Monthly Archives: October 2013

Cemetery of the Week #114: Shakespeare’s Grave

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare's memorial on the wall above them.

Vintage postcard of the grave slabs set in the floor of the chancel with Shakespeare’s memorial on the wall above them.

William Shakespeare’s grave
Holy Trinity Church, Old Town
Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6BG
Telephone: 01789 266316
Burial: 1616
Number of Interments: 5
Open: Seven days a week, but access to Shakespeare’s grave will be limited during services. Check the church’s website for the schedule.
Admission: £2 (Concessions £1, Students 50p)

It’s claimed that Christians have been worshipping on the site of Holy Trinity Church, which stands on a rise above the Avon River, for over a thousand years. Records suggest that a Saxon monastery stood on the site, but nothing of it remains. The church building itself dates from 1210.

Frommer’s calls Holy Trinity one of the most beautiful parish churches in England. The church’s own website suggests it is “probably England’s most visited parish church.” It’s estimated that up to 200,000 people visit it each year.

Glove-maker John Shakespeare’s family lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in the 16th century. No birth records were kept in those days, but William Shakespeare was recorded as baptized in Holy Trinity Church on April 26, 1564. In July, the Plague struck and nearly 70% of the children born in that decade were buried in the churchyard. Shakespeare and his parents survived.

Shakespeare finished his schooling in 1580 and married Anne Hathaway two years later, through not at Holy Trinity. Six months after that, their daughter Susannah was baptized, followed by the twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes. Nothing survives as a record of his short life except the record of his burial on August 11, 1596.

Shakespeare’s plays began to be performed in 1587. He was 23. Many plays later, often as many as four or five a year, Shakespeare signed his Will in 1616 with a shaky hand. He was buried on the 25th of April. The cause of his death remains a mystery.

When Henry the VIII separated the churches of England from Rome, local parishioners became responsible for paying their priests and caring for their churches. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased a share in this church, vowing to tithe for the upkeep of the chancel, the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir. In effect, he was purchasing burial space. His donations to the church – and not his fame – gave him the right to burial in the chancel.

Shakespeare's epitaph

Shakespeare’s epitaph: “Curse be here that moves my bones.”

A charnel house for the storage of bones stood south of the chancel until the 1790s. Graves were generally purchased for a short period of time, before their contents were exhumed and stored in the charnel house. Shakespeare wanted to lie at rest and so dictated the curse on his grave slab. Such curses were common at the time.

Shakespeare’s family inherited the right of burial in the chancel. His wife Anne, daughter Suzanna, and sons-in-law Dr. John Hall and Thomas Nash (first husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth) are buried alongside him in the chancel.

During Anne’s lifetime, a memorial to Shakespeare was erected and is, because of her approval, believed to be a good likeness. “The sun-tanned countenance is said to be quite genuine,” according to the church’s website.

By 1888, fairly significant restoration had been done in the church, at least according to a letter to the London Times. The doorway from the chancel to the charnel house had been blocked up, perhaps as early as 1801. It’s likely that the remaining bones were neither removed or reburied elsewhere, but were simply sealed up inside the charnel pit and left as they were.

Around the time that the charnel house was closed, the slab over Shakespeare’s grave was replaced by a more modern one that did not match Anne’s. The original stone had probably gotten worn, since for centuries people had walked over it to see the memorial sculpture. Now a railing prevents visitors from walking on Shakespeare’s grave.

Shakespeare’s church is visited by hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The contributions that they leave help to maintain the building and pay for heat, lighting, and staffing the Church during the week.

Each year, on the Saturday closest to St. George’s Day (April 23: Shakespeare’s presumed birthday), Holy Trinity hosts a flower-laying ceremony. Thousands file through the church while the bells ring and the organ plays. A Shakespeare Service is held the following Sunday to remember Shakespeare and his contributions to the parish and England.

Useful links:

Holy Trinity Church’s website – check it for closing times:

Galley of photos of Holy Trinity

A fascinating timeline of the religious persecutions in England during Shakespeare’s life

A history of the Holy Trinity Church

A map of Stratford and the Shakespearean sites

A discussion of the closing of the charnel house and the validity of Shakespeare’s monument

Shakespeare’s Ghost

Cobbe_portrait_of_ShakespeareI encountered Shakespeare the first time by sheer luck.  The 11th grade English class was taking a bus trip to Stratford, Canada and had an extra ticket.  I was only in 10th grade, but my mom — a former English teacher herself — was friends with the 11th grade teacher.  I got to ride along to see Henry IV, part 2.

I rode along with the English trips the next couple of years.  They all concentrated on the history plays. The year I started college, a friend and I drove to Canada to see The Tempest.  It continues to be the most brilliant, transformative play I’ve ever seen.

After that, I took every Shakespeare class I could find.  I haven’t read every last plays, but I’ve read most of them, even the difficult ones.  I’ve seen every production I could, from Shakespeare in the Park to the movie adaptions to a spectacularly misguided production of Macbeth in Ann Arbor.

The We Players on Alcatraz during Hamlet's grave digger scene.

The We Players on Alcatraz during Hamlet’s grave digger scene.

A couple of years ago, I saw the We Players’ production of Hamlet on Alcatraz Island.  The company incorporated the crumbling prison into the play.  From a multitude of ghosts speaking as Hamlet’s father to the garbage pickers pawing through the rubble behind the gravediggers as Hamlet fondles Yorrick’s skull, death and dissolution wound all through the play.

This week’s Cemetery of the Week is going to honor the author of all these wonderful horror stories.

Horror Writers on Cemetery Travel

I’ve been using this month’s Cemetery of the Week columns to explore the writers who have inspired me.  I thought it might be helpful if I gathered all the horror writers on Cemetery Travel together.

The master's headstone

The master’s headstone

Ray Bradbury, Westwood Village Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California
Seeing Stars says, “If you had to choose only one Hollywood cemetery to visit, Westwood Village Memorial Park would be your best bet.” In addition to all the movie stars, Westwood has its share of writers. Author of In Cold Blood Truman Capote’s ashes are in a niche facing the cemetery entrance. The ashes of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, are in the Room of Prayer columbarium beyond Marilyn Monroe. Billy Wilder, screenwriter of Sunset Boulevard, has a headstone that reads, “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” Near him lies Ray Bradbury, whose headstone remembers him as the author of Fahrenheit 451.

Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. Vintage postcard.

Charles Dickens, Westminster Abbey, London, England
Westminster Abbey has served as the site of every British coronation since 1066. The tradition predates the modern Gothic building, begun by Henry III in 1245. The abbey is stuffed nearly to bursting with mortuary sculpture, which it is –unfortunately – forbidden to photograph. The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Charles Dickens — author of the most-filmed ghost story in the English language — was interred here against his will, rather than being allowed to be buried alongside his family in Highgate Cemetery.

Family grave in Zoshigaya

Family grave in Zoshigaya

Lafcadio Hearn, Zoshigaya Reien, Tokyo, Japan
In the last half of the 19th century, Harper’s Magazine sent Lafacadio Hearn to Japan. Although he soon parted ways with his editors, he loved the country and wrote book after book describing it to Western readers for the first time. While his tales drift in and out of fashion in the West, he is still revered in Japan. His most famous work is Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, a collection of Japanese ghost tales comparable to the work of the Brothers Grimm. Those stories inspired Akira Kurosawa’s 1964 movie of the same name, which won a Special Jury Prize at Cannes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. Hearn is buried under his Japanese name, Koizumi Yakumo.

Washington Irving's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Washington Irving’s grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Washington Irving, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown, New York
Walking up the hill from the parking lot between the Old Dutch Church and the Pocantico River, you’ll find the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Just shy of the crest of the hill, Washington Irving rests inside a simple iron gate emblazoned with his family name. A plain marble tablet, streaked green with lichen, marks his grave. According to a bronze plaque placed in 1972 by remaining members of the Irving family, the “graveplot” is now a national historic landmark.

Kafka's grave

Kafka’s grave

Franz Kafka, the New Jewish Cemetery, Prague, the Czech Republic
The most famous of the New Jewish Cemetery’s denizens is easy to find, thanks to good signage. Franz Kafka’s monument is a top-heavy six-sided obelisk made of pink-and-gray granite. He died in 1924 of tuberculosis, in agony from his hemorrhaging lungs. All of his novels remained incomplete and unpublished at the time of his death, so only a few friends mourned him. The Cadogan City Guide to Prague forewarned us that Kafka shared his grave with his mother and hated father. In fact, he predeceased them both. He’s commemorated as Dr. Franz Kafka, in deference to his law degree. An inscription on a marble plaque at the base of the monument remembered his three sisters, who vanished into the Nazi death camps.

The graves at Jack London State Historic Park

The graves at Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London, Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen, California
Jack London was among the most widely read authors of his time. His short story “To Build a Fire” has scarred schoolchildren for almost a century. Four days after his death on November 22, 1916, Charmian London placed her husband’s ashes on a small rise behind the ruin of the house they had been building together. The grave was marked only with a large lava rock from the Wolf House ruin. The boulder is strangely shaped: a weird, worn, organic form for a rock. Moss covers it like velvet, softening its broken edges.

H. P. Lovecraft's tombstone

H. P. Lovecraft’s tombstone

H. P. Lovecraft, Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island Swan Point’s most famous permanent resident is Howard Pillips Lovecraft. A n obelisk that says Phillips marks the plot belonging to Lovecraft’s grandparents. The back of it holds Lovecraft’s parents’ name and dates. At the bottom, he is remembered as Howard P. Lovecraft, “Their Son.” A smaller stone purchased by Dirk W. Mosig — at that time, the leading authority on Lovecraft — was unveiled during a small ceremony in 1977. The low granite marker spells out Howard Phillips Lovecraft, August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1938, with added the epitaph, “I am Providence.” Those words came from a letter Lovecraft wrote to his Aunt Lillian, eventually published in 2000 in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Poe's monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

Edgar Allan Poe, Westminster Hall Burying Ground, Baltimore, Maryland
Westminster Hall’s best-loved resident lies just inside the gates. A large monument marks the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, his wife Virginia, and her mother Maria Clemm. Poe was originally buried in 1849 the plot of his grandfather David Poe, elsewhere in the churchyard. His unkempt grave went unmarked for decades, despite several attempts to provide a suitable monument. Eventually, he was moved to this more prominent plot when his mother-in-law died in November 1875 . It took 10 years before his wife was exhumed from her grave in New York and reburied in Baltimore beside him. The Annual Halloween Tour of Westminster Hall & Burying Grounds is scheduled for Thursday, October 31, 2013, at 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Vintage postcard of Stevenson's grave

Vintage postcard of Stevenson’s grave

Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima, Upolu, Samoa
In December 1894, when Stevenson died of apoplexy (a brain hemorrhage or stroke). He was 44. Local Samoans built him a hardwood coffin and stood guard over his body through the night. The following day, they cut a road through the jungle to the grave, which they called the “Road of Loving Hearts.” Working in relays, they carried the coffin to the grave. Stevenson was buried just below the 1560-foot summit of Mount Vaea in a tomb overlooking his family estate, Vailima, and the ocean.

Bram Stoker's urn at Golder's Green Columbarium. Photo by Carole Tyrrell.

Bram Stoker’s urn at Golder’s Green Columbarium. Photo by Carole Tyrrell.

Bram Stoker, Golders Green Crematorium, London, England
One of the oldest crematories in England and the oldest in London, Golders Green may also be the best-known crematorium in the world. Over the years, many famous people have chosen to be cremated there. Some remain there in urns in the columbarium or beneath rosebushes in the garden. The redbrick crematorium was built in an Italianate style with a large tower that hides its chimney. It was built in stages as money became available. The current crematorium was completed in 1939. Its three columbaria contain the ashes of thousands of Londoners. London’s Cemeteries says Golders Green is “the place to go for after-life star-spotting.” My hero Bram Stoker is in one of the columbaria, which can be visited with a guide.

Facebook Groups: Dark and Dreamy Cemeteries

Dark & Dreamy Cemeteries
Moderator: JP Vock
1155 members

Jacob wrestles the angel at Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California. Photo by Loren Rhoads

Jacob wrestles the angel at Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California. Photo by Loren Rhoads

Q: There are a lot of cemetery aficionado groups on Facebook. What sets yours apart?

A: Most cemetery groups are dominated Americans. I wanted an international group without boring gravestones or patriotism, because I think those aren’t dark or dreamy.

Q: Do you have a policy about what is appropriate to post?

A: Everything that really has to do with the love of cemeteries, but is not contrary to the rules of Facebook. I ask people only post 9 photos a day.

Q: How old is your group?

A: It was founded Easter 2012.

Q: Is your group open to new members?

A: Yes. I have no criteria for new members. I just hope to get the right ones.

Q: Are you a member of any other cemetery groups?

A: Yes, many groups. I’ll have to count someday.

Facebook Groups: The Association of Graveyard Rabbits

Association of Graveyard Rabbits
Moderator: Henk van Kampen
481 members

The Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, California. Photo by Loren Rhoads

The Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, California. Photo by Loren Rhoads

Q: There are a lot of cemetery aficionado groups on Facebook. What sets yours apart?

A: The Association of Graveyard Rabbits was started by the late Terry Thornton in October 2008. We are a group of cemetery bloggers: having a blog devoted to cemeteries is one of the requirements for membership.

Our mission: To promote the historical importance of cemeteries, grave markers, and the family history that can be learned from a study of burial customs, burying grounds, and tombstones. Our main website is

b697e-logo8I’m a member of the Association and act as moderator for our Facebook group. (It’s not my group, I just moderate.) Terry started the group 5 years ago as a discussion place for members of (and anyone who is interested in) the Association. The Facebook group is an open group, so anyone can join. As the Association has not been very active recently, the Facebook is currently mostly a cemetery discussion group. Anyone with an interest in tombstones, cemeteries and burial customs can join. There is very little moderation in our group. As a moderator, I approve new members and occasionally weed out a few spammers. I rarely have to go beyond that to keep the discussions on topic.

Q: Do you have a policy about what is appropriate to post?

A: Discussions about the historical importance of cemeteries, grave markers, and the family history to be learned from a study of burial customs, burying grounds, and tombstones. It’s fine to share a link to related articles or blog posts (including your own).

Q: How old is your group?

A: We’ll soon be five years old.

Q: Is your group open to new members?

A: Anyone who wants to join (or just read) our discussions is welcome.

Q: Are you a member of any other cemetery groups?

A: Yes, several. I’m not very active in the discussions at the moment, though.