Tag Archives: Black History

A first look at the African Burial Ground

Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial GroundBreaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground by Joyce Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited to find a book about Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, which I visited in May 2002. At that time, it was merely a patch of grass inside a chain-link fence with an historic plaque, not much of a remembrance for the thousands of Africans, slaves and free, who were interred there. Of course, after 9/11, commemorating the long-dead became less of a priority. Thankfully, the site has been made right at last.

The subtitle of this book is “The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground.” Unfortunately, when the book was published in 1998, not much seems to have been known about the graveyard. Perhaps Howard University was still performing the analyses of the 400 bodies that were recovered, but only a handful of the reclaimed bodies are discussed here. Maybe the archaeologists were busy writing their papers for other publications, but there’s not much information about what they found. What’s there is fascinating, but scant.

Apparently there are few historical documents pertaining to the space, other than old maps. The authors pad out the book with history lessons drawn from legal records about the treatment and lives of the Africans brought to the colony by the Dutch, then the British, then the new-fledged Americans. The history was new to me, but not nearly as interesting as the contents of the graveyard — for which I’d purchased the book.

My hope is that there will be a new book available when I revisit the African Burial Ground (now a national monument) this summer.

I bought my copy on eBay, but it’s available on Amazon: Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)

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Cemetery of the Week #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery

Angels in Angelus Rosedale

Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
1831 West Washington Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90007
Telephone: (323) 734-3155
Email: info@angelusrosedalecemetery.com
Founded: June 9, 1884
Size: 65 acres
Number of interments: An estimated 100,000
Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

In 1884, when Los Angeles was a small city of under 30,000 people, Rosedale Cemetery was founded on 65 acres of land facing Washington Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Walton and Catalina Streets.

Designed as a lawn cemetery with beautiful trees and flowering shrubs, Rosedale now has mostly upright headstones, interspersed by some beautiful sculptures and family mausoleums. The cemetery also sports several pyramid crypts, including one for George Shatto, who first developed Catalina Island as a resort.

America’s first crematory west of the Rocky Mountains — and only the second crematory in the country — opened at Rosedale in 1887. By 1913, it had already performed almost 2400 cremations.

Rosedale was the first cemetery in Los Angeles to accept all races and creeds. Among those buried there is Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman ever to sing on the radio. While her cinematic career spanned over 300 movies, she is best remembered for playing Scarlett’s Mammy in Gone with the Wind — a role that earned her the distinction of becoming the first African-American recipient of an Academy Award.

Ms. McDaniel’s last wish had been to be buried at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery amongst the glittering stars of Hollywood. Because of the color of her skin, she was rejected. Her very modest headstone lies near the gates of Angelus Rosedale. (Hollywood Forever put up a cenotaph to her memory in 1999. The story is here.)

Other permanent residents include Tod Browning, director of the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula; Eliza Donner Houghton, who survived the Donner Party’s winter in the Sierras at the age of 3 and went on to marry a Congressman; Maria Rasputin, daughter of the mad Russian monk; Harry Kellar, a stage magician whose performances influenced Houdini; various Los Angeles pioneers, as well as mayors, governors, and politicians; and Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star. She appeared in Douglas Fairbanks’s Thief of Baghdad and with Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express.

The Angelus Funeral Home on Crenshaw purchased the graveyard in 1993. At that time, it was renamed Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

Palms at Angelus Rosedale

With its photogenic lines of palm trees, Angelus Rosedale has appeared in the Clive Barker film Lord of Illusions, Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, as well as many episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and Six Feet Under.

Every autumn, the West Adams Heritage Association presents a cemetery tour featuring costumed actors speaking as people buried in the cemetery. Each tour is different. Watch for this year’s tour here.

Useful links:

Angelus Rosedale website

Lots of historical information

Google Maps virtual tour

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Angelus Rosedale:

Permanent Californians

Laid to Rest in California

Other graveyards of the Hollywood stars on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #5: Hollywood Forever

Cemetery of the Week #14: the Original Forest Lawn

Cemetery of the Week #40: Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park


Cemetery of the Week #50: Gravesite of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth’s gravestone

Oak Hill Cemetery
255 South Avenue
Battle Creek, Michigan 49014
Telephone: (269) 964-7321
Email: bcoakhill@sbcglobal.net
Founded: March 25, 1844
Size: 50 acres
Number of Interments: Approximately 30,000
Open: Daily 8 a.m. to dusk. The office is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Isabella Baumfree had been born to enslaved parents around the year 1797 and grew up speaking only Dutch on a plantation north of New York City. She was first sold at auction at the age of 9, to a man who beat her for not understanding English.

Tired of waiting for the emancipation promised by the state of New York, she walked away from her master toward the end of 1826. She carried her infant daughter Sophia, but left three other children behind. Her son Peter was sold illegally to an owner in Alabama to avoid his emancipation. Baumfree successfully sued for his freedom, becoming the first black woman to best a white man in an American court.

Meanwhile, in the wilderness in the middle of the continent, Battle Creek, Michigan was named for a fight between white land surveyors and natives in the early 1830s. When the village of Battle Creek was first platted in 1836, an acre of land was set aside for a pioneer burial ground. The town grew until a new cemetery was needed and so land for Oak Hill Cemetery was purchased in 1843. Its first permanent resident was Esther Cox, buried May 21, 1844.

About this time, former slave Isabella Baumfree had a religious vision and took the name Sojourner Truth. She dictated her memoirs, which were published in 1850. She began to travel extensively, speaking for women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

Sojourner Truth settled in the Battle Creek area in 1857, where she lived with her daughter Elizabeth and two grandsons. Grandson James enlisted in the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts (the Glory regiment).

In 1864, Sojourner traveled to Washington, DC with her grandson Sammy. She met Abraham Lincoln in the White House, then later took work at the Freeman’s Hospital. She rode the DC streetcars in order to force their desegregation.

By 1870, she was traveling around the US, speaking on temperance and civil rights. She suggested that Freemen be given government land in the West, rather than be forced to continue to live in the Jim Crow South.

In 1872, she attempted to vote for Grant, but was turned away from the polling place in Battle Creek.

By July 1883, Sojourner was ill with ulcers on her legs. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg attempted to treat her at his Battle Creek Sanitarium by grafting some of his skin onto her legs. The treatment bought her a few more months, but she died in November that year. She was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery beside her grandson Sammy. Later, her daughter Elizabeth and several other family members joined her.

W. K. Kellogg’s gravesite

Oak Hill Cemetery also served as the final resting place for Dr. Kellogg, who invented cold breakfast cereal so that visitors to his sanitarium would have an alternative to meat and eggs for breakfast. Buried nearby is his brother W. K. Kellogg, who founded the cereal manufacturing company which bears their name in 1906. The Kellogg company continues to be the largest employer in town.

Also buried in Oak Hill Cemetery is another pioneer in the packaged breakfast food industry: C.W. Post, who created Grape Nuts and Post Toasties. After an emergency appendectomy, he shot himself over fears that he had developed stomach cancer.

Other historical figures in the cemetery include James and Ellen White, co-founders of the Seventh Day Adventists. Ellen is remembered as the “central prophet” of the faith, writing and speaking against use of tobacco and alcohol, proposing vegetarianism, and rejecting fashions in clothing. She was the author of over 40 books and is credited with sending John H. Kellogg to medical school.

Finally, Oak Hill Cemetery seems best known for its statue of Crying Mary, which has been investigated by many, many ghost hunters. Generations of Battle Creek teenagers believed that the statue cried at midnight.

Johannes Decker’s statue, known as Crying Mary

Useful links:

A history of Oak Hill Cemetery:

History of Battle Creek

Biography of Sojourner Truth

Oak Hill’s Crying Mary legend

More info on Crying Mary

Other Civil Rights sites on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #46: the Martin Luther King Jr. Grave Site, Atlanta Georgia

Cemetery of the Week #65: African Burial Ground National Monument, New York City

Tombstone Tourist: Musicians

The Tombstone Tourist : MusiciansThe Tombstone Tourist : Musicians by Scott Stanton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I reviewed the first edition of this book in Morbid Curiosity #5. The author, Scott Stanton, went to the trouble of tracking down my phone number to call and discuss the review, especially my list of musicians who should have gotten some attention and my concerns that the lack of an index made the book difficult to use. Both issues have been corrected in this edition.

Full disclosure: Stanton asked me to photograph some grave monuments for this edition, but my photos didn’t make the cut into the book. Very disappointing! Still, he thanks me and Morbid Curiosity in his introduction, so that was nice to see. The photos that are included tend to be smaller than I would prefer and somewhat dark, but I fully admit that might be sour grapes.

Special praise goes to the careful directions Stanton gives for potential cemetery visitors. Some graveyards, particularly Southern California’s Forest Lawns, will not give maps or directions to fans who want to visit their idols. To counteract that, Stanton gives specific instructions on how to find the graves. That’s worth the cover price right there.

The book is encyclopedic, spanning the roots of blues through rock to rap and rasta. If there’s a music lover in your circle, this is the perfect gift. If I were more of a music lover myself, I would give the book more stars here.

I’m still awaiting the second volume of the Tombstone Tourist series. I’m torn between Literary Figures or Actors, but either way, I’d love to see Stanton apply the same level of attention and detail to more dead people.

You can order your own copy from Amazon: The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians

Final home of Jim Morrison: Cemetery of the Week #10: La Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris, France

Final home of Jimi Hendrix: Cemetery of the Week #49: Greenwood Memorial Park, Renton, Washington

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Cemetery of the Week #49: The Jimi Hendrix Monument

Jimi Hendrix Memorial, Greenwood Memorial Park

Greenwood Memorial Park
350 Monroe Avenue NE
Renton, Washington 98056
Telephone: (425) 255-1511
Founded: Late 1909
First burial: February 25, 1910
Size: 40 acres
Approximate number of interments: 12,000
Open: Dawn to dusk daily

When Jimi Hendrix suddenly died in London on September 18, 1970, his father James “Al” Hendrix barely had the money to bring his body home. Among the fans attending the Seattle funeral were Miles Davis, Johnny Winter, and drummer Buddy Miles.

The elder Hendrix had purchased a small family plot in Greenwood Memorial Park near the family home in Renton, Washington, south of Seattle and east of Sea-Tac. Jimi was the first Hendrix to be buried there, under a simple granite headstone illustrated with a Stratocaster guitar and the epitaph “Forever in Our Hearts.”

Hendrix’s original tombstone

In 1995, Al Hendrix finally regained control of Jimi’s music with the help of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, founder of the Seattle Experience Music Project and owner of the largest collection of Hendrix memorabilia in the world. With these new funds, the senior Hendrix bought a 54-plot space in Greenwood and had plans drawn up for a suitable monument to his son. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive to see it completed.

Sundial and one of the portraits, with family headstones surrounding the outside.

The monument, designed by architect Mark Barthelemy of Cold Springs, is a granite-capped gazebo. Each of its three supporting pillars features a laser-etched portrait of Hendrix and some of his lyrics in his handwriting. The breathtaking monument is handicap-accessible.

On November 26, 2002 (the day before his 60th birthday), Jimi Hendrix was exhumed and reburied with his father in a vault beneath the new monument. His original headstone, newly restored, was encased in granite in the center of the memorial. His original burial site was then marked with a simple bronze placeholder.

A life-sized bronze statue of Jimi had been commissioned to stand atop the plinth built around the old headstone in the new monument. According to the memorial’s website, as of 2003, the statue was being constructed in Italy. When I visited in 2009, it had not yet been put in place. (This is not the same statue erected in front of the AEI Music Networks on Broadway at Pine in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, which was completed in 1997. For several years, there have been rumors that the statue by Darryl Smith might be moved to the park that bears Hendrix’s name beside the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle’s Central District. Nothing concrete seems to have been announced yet.)

Up to 15,000 fans visit Hendrix’s grave each year. Before Hendrix was moved, fans trampled adjacent graves and caused some damage. Now they leave flowers, lipstick kisses, and drug paraphernalia.

Greenwood follows the memorial park style in that it is a large, flat green plain. Highlights include a modern carillon, a Veterans of Foreign Wars monument, crowned with an anti-aircraft gun, and the Garden of Eternal Peace, which features a large pagoda and a fountain surrounded by large carp. Hendrix’s tomb is easy to see when you enter the graveyard.

Useful links:

Greenwood’s website

Jimi Hendrix Memorial Project website

Directions to the monument

A close-up of the monument

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Jimi’s tomb:

Stairway to Heaven: the Final Resting Places of Rock’s Legends

Tombstone Tourist: Musicians

Cemeteries of Seattle