27 May 2018

I Didn't Plan for This


by R.T. Lawton

Memorial Day is right around the corner. A time for thinking about cemeteries and flags and flowers. A time to reflect on those who've gone before us and decide how we can best honor them. Possibly a good time to ponder over how we ourselves would like to be remembered.

Some honorees are traditional in their ceremonies or may establish their own traditions. Some of these approaches are just plain different.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849( was first buried in an unmarked, weed-covered grave over which the sexton later placed a small block of sandstone with the number 90 engraved into the stone. Later, a marble headstone was commissioned. Because of the immense weight of these memorials, the place where they were carved was next to the railway yards to facilitate easy transportation. Unfortunately, a train ran off the tracks and through the monument yard, destroying Poe's marble headstone before it could be moved for installation at his grave.

About 1949, and possibly earlier, on the anniversary of Poe's birth, an anonymous person would enter the Baltimore cemetery and leave a bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. This tradition continued until the last official visit in 2009.

Marily Monroe's crypt
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), real name Norma Jean Baker, was interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery, crypt 24, in Los Angeles three days after she committed suicide. Her ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, took care of the arrangements. He didn't want the funeral to become a Hollywood affair, so he tried to keep the ceremony private. However, in the years after Marilyn was interred there, it became a popular cemetery for celebrities. Hugh Hefner even bought the tomb next to Marilyn so he could rest eternally beside the first Playboy Playmate.

For three successive years, DiMaggio had red roses delivered to Marilyn's tomb. Over time, her stone became discolored from lipstick imprints of kisses from fans.

Al's grave in Mt. Carmel Cemetery
Photo by JOE M200
Alphonse Gabriel Capone (1899-1947), known as Al Capone, was originally buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Chicago, but after his headstone was vandalized a few times, he was relocated to Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. His original black headstone was left in Mt. Olivet as an attempt to fool sightseers and souvenir hunters as to his final resting place.

The large grey upright headstone in Mt. Carmel with the name Capone carved in it is for the Capone family. Al has his own small flat stone nearby. People still leave various objects on his grave.

Jesse James grave in Kearney, MO cemetery
Jesse Woodruff James (1847-1882) got shot in the back of the head in St. Joseph, Missouri and was originally buried on the family property. His body was later exhumed and subsequently planted in a cemetery in Kearney, Missouri. However, a man named J. Frank Dalton (1850-1951) and claiming to be Jesse Woodruff James, or Jesse passing himself off as J. Frank Dalton to avoid the law (as was claimed), got buried in Grandbury, Texas. To figure out which one was the real Jesse James, both bodies were exhumed and DNA analysis was performed. The body in the Kearney grave passed the James test, while the other corpse didn't live up to the required data. Seems that just because you're right though, doesn't mean you get to rest in peace.

1967 photo of the French graves taken from a Huey
by Jim Bracewell, 229th Avn Bn
After the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, French Mobile Group 100 abandoned Ankhe and retreated along Route 19 towards Pleiku in the highlands of French Indo-China. En route, they were ambushed several times by the Viet Minh and lost over half their strength. One of the first to die was a trooper who took a poisoned dart to the head from a Montagnard blowgun. Most of the French dead were buried in Mang Yang Pass on the north side of the highway. Allegedly, they were buried upright and facing west towards France. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnamese Communists were said to have removed the white headstones from the site.

In a cemetery near the New Orleans French Quarter you can sometimes read a brief history or a comment about the occupant of certain graves. A headstone might label the resident as "the consort of" a particular person, or might state that the occupant died of a certain disease. Or, you might see three graves in a row and discover that the occupants had once been involved in a love triangle and eventually ended up in side-by-side tombs.

So, how do you plan to be remembered? Planned anything poignant to be engraved on your stone? Or even possibly safer, are your ashes hopefully taking a flier in some special place? Speaking of which, I had an ex-partner who asked a Sheriff's Deputy he played golf with to scatter his ashes on a certain golf course. A year after my ex-partner's death, the deputy was cleaning out his own closet and discovered he still had the ashes. So much for making plans.

At this point, please feel free to share any graveyard trivia you might have.

13 comments:

O'Neil De Noux said...

I asked my wife to spread my ashes in the Audubon Park lagoon near Exposition Boulevard where my grandfather drowned when my father was nine years old. That lagoon and the Exposition Boulevard setting are in a number of my books.

I keep thinking about what's written on F. Scott Fitzgerald's grave - the final line of THE GREAT GATSBY, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past." Maybe I'll write something I'll want on my tombstone one day and nix the idea of the lagoon.

David Dean said...

Thoughtful piece for Memorial Day, R.T. Most folks forget what it's really about.

I wrote a story about the Poe Toaster, as he became known, explaining who he was, why he did what he did, and why he stopped doing it. Fiction, of course. It will appear in Hello Horror Magazine in October.

As for my own funeral, I asked Robin not to bury me in my glasses, as I shouldn't need them. Otherwise, a funeral Mass and burial. The stone I leave to her, so long as the inscription is very complimentary. I'm not above haunting if it isn't.

Eve Fisher said...

I left instructions in my will that whoever was stuck with the body could do what they liked with it, because I won't be there.

Funeral trivia: the Savannah graveyard has some wonderful tombstones, some going back to the 1600s (in ironwood, no less). My favorite is that of a woman who died "by God's will, being struck by a bolt of lightning at the age of 121 years." I guess God couldn't figure out any other way to get her off the planet.

Elizabeth said...

My father died in 2005. He was a chief petty officer in the Navy during World War II, went to college on the G.I. bill, & worked for the feds for many years. He had asked to be cremated & for his ashes to be scattered from a Navy battleship into the ocean off the coast of Alaska because he had served there. So it happened except that his ashes were scattered in the ocean off San Diego.

Jeff Baker said...

My friend Loren Rhoads has a fascination with memorials and blogs about them at CemeteryTravel.org. She has a couple of books on the subject; "199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die," and "Wish You Were Here, Adventures in Cemetery Travel." As for my own headstone, as I am a writer I'm thinking about the usual stuff; name, age, dates, and an asterisk leading to the footnote; "For more Jeff Baker, see below." Make of that what you will...

Melodie Campbell said...

An adult student of mine, who might have been a tad smitten, once wrote this of me:
"Dancing in the fire, laughing at the devil"
I'm thinking that should be on my gravestone...if they ever find me.

R.T. Lawton said...

O'Neil, both sound like admirable ideas. If you do make your own statement, it way carry on as a viral comment on life (or death).

R.T. Lawton said...

David, I have threatened to come back and haunt my wife if certain wishes weren't carried out, so you could be in good deceased company.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, I have a good friend who frequented so many bars, that we threatened to strap his dead body to a dollie and wheel his corpse through all his favorite bars, having several drinks in each establishment in his honor. So, be careful with your last statements.

R.T. Lawton said...

Elizabeth, a good friend of ours, a rental agent in Maui, requested to have his ashes scattered in the King's Fish Pond in Kihei, so they went out in a Hawaiian canoe and did the honors. I haven't swam in that area since, even though we had fond memories of Sam. He and I went to the same high school.

R.T. Lawton said...

Jeff, I like your sense of humor.

R.T. Lawton said...

Melodie, I may just have to borrow those words. Between Nam and 25 years on the street scamming criminals, it's been an exciting and fun life. Keep writing what you do.

Eve Fisher said...

I'll risk it, R.T. - with any luck, they'll prop me up in the corner of a library with bottle of brandy. :)