Tag Archives: columbarium

Death’s Garden: Rozz Forever

Rozz's niche at Hollywood Forever as photographed by Mason Jones.

Rozz’s niche at Hollywood Forever as photographed by Mason Jones.

by Lilah Wild

It began when I decided: fuck it, I’m going somewhere special for my 30th birthday.

Café La Bohème was a fine-dining establishment that had gotten a rep around the Los Angeles travel boards as “the goth restaurant.” I’d been curious about it for a while and, really, what better time to go? Since I live in San Francisco, it mandated a road trip southward, so we’d just have to spend the weekend. Hello, Route 5!

“We’re going to L.A.” I announced to my other half and began planning an itinerary: Forest Lawn, Trashy Lingerie, Venice Beach, Canter’s, Melrose of course. We hit the club listings and saw that Frankenstein would be playing with The Deep Eynde and The Coffin Draggers on Saturday night. Perfect! I sketched out a tentative schedule, but other than a nice dinner, didn’t have anything planned for Sunday, my birthday. I figured it would resolve itself along the way.

Our internet hotel deal landed us in a Beverly Hills three-star a few streets away from Rodeo Drive, which was a most amusing place to emerge covered in torn fishnet, heading to some bar in the middle of nowhere for a night of good deathrock. Truly, it seemed to me, there were few better ways to spend the last night of my 20s than watching a bunch of cranky old punks in ghoulface. Why be afraid of aging when there’s a whole beautiful scene that gleefully paints itself up like living corpses? You can’t get any older than dead.

Eros and Psyche in Hollywood Forever, photo by Loren Rhoads

Eros and Psyche in Hollywood Forever. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

After a couple of drinks and watching The Deep Eynde transcend the ’70s-era wood-paneled stage ambiance, we noticed a vendor table and went to investigate. Pins! Little death pins! And lots of them. While I picked out a handful for my jacket, the guy behind the table taunted me: “Why don’t you have any pins on your jacket! He’s got pins on his jacket!” That made me smile, because I put them all over my other half’s lapels earlier over lunch at Duke’s.

After our purchase, the vendor handed us each a free pin. He refused to sell those particular ones during April: an image of Rozz Williams. We looked at each other: yeah, that’s right, this is around when it happened. Everything fell into place: we’d spend my birthday paying a visit to Rozz.

Hollywood Forever by Loren Rhoads.

Hollywood Forever by Loren Rhoads.

Hollywood Forever sits on Santa Monica Boulevard, amidst the bustle of discount clothing stores, burrito joints, impatient traffic. Daily life whirls on all around it, but when you pass through the gates, it provides an impressive pocket of peace and quiet. We pulled in and made the assumption that Rozz was in the cemetery and — judging from the size of the place — we would need a map to find him. So off to the gift shop it was. The souvenir map was scattered with stars for all the celebrities buried within. It turned out that Rozz was in the columbarium. I’d been told that the one in S.F. was an intriguing place to visit, but I still hadn’t made it yet, so this was my first time to see how cremated remains were laid to rest.

The first room in the building was a chapel, with a box of tissues considerately placed at the end of each pew. Behind this we entered the columbarium proper. The place was like nothing I’d ever seen before — it had the gilded elegance of a department store, the hush and order of a library, with a large fountain splashing away in the center, and golden afternoon light spilling down from overhead. The walls and pillars were inlaid with hundreds of little windows. Wondrous. We circled the perimeter of the room, gazing into the boxes. The first floor had a more somber tone, with what looked like books inscribed with the names of the deceased. Things got more interesting on the second floor, where we’d been directed to find Rozz.

Many of the cases were still empty — Hollywood Forever’s website touts the columbarium as a unique yet cost-effective place of remembrance, but it looks like it’s still in the midst of catching on. That made the few occupied boxes stand out and catch our attention, with their urns and photos and mementos nestled in soft beds of velvet and satin. The first case I saw contained a photograph of a glamorous blonde, caught in a sunlit smile. A small poster of a pulp flick she’d starred in stood alongside a Seraphim Classics angel figurine, her business card, and headshots of all the various looks she could pull off. It looked like she’d quite enjoyed playing the vamp. A necklace curled in a corner. Taped to the glass was a card left by a visitor. Going from the indie film credit and her obvious love for dress-up, I couldn’t help but smile back at this complete stranger: this was someone after my own heart.

Douglas Fairbanks' monument, Hollywood Forever. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

Douglas Fairbanks’ monument, Hollywood Forever. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

A few cases down, an officer’s cap was surrounded by press clippings and photographs of a gorgeous Asian pinup girl and her military paramour clinking champagne glasses, somewhere in the middle of the past century. Across the room, a man sporting a DA ’do was captured in the midst of a fierce dance step before a band, eyes closed and every nerve alive. His ashes were kept in a box covered with vibrant tattoo art.

Every so often, we’d run across a cherub statue perched atop a luxurious drape of fabric, with a discreet advertisement for the columbarium’s memorial options.

I walked around the room, enamored by each tiny stage: so much like my altar at home, with all the treasures I’ve accumulated over time, each representing a different facet of my spirit. These little shrines seemed so warm and intimate, infused with such a flavor of personality, compared to the cold stone slabs outside, marked with only names and years or maybe some lovely but generic statuary, not much else beyond a lump of marble to tell you about the person resting there.

We found Rozz in a pillar next to the staircase. His ashes were in a ceramic urn, flanked by a dead rose and a handwritten note. There were faint lipstick traces on the glass where someone had kissed him goodbye, along with fingerprints tracing out the Christian Death symbol, a X transposed over a cross. In reading the note, I cursed not having a pen. There were a couple of lines I wanted to remember, which I paraphrase here:

I erect a burning temple in my heart, to house such treasures as these
A thousand starlit memories to comfort me in my hours of need…

Outside the case, there was a sconce to the right, inside which curled a zine bearing Galaxxy Chamber’s contact info. I badly wanted to pull it down and read it, but decorum prevented me. On the floor lay a small stack of flyers for some band’s Rozz Williams tribute night, along with their CD and two dozen roses. Initially, I was put off that someone was using a grave as a place to promote their night — some people never quit — but later thought about how I wouldn’t mind my resting place being used as a crossroads of sorts, a place for the living to connect with each other. Still involved in the community after my death: I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Hollywood Forever photo by Loren Rhoads

Jayne Mansfield’s cenotaph in Hollywood Forever. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

We spent a lot more time at Hollywood Forever than anticipated. We walked out of the columbarium and lingered over the rest of the grounds, exploring with our map. Brushed dirt from Jayne Mansfield’s elegant cenotaph. Frowned on the impersonal, filing-cabinet layout of the mausoleum in the back. Grinned at Mel Blanc’s “That’s all, folks!” written across his tombstone.

We mused on the things we’d put in our own display cases. A few weeks before, an online quiz made the rounds among my LiveJournal friends and was one of the rare few I’d participated in. Unlike the kazillion “What kind of meatloaf are you?” personality tests, this one asked you to name 12 things you’d put in a box to tell someone about yourself. I’d included a bottle of theatrical blood, a silver pentacle, a Skinny Puppy cassette, a sprig of white sage, a pair of kitty ears. It seemed an eerie foreshadowing of today’s visit, since all those windows asked me this same question on a much more permanent level: what would I leave behind to tell the world what my life was about? What will define me when I’m gone? Walking past the graves back to the car, I thought about how the first three decades of my life were over and how much more I want to do. That how I decided to spend the time ahead of me was what would ultimately end up behind that glass. Forever.

Choose it carefully, kid.

Dinner that night at La Bohème was absolutely sublime.

***

This essay originally appeared in Morbid Curiosity #9. Reprinted here with Lilah’s kind permission.

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Lilah photoLilah Wild’s dark fiction is an ongoing search for hidden cauldrons within the modern landscape, exploring the contemporary fantastic and horrific. She is a graduate of Clarion West and a member of NYC-based writing group Altered Fluid. Her work has appeared in Pseudopod, Spinetinglers, Not One of Us, Dark Tales from Elder Regions: New York, Niteblade, and other venues of quality scrawl. When she’s not elucidating on Old Hollywood screen goddesses or the blood and fire quotient of metal videos that purport to be evil, Lilah can be found dabbling in tribal fusion bellydancing, hiking the deco puzzlebox of Manhattan, or running away to the beach. She lives in Queens amid a clamor of doom metal noodling and four cats.

Blog: http://www.leopardmoon.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6562563.Lilah_Wild
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lilahwild
Tumblr: http://lilahwild.tumblr.com/

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About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

The oculus in the dome of the San Francisco Columbarium

The oculus in the dome of the San Francisco Columbarium

I went to a funeral last week in one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.  I’ve written about the columbarium before — I’ve visited it many times — but this was the first time I’ve been there for the purpose for which it was intended.

The dead man was the husband of a friend of mine, father to a daughter the same age as my own.  I didn’t know him well, but I love his wife, so I went to the celebration of his life.  It was perfect:  a slide show, a board with stories from his life, cards made by his daughter’s classmates, a table with portrait photos of him and the urn with his ashes.

Their daughter came over to say hi.  I told her my daughter sent her love. Then I asked, “Are you on spring break this week?”

“No,” she said.  “I’m skipping school today.”

I could tell she was troubled by the forbidden aspect of it, so I said gently, “I think you have a good reason.”

Her face froze and she nodded, then dodged off before I could apologize. Oh, well done, I thought.  You made a child cry at her father’s funeral.  I tried to imagine anything I might have said that wouldn’t have reminded her of her loss, but I came up blank.

Remembering my brother’s funeral, almost 12 years ago now, and how I could barely speak for grief, I forgave myself, because really there are no magic words that make the loss stop hurting.  There is no making it better.  The person you love is gone forever and your love has nowhere to go, so it turns on you and hurts you.  All you can do is keep going on, treasuring your memories and slowly, slowly, let your loved one go.

For all that I write about graveyards and their denizens, I haven’t found any wisdom with which to comfort others.  We die, but life goes on.  This young girl will grow up, fall in love, travel, find work, live a rich and full life, but she has lost something she will never get back:  her innocence, her sense of security, her daddy’s love.  Around her, the Columbarium was filled with beauty and fascinating stories.  Outside, the day was perfect: a flawless blue sky, 65 degrees, green grass, bright sun, birdsong.  I’m sure she didn’t even see that.

I walked back to my car, inarticulate with emotion.  I hadn’t lost anything today, but I could see the future so clearly:  the deaths of my parents, my friends, maybe my husband although he’s sworn never to die.  I have been lucky to have only lost my brother and my grandparents so far.  I think growing up is not buying a house, or having a child, or pursuing a career.  For me, it means learning to face all the loss to come.

I have so much to learn.

After I went to the service, I found this link on twitter.  It’s advice on how to support someone who is grieving.  I think I will turn to it often as my friend survives her loss.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Window

Neptune Society Columbarium, San Francisco, California

Neptune Society Columbarium, San Francisco, California

The Neptune Society’s lovely columbarium in San Francisco features a stained glass window in every room off its main floor rotunda.  Every room, that is, except one.  The Tiffany window from the 13th room was stolen before the Neptune Society took possession of the building and has never been recovered.  That room has plain white frosted glass in memory of what was lost.

The columbarium is one of my favorite places in San Francisco. I take everyone there.  I even sent John Levitt there when he was looking for San Francisco locations for Unleashed, the third Dog Days book.

I’ve toured the columbarium three times now, most recently with the Obscura Society. Every tour has been different, even though caretaker Emmit Watson led each one.  After his decades of caring for the building, he has so many stories that he can tailor what he tells each time.

New window at the Neptune Society Columbarium

New window at the Neptune Society Columbarium

I’ve written about the columbarium before as a cemetery of the week, but that didn’t really explain the depth of my affection for the place.

This last time I visited, we got to explore the new wings.  I’d never been in there before.  Most of the niches are empty still, but the space was alive with the sound of a fountain.  The cool blue light coming through the stained glass window was peaceful.  I started to think that I might have found my permanent resting place in San Francisco.

I’m not in any immediate need of it, but it feels good to have that settled.

Cemetery of the Week #112: Golders Green Crematorium

Exterior of the crematorium. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Exterior of the crematorium. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Golders Green Crematorium
aka Golders Green Memorial Gardens
Hoop Lane, off the Finchley Road
London, England NW11 7NL
Telephone: +44 20 8455 2374
Founded: 1902
Size: 12 acres
Number of cremations performed: 323,500+
Open: Winter hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Summer hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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.

Golders Green is the name of the once largely Jewish neighborhood. The Crematorium stands across from a Jewish cemetery, but accepts all denominations. An estimated 2000 people are cremated there each year.

GoldersGreen2.jpeg

Inside the cloisters. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Cremation was legalized in Britain in 1884. For the first 17 years, Londoners had to travel by rail to be cremated in Surrey. After Queen Victoria died in 1901, her surgeon Sir Henry Thompson – also president of the Cremation Society – opened Golders Green the following year.

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.

The 12-acre garden contains several large tombs, two ponds with a bridge, and a large crocus lawn. Apparently, that’s quite spectacular in early springtime.

In addition to the columbaria, there are two cremation chapels and a chapel of remembrance. On almost every wall, says London Cemeteries, there are commemorative tablets. The earliest ones hang on the cloister walls.

Stoker.jpeg

My hero. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

A different book called London’s Cemeteries says Golders Green is “the place to go for after-life star-spotting.” Among the people cremated here whose ashes were either scattered here or placed in the columbaria: Kingsley Amis, children’s author Enid Blyton, Marc Bolan, Sigmund Freud with his wife and daughter, Rocky Horror’s narrator Charles Gray, Who drummer Keith Moon, playwright Joe Orton (whose ashes were combined with those of his murderous lover Kenneth Halliwell), ballerina Anna Pavlova, actor Peter Sellers, Bram Stoker.

Freud.jpeg

Sigmund Freud’s urn and pillar. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

Many more have been cremated here, but their ashes were either scattered or enshrined elsewhere. Among these are England’s Prime minister Neville Chamberlain (Westminster Abbey), poets Rudyard Kipling (also Westminster) and TS Eliot (Church of St. Michael, Somerset), and the writers Henry James (Cambridge Cemetery) and HG Wells (scattered off the coast of Dorset).

Maps are available from the office and reports are that the staff is very helpful in finding a specific location. The columbaria are now locked, although they can still be visited with a guide. It seems there is also a tearoom, but I haven’t been able to turn up any information about its hours. There’s a photo of it on foursquare.

AnnaPavlovashrine.jpeg

Anna Pavlova’s marble urn. Photo © Carole Tyrrell.

For Darren Beach, author of London’s Cemeteries, “the Golders Green Memorial Gardens are among the most spiritually satisfying places in London…It could be the tranquility inspired by the sheer geometry of the place – the chapels surrounded by arched brickwork form a kind of eerie coastline to the oceans of gardens beyond.”

Extra special thanks to Carole, for lending me her beautiful photographs!

Useful links:
London Cemeteries page on Golders Green

The English Heritage listing for Golders Green

European Union Crematoria page on Golders Green

A list of the people remembered there

Information on the War Memorial at Golders Green

Video of one of the Marc Bolan remembrances

Website of the nearby Jewish cemetery

More about cremation on Cemetery Travel:

Roman Cremation in Pompeii

A Brief History of Cremation in the US

A tour of a crematorium

Cemetery of the Week #56: Chapel of the Chimes

Interior view of the Chapel of the Chimes

Chapel of the Chimes
Also known as California Memorial Crematorium and Columbarium
4499 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California 94611
Telephone: 510-654-0123
Founded: 1909
Size: One and a half city blocks
Number of burials/inurnments: more than 200,000
Open: Daily, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

THIS WEEKEND: Chapel of the Chimes offers a Historical Tour on Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 10 a.m. Please RSVP to lcharles@lifemarkgroup.com.

The earliest section of the Chapel of the Chimes

The land where Oakland’s lovely Chapel of the Chimes now stands was originally the site of a trolley car station delivering people to the gates of Mountain View Cemetery (Cemetery of the Week #35). The California Crematorium Association purchased the old station in 1902 and turned it into a chapel for funeral services. Using the talents of architects Cunningham and Politeo, the Association built the first crematory on the east side of San Francisco Bay in 1909 and then added a columbarium.

The name Chapel of the Chimes is misleading. While there are several lovely chapels inside the building, its name refers to it as a place of peace and tranquility, a building of light and beauty rather than of darkness and death. The “chimes” are a carillon, installed in the building’s tower, which were repaired in 2008 after many years of disuse.

The original chapel of the columbarium still has trains schedules on the wall. The original niches are sealed by metal plaques that convey very little information, often only a last name. The second section of the columbarium began to use glass, which was brought about the Horn or shipped cross-country on trains, to protect the urns inside those niches. By the time the third section opened, the niches were left open to display the urns inside.

At Chapel of the Chimes, the niches are property sold in perpetuity to one member of a family, who can will space to only one subsequent family member. The niches are not family-owned. The standard-sized niche holds the remains of two people.

View of Morgan’s design work

In the 1920s, prominent Bay Area architect Julia Morgan (the first woman to graduate from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris) was hired to design the magnificent Moorish Gothic addition, which includes gardens, alcoves, cloisters, fountains, and chapels. Morgan included stained glass, mosaics, European statuary, tile floors, and California faience to decorate the walls. One of her additions is a balustrade now in the cloister. She had intended the piece for Hearst Castle, but William Randolph Hearst rejected it, so it ended up here.

As you enter the Chapel of the Chimes through its ornate Gothic walkway, you pass a deMedici marble table, purchased by Morgan. Beyond that stands the Bible Cloister, which antique bibles are displayed beneath calligraphed verses. The highlight of the collection is a page from an original Gutenberg Bible.

Beyond the cloister, a breathtaking series of short stairways lead upward to fountain terraces. The eight-pointed star that recurs throughout the design is the mourning star. These hillside gardens are patterened after the Alhambra in Spain. In Moorish décor, blue tile represents water and signifies life.

Ruth Cravath’s Angel Gabriel in Repose

In the past, the gardens had their own flock of caged birds and fish swam in the ponds. Now light pours in through skylights that crank open to admit fresh air. Birds of paradise and ferns grow in the gardens. The building is unheated in the winter, so purely tropical plants wouldn’t survive. Even so, the prehistoric cycad trees are second generation. The originals broke through the glass roof and had to be replaced. In another room, the banana palms are seven years old and grow actual bananas.

In 1959, Aaron Green (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright) added the mausoleum behind the columbarium, allowing for full body interment. Chapel of the Chimes was the first space in the world to be both columbarium and mausoleum.

John Lee Hooker’s grave

The most famous resident of the Chapel of the Chimes is bluesman John Lee Hooker, King of the Boogie. To find him, you take the stairs upward from the Bible Cloister, winding through the Garden of Memory, the Garden of Promise, the Garden of Prayer, the Garden of Supplication, up to the Garden of Revelation, turn left, and take the elevator up to the third floor. Up there, turn left again and pass through the Sanctuary of Dawn and the Court of Commitment into the Court of Affirmation. Once you step beyond the confines of the map, you can’t miss John Lee Hooker’s grave on the outer wall of the newest addition to the Chapel of the Chimes.

The Chapel was granted landmark status by the City of Oakland on March 30, 1999.

Every summer solstice, the Chapel hosts a huge performance of eclectic, avant garde music. Performances rang from hand-cranked hurdy-gurdies, a cappella choirs, didgeridoo, noise music, sound experiments, and everything in between. The music ranges from challenging to meditative. Musicians perform in shifts, tucked into every nook and garden of the columbarium. It’s a wonder to behold. This year’s Garden of Memories concert is scheduled for June 21, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are required, but aren’t on sale yet.

Useful links:

The Chapel of the Chimes website

The Chapel’s events newsletter and calendar, as a .pdf download

Last year’s Soltice Concert program

Pictures of Julia Morgan’s contributions to the Chapel of the Chimes

Related burial grounds on Cemetery Travel:

Week #30: the The Neptune Society Columbarium in San Francisco

Week #35: Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, California