digging equipment takes less fuel and he doesn't spray his land
with chemicals. Many cemeteries require that caskets be placed within
sealed vaults that keep the surface of the lawn above them uniform
for mowing, but at Ramsey Creek, vaults are taboo.
As in Orthodox Jewish and Muslim burials, embalming is forbidden at
green-burial sites. Some advocates claim embalmed bodies pose a risk
to water supplies, but neither the Environmental Protection Agency
nor industry studies have linked the two.
"As far as I know, there's no concrete evidence that leaching from
cemeteries is a problem in communities," said Mark Musgrove,
president of the National Funeral Directors Assn. Formaldehyde, which
is present in some shampoos, is heavily diluted before it's pumped
into bodies, he added.
A practice started in the U.S. for Civil War officers who died in
battle, embalming is not required by any state. It's done to preserve
bodies for viewing and to disinfect them — a job Campbell says a good
scrubbing will generally handle.
Groups working toward green burials have been organized in several
states, but Musgrove, who runs a funeral home in Eugene, Ore.,
doubted they would take off. For one thing, he said, many people
prefer traditional cemeteries.
"These places are tailored and mowed and cared for," Musgrove
said. "Some people like the idea that they can go there and always
find the gravestone, that there are people always taking care of the
grounds, that the cemeteries are beautiful and will be beautiful
Besides, he added, people concerned about wasting precious space on
Earth will opt for cremation, as did nearly half the Californians who
died in 2001.
But Forever Enterprises' Cassity said the cremation trend could cool
as green burial grows.
"One of the things that motivates cremation is the thought that
cemeteries are a waste of space," he said. "This turns that on its
In the United Kingdom, flying instructor and part-time farmer Steve
Clarehugh is turning his 35 acres of so-so farmland in Northumbria
into a burial site where sheep graze and 16,000 trees will cast their
shade. So far, 26 permanent residents have arrived, most of them in
quick-to-deteriorate cardboard coffins.
"People don't want to be stuck under a slab of granite that no one's
going to be looking after in 50 years," Clarehugh said. "After a
time, cemeteries become a burden on society."
That's just how Michael and Shirley Megel felt after visiting the
grave of Michael's mother in Omaha. Vandals had romped through the
cemetery, tilting and toppling stones that no one had bothered to set
right. The sight prompted the couple to sign up for eternal rest at
the woodsy place their doctor was running back in South Carolina.
When Michael Megel died of cancer last month at the age of 67, he was
buried at Ramsey Creek. His coffin was raw oak. A grandson said it
looked like something John Wayne would be buried in.
Not far away lay buried a rock 'n' roll fan who went to his rest in
tie-dye and poncho. His friends had memorialized him with the
Grateful Dead's "Black Muddy River."
"It's out in the woods and it's beautiful, like the land we live on,"
Shirley Megel said. "A brook runs by it. It's very calming. It seems
closer to God than a regular cemetery."
From the Lucy
and Desi website, 7/2/02
Lucille Ball Returns Home
JAMESTOWN, NY---The family of Lucille Ball has transferred her
cremated remains and those of her mother, Desiree (DeDe) Eveline Hunt Ball
from Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills, California, to Jamestown,
New York, the birthplace of both women. Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. are
quoted as saying that their mother's wishes were only "to be buried along
side her mother, DeDe." "We have become quite attached to the people of Jamestown
and the surrounding Chautauqua area in the past year while creating the new
not-for-profit Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center, Inc. to take over management
of The Lucy-Desi Museum there," the Arnaz children said. Lucie and Desi, Jr.
have been discussing the possible move with other members of the family since
they both performed in Jamestown last August. In Jamestown, the remains of
both Ms. Ball and her mother will be interred in the beautiful Hunt-Ball tree-shaded
family plot at Lake View Cemetery joining several generations of Lucille's
ancestors including Henry Durrell Ball, her father and DeDe's husband who
died on February 28, 1915, when Lucy was only three. It is the family's hope
that this transfer will facilitate an easier way for fans and visitors of
The Lucy-Desi Museum, located in downtown Jamestown, to pay their respects
to the Lucy they loved. Ms. Arnaz also noted that her father, Desi Arnaz,
Sr., died on December 2, 1986. He was cremated and his remains were scattered
at sea in front of his home in Baja, California. A plaque was placed in his
honor at the base of the local church there.
From The Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2002:
A Mystery Revisited
A building that figured in the unsolved death of actress Thelma Todd is for
sale. <--click on link for article
By ROBERT W. WELKOS,
Times Staff Writer
Gay Watch: "The Young and the Dead"
by Christine Champagne
May 15, 2002
After decades of mismanagement, the Hollywood Memorial Park
Cemetery -- final resting place for such stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Tyrone
Power, Eleanor Powell, Janet Gaynor and Rudolph Valentino -- was close to
being shut down. Then in 1998 a gay entrepreneur named Tyler Cassity bought
the cemetery, transformed it into a hip and stylish burial ground and renamed
it Hollywood Forever. A documentary entitled "The Young and the Dead," which
premieres on HBO Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m. ET as part of the "America Undercover"
series, chronicles the thirtysomething Cassity's success story. Filmmakers
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini -- who, by the way, began this project
well before HBO developed the series "Six Feet Under" -- certainly had an
interesting subject to work with. Hollywood Forever is unlike any other cemetery.
For starters, the place employs a cool, enthusiastic young staff and is housed
in stylish modern facilities. The reception area looks like something out
of Architectural Digest. One of the documentary's interview subjects, Amy
Spindler -- editor of the The New York Times' style section -- remembers being
amazed by Hollywood Forever's decor and vibe when she set out to write a story
on it. "The more I talked about it," she recalls, "the more I thought, 'This
is a fashion story.'" Cassity and designer Brad Dunning have created a cemetery
that is, well, to die for. At one point in the film, Dunning philosophizes
on the importance of choosing a proper headstone. "Cemeteries are for the
living. So somebody is going to come visit [your headstone], and if you have
a crappy font on it, I think it would reflect on your attention to detail."
Cassity thinks average people deserve to be remembered in the same way celebrities
are, so Hollywood Forever doesn't just offer headstones and caskets. Via an
in-house film studio called Forever Studios, the cemetery can webcast funerals
and produce slick digital memorials for its clients. As futuristic as the
place is, Cassity and his crew still respect the past. One of the most touching
segments in the documentary tells the story of how actress Hattie McDaniel
-- who won an Oscar for her role in "Gone With the Wind" -- wanted to be buried
in Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery alongside her peers. When she died in
1952, the cemetery's owner Jack Roth refused to bury her because she was black.
When Cassity bought the cemetery, he learned about the injustice and he asked
McDaniel's family if they would like to have her reinterred at the new Hollywood
Forever. They declined, but Cassity still wanted to honor McDaniel's request
somehow. So he built a monument dedicated to her life, which has become one
of Hollywood Forever's biggest tourist attractions. As we see in this documentary,
there are cemetery aficionados, some of whom visit Hollywood Forever every
day. Some see the beautifully manicured grounds as an oasis. Others want to
be close to the stars. One Cecil B. DeMille fan is shown shopping for a burial
plot as close as possible to the late director. While this guy is taking his
fascination with DeMille to an extreme, others are satisfied with a shorter
visit. Some of them drop by the cemetery as part of the Oh Heavenly Tour!
group, arriving on the grounds in an old hearse. As tourgoer Roger Sinclair
notes, "When you take a tour through Beverly Hills, they'll point out so and
so's house. And maybe they're there and maybe they're not. But when you come
to visit them here, you're pretty sure they're home." If you miss the premiere,
HBO will rebroadcast "The Young and the Dead" Wednesday May 22 at 10:30 a.m.
ET and again at 11 p.m. ET; and Saturday May 25 at 2 p.m. ET. The program
will play on HBO2 on Monday May 20 at 11 p.m. ET and Friday May 24 at 10 p.m.
At death’s fabulous door
By Stacie Stukin
From The Advocate, May 14, 2002
“I want to be the Martha Stewart of the death industry,” Tyler
Cassity says with a sniff of irony and a sly grin. “But I need more than five
hours of sleep a night.” Cassity, 32, has planned funerals; he has pondered
how to best showcase coffin and urn displays. And now he’s the protagonist
of a new documentary, The Young and the Dead, airing May 19 on HBO, right
after Six Feet Under. “We were expecting Vincent Price, and instead we got
a quiet, intellectual movie star,” says director Shari Springer Berman, whose
film chronicles Cassity’s journey from aspiring novelist to death-care industry
innovator and shows how he and his childhood friends turned a legendary and
decrepit Hollywood cemetery into a new cultural oasis. Cassity owns and operates
several cemeteries, including the mother lode in Los Angeles—Hollywood Forever,
a 62-acre resting spot, adjacent to Paramount Studios, for greats like Rudolph
Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., Nelson Riddle, Jayne Mansfield,
John Huston, Cecil B. DeMille, Tyrone Power, and Janet Gaynor. “I’ve come
to realize it’s a gift to spend time with death,” Cassity philosophizes. “It
revitalizes your sense of self and your sense of life.”
From MSNBC, April 15, 2002
Expansion Plan For Westwood Cemetery Sparks
WESTWOOD, Calif. - A decision is expected today on a controversy
involving a Westwood cemetery whose operators are being criticized by area
residents who say a plan to build nearly 2,100 crypts would place the graves
too close to homes. Operators of the Westwood Village Memorial Park at 1218
Glendon Ave. want to triple its capacity by building the above-ground crypts
along the cemetery's south side, the Los Angeles Times reported. Homeowners
protested the project last week at a Planning Department hearing. City hearing
officer Jon Foreman said he will rule on the application after a public comment
period ends Monday. The cemetery is tucked between Wilshire Boulevard high-rise
office buildings and a 75-year-old neighborhood of single-family homes. Angry
neighbors have said the project would result in bodies towering 20 feet over
their back yards. Although it covers less than three acres, the cemetery is
world-famous as the final resting place for such Hollywood celebrities as
Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood. Los Angeles
laws call for a fenced-in and landscaped 300-foot buffer between cemetery
structures and residential property. But the Texas company that owns the cemetery
wants a waiver that would allow some mausoleum walls to be built right up
to the property line. Other areas would have a 10-foot setback between the
walls and the property line, the Times reported. Houston-based Service Corp.
International, which bills itself as "the world's largest provider of funeral
and cemetery services," wants the city to classify the expansion as a "public
benefit project." However, neighbors scoff at that. They say the cemetery
company stands to make as much as $70 million by boosting the capacity from
its current 1,126 casket spaces to 3,089. The cemetery has had a high profile
since 1962, when Marilyn Monroe was laid to rest there after dying
of a drug overdose. For more than 20 years, her ex-husband, baseball great
Joe DiMaggio, had fresh flowers delivered regularly to her crypt. The space
next to Monroe's crypt was later acquired by Playboy magazine publisher Hugh
From the Associated Press 3/15/02
If all goes well, Lucille Ball, the city of Jamestown’s most famous daughter,
may come home to stay. And if all goes exceptionally well, Lucy’s former
home in Celoron may once again belong to her family. Ms. Ball’s daughter,
Lucie Arnaz, said after a press conference on Thursday that when successful
negotiations with the Arts Council for a new Lucy-Desi Museum are completed,
the cremated remains of her mother and grandmother, Desiree ‘‘Dee Dee’’
Evelyn Hunt, will be brought to Jamestown and interred at Lake View Cemetery
with other members of the Hunt family. ‘‘I think it would be a nice finishing
touch,’’ Ms. Arnaz said. ‘‘My mother wanted to be buried with her mother,
my grandmother, Dee Dee. They are together in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los
Angeles. I don’t live near there. My brother is really not very close to
there either. There’s nobody there to visit them, so I thought it might
be a good idea to bring her home.’’ Ms. Arnaz said she talked to members
of her immediate family, including her brother, Desi Arnaz, and decided
a move to Jamestown would be what her mother would have wanted. ‘‘I think
we decided to do this because members of her family are here and are buried
here,’’ she said. ‘‘I know she loved going to Celoron Park when she was
a child. I can remember her telling me how she loved to watch the monologists
— people who were able to mesmerize an audience with just their talent and
charisma. ‘‘There were great performers from vaudeville who would put on
traveling shows that came here,’’ Ms. Arnaz said. ‘‘She talked about that
a lot. I remember, just before she died, there was a real sadness in her
eyes when she thought she was too sick to come back here for a last time.’’
Any move the family may make will follow plans announced on Thursday to
restructure the management and control of the Lucy-Desi Museum. The museum,
which has been under the control of The Arts Council through a 10-year contract
with the Arnaz family that is set to expire March 12, will change hands
and become a new not-for-profit corporation. ‘‘Ric Wyman, former museum
director, will be appointed as the director of the new corporation,’’ Ms.
Arnaz said. ‘‘Most of you know Ric, and we are familiar with the fine job
he did leading the museum for two and a half years. We know that the future
will be very bright with him at the helm. ‘‘In the same vein, I want you
to be assured that we expect to have a positive working relationship with
The Arts Council for Chautauqua County. I couldn’t envision staying in Jamestown
without having a good relationship with our foster parents, The Arts Council.
‘‘We came to an understanding that it was time for the museum to have a
board leadership that was focused on it alone. We recognize the investments
the Arts Council has made to the museum over the years and we are in the
final stages of negotiating our agreement with them to work out a fair transfer
of various assets,’’ she said. The Board of Directors for the new Lucille
Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum are Nancy Bargar, John Lloyd, Holly Sullivan and
Todd Tranum. Other board members include Desi Arnaz, close family friend
and secretary to Ms. Ball for 27 years, Wanda Clark and Lucy fan ’’extraordianaire,’’
Kay Statz of Cleveland. ‘‘The board will be working with Ric to make plans
for a new, much larger facility for the museum,’’ Ms. Arnaz said. ‘‘It’s
too early yet to be able to talk about any specifics, but we have every
intention of keeping you informed as our plans progress. The museum will
continue to operate in its current location at 212 Pine St, and we will
pay rent to the Arts Council.’’ Ms. Arnaz said she will spend this week
touring possible sites for the new museum. ‘‘We have toured sites, including
the Grant Building downtown and an empty bank building, and we have two
more to see. We will need a lot of space,’’ she said. ‘‘I want to be involved
a lot. My brother feels the same way. We want to dream the dreams along
with the board and make this bigger and better. We just want to grow. We
have a lot of things we want to do. ‘‘The home in Celoron — my mother’s
birthplace — we’d very much like to have that and we’re working on it. My
brother and I, actually, made an offer this morning. I don’t know, we based
it on comparables in the area, and not the going price on eBay,’’ she said.
The house will not be a site for a museum, she said, ‘‘but it might be an
annex.’’ Ms. Arnaz said the corporation is actively seeking funds to support
the new venture. She also said any ideas from the community on the museum’s
future would be welcomed. ‘‘I encourage anybody to write to Ric (Wyman)
with any suggestions they may have on how this can benefit Jamestown. I’d
like to see a little area in The Post Journal where these letters can be
printed.’’ Peter Carlo, a Lucy fan and local resident who attended the conference,
said, ‘‘I think the people of Jamestown want what is best for Lucille Ball.
He daughter seems to want what is best for her, too, and what is best for
Jamestown. We want people to come here and see the positive things we have
here. I think this is a wonderful thing and she (Ms. Arnaz) is a great lady.’’
Jessica Cooper of California, who is visiting her father, Jim, said she
came to the conference with the hope of meeting the famous daughter. As
Ms. Arnaz closed the meeting, Ms. Cooper called to her and asked if they
could take a photograph together. As the two posed for pictures, Ms. Cooper
said, ‘‘I love Lucy. I always have. I didn’t know if I would be able to
meet her daughter. I have cerebral palsy and don’t get around too well,
but I called and they said, ‘just come on over and give it a shot.’ So I
From the Associated Press 2/10/02
L.A.'s Well-to-Do Get Burial Space
.c The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A massive mausoleum beneath the nearly completed
Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels may become one of the most
prestigious final resting spots in the city. The 1,300 invitation-only crypts
will likely start at $50,000 each and generate an endowment to pay for the
operating expenses of the cathedral, which is due to be consecrated this fall.
Perpetual residency beneath the Spanish marble floor is to be based on personal
goodness and contribution to the community. The head of the archdiocese, currently
Cardinal Roger Mahony, will decide who fits that description. Plans so far
call for the remains of five California bishops, now at Calvary Cemetery in
East Los Angeles, to be placed at the downtown cathedral mausoleum. St. Vibiana,
the patroness of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, is to be moved to a private
chapel in the cathedral. Other crypts and 5,000 niches for cremated remains
will be made available to supporters of the archdiocese, including those who
made substantial donations to the construction of the cathedral. The archdiocese
said it doesn't have a list of invitees, but prominent donors include Rupert
Murdoch, Betsy Bloomingdale, Roy Disney, Richard Riordan,
Peter O'Malley, Bob Hope and Merv
Griffin. A suggested donation for a crypt will likely start
at about $50,000, depending on location. Space in one of six semiprivate chapels
or a crypt near the 26 stained-glass windows will cost considerably more.
``Until we have at least a year up and running, we really won't know,'' said
archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg. On the Net: http://cathedral.la-archdiocese.org/
From the San Diego Union Tribune 10/6/01
Mourning glory |
Nearly forgotten celebrity cemetery in Hollywood rises from the dead with
groundbreaking attractions <-click on link to read article
By Norma Meyer, Copley News Service
From the LA Times 1/6/01
2 Compton Crypts Contain Connection to
a Family Mystery Personal history is often hidden in plain sight.
By JOE MATHEWS
I must have driven past Angeles Abbey Memorial Park 50 times
before I learned my great-grandparents are there. By its looks, the cemetery
in the heart of Compton seems best forgotten. High fences and razor wire offer
little welcome. The doors to the mausoleums are locked. Trees obscure the
view of a glorious central abbey built to resemble the Taj Mahal. A strange
sign on a house across Bullis Road from the cemetery discourages visitors:
"People are dying to get in across the street. You need go no further." The
first time I ventured inside the cemetery, asking about graves marked Mathews,
I was politely turned away. "It's hard to find peace," Jean Sanders, the owner
and manager, would later explain. "I just want to run this quiet cemetery
quietly, and let the world leave us alone." Angeles Abbey's operators weren't
always set on privacy. The cemetery may have been one of Southern California's
best-known landmarks. Its current anonymity is a reminder of how, for those
of us whose roots in California go back generations, personal history is often
hidden in plain sight. Angeles' founder, a Long Beach shipbuilder named George
Clegg, wanted a grand monument. He sent two architects to India, and in 1923
they produced a miniature Taj Mahal in a Compton field, with room for more
than 1,000 crypts. The abbey, as they called the mausoleum, was made of imported
Italian marble and included a stained-glass reproduction of Jean Francois
Millet's "The Angelus," a painting of two French peasants. The cemetery's
owners later built an organ and held Sunday concerts in the worship space. The
crypts sold quickly. Compton, with plenty of open land, stood at an attractive
distance from the messiness of Los Angeles and Long Beach. In a cemetery brochure
used in the 1930s and 1940s, a man looks into a crystal ball and is told:
"It is a marvelous thing to live in this modern age, and by the same token
it is still more marvelous to know that after your life's work is done that
you can sleep in eternal peace in such a beautiful mausoleum, a memorial within
the reach of every purse." The cemetery took in souls from all religions,
but until the 1960s, only one race: white. A black-owned mortuary company
assumed control in the 1970s. Sanders, the third generation of an African
American family in the funeral business, bought it in 1992. The net effect
of the early segregation and the last half-century of change in Compton--the
black influx and white flight of the 1960s and 1970s, the Latino influx and
African American flight of the 1980s and 1990s--has made many of the dead
in the mausoleum strangers to the living. "There aren't too many visitors
anymore, which is fine with me," says Martin Marks, a podiatrist who has had
an office next door for 30 years. "They're the best kind of neighbor you can
have in Compton. They're dead." Angeles Abbey does have a second life as a
movie set. The film "The Untouchables," the television series "JAG" and any
number of TV movies seeking Middle Eastern or South Asian locales have used
the mausoleum as a backdrop. But on screen, the cemetery plays Cairo or Kuwait
or Calcutta, never Compton. Sometimes architecture or art students stop by,
but the interred celebrities are decidedly local, such as the late Mayor Walter
Tucker. Burials continue, but Angeles Abbey's 37,748 deceased have filled
up nearly every inch of land. Sanders' crew works hard, but with fewer new
sales, the cost of upkeep is onerous. The neighborhood doesn't help much.
Graffiti taggers have marked not only the walls but also the tree trunks.
A local gang is widely blamed for throwing rocks through the mausoleum windows."I
wish the facility was fixed and in a lot better shape," says Sanders, who
is trying to acquire property to the north. "I hate to see a place of history
like this." Arriving to work as a reporter in Compton last year, I hadn't
heard of the cemetery. But for the previous year, I had been trying to find
old family grave sites. A single reference to Angeles Abbey in a 47-year-old
family genealogy I had long forgotten sent me in search of great-grandparents
whose names I had never learned. That ignorance is my grandfather's fault. He
and I first came to Angeles Abbey 61 years apart at the same age: 27. We were
both reporters, he for the Munger Oilgram, for which he scoured Long Beach
for seismic data and drill depths. In 1939, when his father died, he arranged
for burial in a crypt at Angeles Abbey. It's hard to know why he chose this
place. The family had no ties to Compton. And my grandfather, in other things
a social sort, almost never spoke of his parents. Only recently did it slip
out that my great-grandfather, Paul Mathews, had failed as a grain broker
in Wichita, Kan., before moving to Long Beach, where relatives lived. He tried
the real estate business just as the Depression was getting underway, with
disastrous results. For a time, Paul disappeared, in a mystery we can't solve.
Was it illness? Alcohol? Or did bad business dealings land him in prison?
In the meantime, his wife, Nancy, went to work as a juvenile officer for
the Long Beach welfare department. She died in 1946, and is buried in the
small crypt next to her husband's. For crypts 117 and 124, my grandfather,
usually tight with money, paid $582.50, more than two months' salary. That
section of the mausoleum is not a place for those who fear ghosts. The walls
of crypts extend 40 yards on either side of the hall, piled seven bodies high.
The mausoleum is cold and dark, with bits of light streaming in through dirty
stained-glass windows in the ceilings. Paint is peeling, and pigeon droppings
litter the floor. The only sound is traffic from Compton Boulevard. In later
years, my grandfather eagerly drove me down to Long Beach, showing off the
old family house on Nieto Avenue, the tennis courts near Wilson High where
he starred, the hamburger joint where he courted my grandmother. But we skipped
right around Compton, and he never spoke of the cemetery. He died last year,
a few months before I found his parents' graves, taking with him two stories
from a place almost forgotten.
From the LA Times 1/3/01
Let Us Hit Pause
and Reflect <-click
on link to read article
At the Hollywood Forever
Cemetery, the stories of the deceased live on in video biographies.
By HILARY E. MACGREGOR, Times Staff Writer
From the Associated Press 12/28/00
IOLA, Kan. (AP) -- The tombstones of the two killers immortalized
in Truman Capote's ''In Cold Blood'' have been recovered 20 years after they
were stolen. The tombstones -- believed to have been ordered and paid for
by Capote -- were pried Wednesday from frozen ground on an eastern Kansas
farm. State investigator Tom Williams, who helped retrieve the grave markers,
said he learned of their location from an acquaintance who had heard the stones
were in Allen County. In the early 1960s, Capote spent several months in Holcomb,
in western Kansas, gathering material for what would become his best-selling
novel. ''In Cold Blood'' chronicles the murders of four members of the Clutter
family. Killers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were drawn to the Clutter home
by rumors that the wealthy family kept cash in their farmhouse. When Hickock
and Smith didn't find any money, they tortured and brutally murdered the family.
Smith and Hickock were executed in 1965. Capote, who died in 1984, reportedly
came to know the two murderers well enough during his research that he ordered
two gray granite tombstones to replace the spartan ones provided by the state.
Williams said the man who stole the stones no longer lives in Kansas, but
the owner of the property where they were found knew they were there and was
familiar with the person who stole them. No prosecution is planned. ''I'm
not sure right now what is going to become of them,'' Williams said.
From the LA Times, 10/12/00
More Than a Passing
Fancy (click on link to read the article)
Call them weird or macabre, but members of the group Hollywood
Underground are deadly serious about their hobby: celebrity grave hunting
in L.A.'s star-filled cemeteries.
By MARTIN MILLER, Times Staff Writer
From Louisville.com Louisville
Eccentric Observer 10/25/00
Trip - Death is a star attraction in the City of Angels <-click
on link to read article
By Mark Besten LEO
October 25, 2000
From Reuters 5/30/00
Texas grave opened in search for real
Click here for pictures
GRANBURY, Texas (Reuters) - The remains of a man some believe
was the Wild West outlaw Jesse James were exhumed Tuesday for genetic testing
to settle claims the infamous robber died in Texas 69 years later than history
books say. The widely accepted view is that James was shot and killed by
a member of his own gang April 3, 1882, in St. Joseph in his home state of
Missouri. A gravemarker there bears his name. But many people in Granbury,
a small town 45 miles southwest of Fort Worth, believe James faked his death
in Missouri and lived in Texas until 1951 -- when he would have been 103 years
old. ``After he died, several of the local residents here did a visual post-mortem
on his body and they found several old bullet holes as well as a rope burn
on his neck,'' said Mary Salterille of the Granbury Convention and Visitors
Bureau. ``So a lot of the long-time residents here fervently believe he was
the real Jesse James,'' she said. After decades of speculation, the exhumation
was sought by Jesse James researcher Bud Hardcastle and three reputed grandsons
of the outlaw who live in Arkansas. DNA samples from the bones of the Granbury
remains will be compared with those of the James descendants to determine
if the body is the outlaw's. The test is being run despite the results of
a similar DNA probe in 1995 that determined that James' body lies in the Missouri
grave. Funeral home workers used a backhoe and shovels to remove dirt from
a burial plot whose headstone reads ``Jesse Woodson James'' and a death date
of August 15, 1951. In smaller letters below it says, ``Supposedly killed
in 1882.'' James learned his fighting skills as a guerrilla raider for the
Confederate side in the U.S. Civil War. After the Union won in 1865, James
and his brother Frank launched a 16-year outlaw career by banding together
with eight other men to rob a bank in Liberty, Mo., on February 13, 1866.
A botched Minnesota bank robbery in 1876 destroyed the gang, ending with all
of the members but Jesse and Frank dead or captured. The brothers kept on
robbing with new partners and in 1882 one of them, Robert Ford, was said to
have shot Jesse James in the head in hopes of collecting a $10,000 reward.
From the Associated Press 5/22/00
Dalai Lama To Bless Calif. Shrine
.c The Associated Press
GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) - A unique Tibetan shrine under construction
at Forest Lawn Memorial Park will be blessed next month by the Dalai Lama.
The Shi-tro Mandala for Universal Peace will be one of the few three-dimensional
Tibetan Buddhist mandalas in the world and the first built in the United States,
said cemetery spokesman Dick Fisher. The 10-foot hand-carved mandala is the
creation of Tibetan artist and author Pema Namdol Thaye, who began construction
on the shrine with three assistants in December. After the Dalai Lama blesses
the mandala, he will deliver a teaching in an adjacent auditorium. The exact
date of the ceremony had not been set Monday.
From New Times Los Angeles 2/17/00
The Cemetery Kid
- Click on link to read article
IMMORTALITY BY THE MEGABYTE IN CASE
OF DEATH HIT SAVE - Click on link to read article
by Doug Saunders Hollywood
From the L.A. Times 1/11/99
Debate Rises Over Plans for Religious
Mt. Washington: Neighbors of center say tomb would increase
traffic. By BOB POOL, Times Staff Writer Forty-seven years after his unusual
death, the founder of a Los Angeles-based spiritual group may be coming home.
The question is, will Paramahansa Yogananda bring a crowd along with him if
his remains are re-entombed in an elegant new marble sarcophagus atop Mt.
Washington? Those living in the neighborhood of single-family hilltop homes
north of downtown are being advised by leaders of the Self-Realization Fellowship
that they intend to place Yogananda's remains in a shrine at the group's Mt.
Washington headquarters. Construction of the shrine is planned as part of
a controversial $40-million expansion of the religious sect's San Rafael Avenue
base. A converted hotel atop the hill has served as headquarters for the nondenominational
church, which teaches a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies, since Yogananda
acquired it in 1925. The expansion proposal has divided Mt. Washington residents.
Some homeowners have organized a protest group to fight the project. They
are opposed to earthmoving that the construction would require and to traffic
problems they say would follow. Residents complained last year that the group
secretly planned to move Yogananda's body to Mt. Washington, a move they said
would draw visitors from around the world to the hilltop site. Until now,
however, fellowship officials had denied that any decision had been made about
their founder's remains. Yogananda collapsed and died of a heart attack in
1952 while giving a speech at the Biltmore Hotel. At the time he was introducing
India Ambassador Binay R. Sen, who was to receive an award from the fellowship.
Afterward, Yogananda was entombed in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park
in Glendale. Before the funeral, however, Forest Lawn manager Harry T. Rowe
raised eyebrows by issuing a notarized letter to the fellowship that asserted
that Yogananda's body had not begun decomposing, even 20 days after his death.
"This state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary
annals, an unparalleled one. . . . Yogananda's body was apparently in a phenomenal
state of immutability," wrote Rowe, apparently at the request of the fellowship.
"No odor of decay emanated from his body at any time." Fellowship leaders
said Monday that they view that letter as evidence of Yogananda's great soul.
They also denied that the re-entombment--tentatively scheduled for 2005 or
2006--will lead to more traffic congestion on Mt. Washington's narrow residential
streets. A tally of visitors to Yogananda's crypt at Forest Lawn suggests
that five to eight cars a day travel there to pay homage to him, said Miles
Hyde, a fellowship spokesman. Hyde said the fellowship decided to announce
the relocation plan now so it can be included in an environmental impact report
being prepared as part of a review of the construction project by Los Angeles
city officials. City leaders will be asked in early 2000 to issue a conditional
use permit for the development, he said. But Daniel Wright, president of the
protest group, said opponents are skeptical of claims that Yogananda's new
tomb will not become a tourist attraction drawing thousands to the hilltop.
Charlie Rausch, a city planner who will be involved in reviewing the project,
said officials intend to closely examine the traffic projections for Mt. Washington.
Officials will also have to approve a cemetery designation for the site before
the body can be moved there. "Yes, this will be a very interesting case,"
From the L.A. Weekly 11/13-19/98
"The New Cemeterians"
<-Click on link for article
From the Associated Press 7/15/98
James Dean Tombstone Stolen Again
.c The Associated Press FAIRMOUNT, Ind. (AP) - James Dean's
tombstone has been stolen from his hometown cemetery - again. Police Chief
Jim Grindle said the theft was discovered Tuesday by youths from a church
camp who were looking for the gravesite at Park Cemetery. The rose-colored
stone, which was about 3 feet long and weighed several hundred pounds, had
been mounted on a base and secured by metal bars and glue. ``They really worked
at it,'' Grindle said. ``You can see the pry marks.'' The original tombstone
was stolen in April 1983, recovered the next month, then stolen again that
August. The missing tombstone replaced the original. The ``Rebel Without a
Cause'' star was killed in a car crash in California in 1955 at age 24. His
gravesite draws thousands of visitors. ``They leave messages and Marlboro
packs, notes and flowers,'' Grindle said. ``We have one guy who goes out and
cleans it daily, cleans the lipstick off it.''
From the San Diego Union Tribune 4/30/98
groupies In Hollywood cemeteries, stars are only 6 feet away <-Click
on link to read story
By Norma Meyer COPLEY NEWS SERVICE