Tag Archives: Hollywood Forever

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.


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
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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.

My Favorite Cemeteries

I’ve been conducting an unofficial survey on Twitter in which I ask everyone their favorite cemetery. The answers have been great. Everyone has an opinion and their choices have spanned the world. Very few of the cemeteries have repeated, which surprised me most of all. I thought everyone would choose the same big-name cemeteries over and over, but more people than I expected have chosen their local cemeteries down the street.

Some of the interviewees have turned the question back on me. My favorite cemetery changes from moment to moment. Several of us have agreed that picking a favorite is like choosing one of your children. You don’t want to slight anyone.

All that said, here are my favorite cemeteries at this moment:

Glorious spring in Michigan

Glorious spring in Michigan

Bendle Cemetery, Flushing, Michigan
I haven’t written about Bendle as much as I should. This is the first cemetery I remember going to as a child, the one where my grandparents, cousin, and brother are buried. It contains a variety of monuments from a six-foot tree stump to a white bronze obelisk to a lot of newer granite headstones incised with images important to the people in the community. The names on the gravestones echo the names of the country roads nearby, because the roads were named for the family farms to which they led. Of all the graveyards in the world, I have the most affection for this one.

Hollywood Forever is quintessentially Southern California.

Hollywood Forever is quintessentially Southern California.

Week #5: Hollywood Forever in Hollywood, California
Of all the cemeteries I’ve visited in the world, the one that does my heart the most good is Hollywood Forever. (So much so that I chose this image of it for the cover of Wish You Were Here.) When I visited it for the first time in the early 1990s, there were open graves gaping to the sky, where families had exhumed their loved ones to rebury them elsewhere safer and more protected. The cemetery’s perpetual care fund had been looted and everything was falling to ruin. When Tyler Cassity took over, I was worried about his ideas to lure tourists to the place, but instead the cemetery is lovely, cared for, well-visited, and better than I might have dreamed. Their annual Day of the Dead celebration is coming up on November 2. You should not miss it.

The grave of Igor Stravinsky in San Michele

The grave of Igor Stravinsky in San Michele

Week #9: San Michele in Isola in Venice, Italy
When my husband and I traveled to Italy, we built our trip around things I wanted to see: the Capuchin Catacombs of Rome, Pompeii, La Museo Zoologico La Specola (because I’d seen one of their Anatomical Venuses at the Exploratorium in San Francisco). Once we had the itinerary laid out, I filled it in with cemeteries. Our sole reason for going to Venice was to visit the cemetery island, San Michele in Isola. Reachable only by water taxi, the island seemed like one of the most isolated cemeteries in the world.  It is compartmentalized into War graves, a Protestant section, a Russian Orthodox section, and row upon row of mausoleum drawers decorated with amazing glass mosaics. It’s the only graveyard in the world where I really honestly feared being locked in for the night. There was no climbing over the wall here, unless you also swam across the lagoon.

Mourner in Cypress Lawn

Mourner in Cypress Lawn

Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California
I’m having trouble limiting my local favorite to just one cemetery, but today I’m going to go with Cypress Lawn down in Colma.  Between the exquisite glass ceilings in their catacombs to the variety of angels in the older half to all the historical figures at rest here, Cypress Lawn has rewarded repeated wandering over the 25 years I’ve lived in San Francisco. They’ve published several beautiful books about their collection of statuary and host monthly tours and lectures. (The year’s last walking tour is coming up this Saturday, October 26. Attend if you can!)  I honestly adore Cypress Lawn.

Angel in Highgate

Angel in Highgate

Week #2: Highgate Cemetery in London, England
It’s probably no secret that my favorite cemetery is the one that really started me off down this path, London’s Highgate.  I didn’t expect to go to London at all — and I never went out of my way to see a cemetery — but an unexpected book from a random gift shop sent us to this luscious overgrown outdoor museum. Now I can’t imagine ever having chosen a different path. My introduction to Highgate was nothing short of fate and I am extremely grateful.

There you have it.  Those are my favorite cemeteries, at least as of today.  What’s yours?

Wish You Were Here got its first review

from The Graveyard Rabbits Online Journal:


By LisaMary Wichowski

Wish You Were Here
Loren Rhoads
Western Legends Press, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1484197271


We taphophiles don’t like to settle for armchair traveling, preferring to go adventuring on our own, but even we can use a good beach read (though from under the shade of an umbrella, as many of us do take pride in our common pallor). Loren Rhoads ‘ new book Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel is the perfect book to take along with you.  It is a series of over 30 short essays about memorial spaces she has encountered ranging from her own childhood neighborhood in Michigan to Japan and the Czech Republic. As those of us who find ourselves seeking out cemeteries wherever we go, or even designing entire itineraries around visiting the dead, will find ourselves immediately at home in her words.


Above all, Rhoads is honest, and she does not hesitate to address the problems she encounters along the way.  Her essays on Hollywood Forever,  Forest Lawn  and Green-Wood are each a case in point. The two Southern California cemeteries represent  two extremes of how to run a contemporary cemetery business. Forest Lawn, resting place of Walt Disney, Errol Flynn and W.C. Fields was the first cemetery to take care of all of one’s post life needs, a sort of post mortem supermarket, with an emphasis on pre-need. This effort to rethink cemeteries also included a directive to deny sadness,  “’The Builder’ (sic)… forbade depictions of grief and sorrow.” Most of the markers are bronze, flush to the ground to facilitate lawn care. The exceptions to that rule are limited to those who can afford one of the “approved” monument styles.  Chaste copies of Michelangelo’s David (complete with fig leaf), and Carrera marble mediations on patriotism and “motherhood” provide suitable topics for contemplation, as thinking about death here seems to be off limits. Rhoads points out that picnicking, loitering and plantings are all forbidden, ostensibly as part of the cemetery’s mission to “serve the living,” yet the result is curiously lifeless.   Forest Lawn may be best known for Evelyn Waugh’s thinly veiled portrait in The Loved One,  but  that’s satire.   Rhoads’ portrait is simple truth, and, as such, infinitely more sad.


In contrast, Hollywood Forever, final home of Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield as well as Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, is quite full of life. Rhoads’ essay begins with a visit soon after the bankrupt Hollywood Memorial Park changed owners to a businessman with an eye to profitability.  In that light many, including the author, were worried about the possible Disneyification of the once grand grounds.  Rhoads expresses pleasant surprise at the professional care and restoration she saw 2001, although things were far from perfect.  Rudolph Valentino’s stained glass was still under repair and there were questions of historical accuracy and appropriateness in some of Hollywood Forever’s video tributes.  Nonetheless, they were well on the right track. Revisiting in 2013, Rhoads finds that the improvements continue that “a cemetery that’s used is a cemetery that’s loved and appreciated….Visitors keep a cemetery safer than guards,” something all too often forgotten.


Many of us have encountered cemeteries where the concern for safety and security has become coldness and paranoia. Though there is a reason for the control and management of visitors, it seems that some members of Green-Wood  staff have taken things a bit too far. A 2002 visit was marred by a prickly security guard’s insisting on “absolutely” no photography while a less than helpful receptionist’s explained that photographs may not be published, even though Rhoads would have been happy to pay for a photo pass. I understand and support some sites blanket ban on images, such as for reasons of faith and tradition as many First Nation burials. Green-Wood though hosts lectures and tours for the sake of publicity, the no photography seemed to be a whim of the management.  Not long after this essay was posted, Rhoads received a letter from the President of Green-Wood making some corrections.  Concerned about her negative experience, he corrected internal misconceptions about the photography policy, which is to have photographers consult with and credit Green-Wood before publication.  Rhoads’ journalistic integrity in reporting these issues fairly is impressive.


It is Rhoads’ objectivity that  makes Wish You Were Here truly exceptional.  Although she loves cemeteries and wants to share her enthusiasm for them with a broad public, she refuses a role of mere “booster,” instead calling for improvements, so that cemeterying remains enlightening and enjoyable.  Rhoads knows that a bad experience at one place could color someone’s opinion of all cemeteries.  In light of dwindling support avoiding this is to everyone’s benefit.


Rhoads is particularly adept at finding deeper meanings in what she sees, and the questions she puts to about the places she visits can gently guide us in our own search for meaning in the places we encounter. If you’ve struggled to explain your love of burial grounds to others, this may be a great way to help them understand the appeal is.  Rhoads’ writing is both engaging and comforting.  She doesn’t neglect the dead, but instead celebrates lives lived: their strength, determination, love, honor, each in its own place and time.


Most of the essays date from 1991-2002 (with a few revisits) I would have liked to see more revisits and photos that would reveal changes in the sites, and in the author’s perceptions. I look forward to a Volume II, preferably with color photographs the better to share my travels with her.

The review was originally published here.

Your first guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles

Forever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their ResidentsForever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents by Douglas Keister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the best guide to the cemeteries of Los Angeles yet. Jammed with Douglas Keister’s beautiful color photographs — all exquisitely printed — the book weighs more than the other guides, which might make it prohibitive to drag around a graveyard with you, if you’re juggling a camera and notebook, too. If you’re just sightseeing, this is the book for you. All the color headstone photos make it easy to know exactly what you’re looking for.

However, the book is short on history of the graveyards. Permanent Californians is better for that, as well as more fully developed biographies of the biggest stars. Forever L.A. also focuses on fewer celebrities; if you want a more comprehensive list, Laid to Rest in California is the book you want.

In addition, Forever L.A. suffers from puzzling organization. You can read the section on Westwood Village Memorial Park, but the text directs you elsewhere in the book to the listing for Don Knotts and somewhere else again to read about Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Marilyn’s biography snuggles up against one for Joe DiMaggio, who isn’t buried in L.A. at all. I guess this just proves my contention that any collection of gravestones is necessarily going to be idiosyncratic and reflect the predilections of the person compiling it.

I see what Keister was doing when he collected together all the stars of The Wizard of Oz or Bonanza or It’s a Mad, Mad (etc.) World, but I found it frustrating not to have all the cemetery information gathered into the appropriate chapter when I was standing in the graveyard. Is this book meant for armchair travelers or people in the field?

And why is the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland included at all? While the photos are lovely, the section takes up valuable book real estate that could have been used by Angelus Rosedale, where Hattie McDaniel is buried and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was filmed.

Still, if you are traveling to L.A. and want to visit graveyards, I suggest you start with this book. It’s the most recent and has by far the prettiest pictures. You just might want to dip into the other books for more depth after you get home.

Start your collection of L.A. cemetery guides here: Forever L.A.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Feeling Alive on the Day of the Dead

Photo opportunity

The street outside Hollywood Forever swarmed with people.  My dear friend Daniel assumed we would park inside the cemetery gate, but it became clear as we crept up Santa Monica that wasn’t likely to happen.  He made a circle around the block past Paramount, then let us out.

It was good he’d already bought us tickets.  The ticket line was long enough to be scary in itself.

More than half of the people coming in had painted their faces like skulls.  I thought about the anonymity that greasepaint could give.  Johnny Depp could be here.  Lindsay Lohan.  Paris Hilton.  If they weren’t traveling with an entourage, how would you recognize them?  They could pass as any nameless skeleton.

This elaborate tableau went beyond my conception of an altar.

Some people had bisected their faces so that only one side was grinning and white.  I used to have a Maya-style black clay mask like that, which a friend brought back from Guatemala.  Those half-faces were creepier to me than the whole skulls.  The anonymity was shattered as the bearers claimed their own mortality, their own individual skulls.

In contrast to to the anonymous calacas stood the altars.  Photos of dead faces gazed out at the crowd, standing amidst skulls of every hue, painted with flowers and curlicues, festive and happy.

Altar of Calaveras

When asked, some of the altar creators spoke about their loved ones.  Others sat or stood, mute in their grief.

I felt like an intruder, like I spied on a ritual meant to be private or, at least, shared amongst a community who understood and felt the same loss.  But the top prize for the altars was $3000, so there was an element of theatricality, of artistry, that was meant for consumption and display.

My thoughts wound around the anonymity of death, the universality of it.  Death will erase us all and our skulls will likely not be enameled crimson or spangled with daisies.  But memory is specific.  Memory keeps us alive long after our flesh has fallen away.

I kept hearing snatches of the old Shriekback song:  “Everybody’s happy as the dead come home.”  It was a lot to process on my birthday, but like my birthday trips to Pere Lachaise and the Sedlec Ossuary and ever so many more graveyards, there was nowhere I would have rather been and no one with whom I would have rather spent my birthday.  It was great that Hollywood Forever would throw a party that made me feel so alive.