Holy Cross, it goes without saying, is a Catholic cemetery. It hadn’t occurred to me that Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi had been Catholic. I knew he’d been addicted to morphine and that he’d been buried in his tuxedo and black silk opera cape, but I hadn’t known what the man who’d portrayed my first literary crush had believed about his immortal soul.
“I wish I’d known we were coming here,” I told Brian, who’d surprised me with a late-afternoon cemetery adventure. “I would have bought him some roses.”
I grew up watching Sir Graves Ghastly host horror movies on Saturday afternoons, never understanding the homage. Sir Graves was an elderly man in white tie and tails, hosting movies in a thick, obviously fake accent which I now realize he’d cribbed from Lugosi. Sir Graves showed all the classic black-and-white horror movies of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties.
Looking back, I recognize that the show was aimed at children. A “Ghoul Gallery” displayed children’s drawings inspired by monsters they’d seen on the show. That part always bored me. I simply wanted to see the heroines in their silk peignoirs swooning in the moonlight to be carried off by Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. or Lugosi himself.
Even as a child, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the heroine or the monster, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with the villagers and their torches.
The first vision of Lugosi standing on the castle steps, cape draped around him and eyes twinkling with reflected candlelight, changed my life. I would have died to be there with him, away from the farm and the small Michigan town where I grew up. When I saw Lugosi, I understood that I needed to escape.
I’ve stood at a lot of grave sites, but never before at one whose occupant had so altered and inspired my life. The marker was too simple to convey the depth of my admiration for the man below. Illustrating the stone was a polished black granite rose twining around a plain cross marked “I H S,” the abbreviation for Jesus in Greek. The epitaph listed only his name, “Beloved Father,” and 1882-1956.
Brian slipped away to allow me a few moments to commune with my idol. I wondered if I should prick my finger, add a drop of my blood to the green grass blanketing the grave.
“You are remembered,” I whispered.
This essay is excerpted from a longer one in Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. You can get a copy from Amazon.