Tag Archives: Jack London grave

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.

Cemetery of the Week #24: Jack London’s gravesite

The graves at Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park
2400 London Ranch Road
Glen Ellen, California 95442
Telephone: (707) 938-5216
Established: The date the children were buried is unknown. London joined them in 1916.
Number of interments: At least four
Open: The Park is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Museum is open Thursday – Monday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Londons’ Cottage is only open Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 4.
Entry fee: $8 per vehicle

A plaque near the grave relates how the gravesite had been chosen. Before his death, Jack London told Charmian and his sister, “I wouldn’t mind if you laid my ashes on the knoll where the Greenlaw children are buried. And roll over me a red boulder from the ruins of the Big House.”

Four days after his death on November 22, 1916, Charmian London carried her husband’s ashes up the rise in a small copper urn wreathed in primroses, one of the hardy flowers that don’t shrivel in winter’s chill. She placed the cremains in a cement receptacle. Four horses pulled a large lava rock up from around the Wolf House ruin. Using rollers and a crowbar, workmen from the ranch shifted the boulder into place.

The boulder is strangely shaped: a weird, worn, organic form for a rock. Moss covers it like velvet, softening its broken edges. If it hadn’t been for the fence of peeling pickets surrounding it, the boulder could have been any natural rock, so well did it suit its environment.

Jack London’s tombstone

Inside the fence, crispy brown oak leaves lay in a mat amidst the dead grass. September in Northern California is a time of brown and dust. It had been a blazingly hot day in August when Wolf House burned down.

Near London’s grave stood another smaller picket fence surrounding the trunk of an oak. Tall green weeds drowsed inside the fence, blanketing the graves of two settler children. Nothing is known about David and Lilli Greenlaw, who died in 1876 and 1877 — not even where their parents went, after the children’s death. The graves have always been marked with redwood boards, replaced by each successive owner of the land whenever they deteriorated.

The State Historic Park’s website says that “Jack was deeply moved by the feeling of loneliness at the children’s graves.” He felt that they would be less lonely if he were buried near them. It’s an odd sentiment for a man who abandoned his first wife and two daughters to chase a life of adventure.

Mostly I wondered if London chose a boulder to cover him so that he could fade into the landscape he loved and vanish with memory. He had lived through the Victorian age, with its excessive stages of mourning and the elaborate grave decorations that I love. London was among the most widely read authors of his time. He might have guessed his grave would become a place of pilgrimage, with grateful readers wanting to commune with him as they offered a rose. I suppose he strove to be too much of a man’s man to want any sentiment. The boulder, the isolation: those were conscious choices on his part.

Of all the graves I’ve visited over the years, London’s is the most isolated. Of course George Washington and Thomas Jefferson lay entombed on their own properties as well, but those gravesites stood in settled lands, easy travel even in those days. In 1916, Sonoma County was sparsely populated, a place of ranches and vineyards. London might as well have been buried on the edge of the earth, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa or Charles Lindbergh in the churchyard at Hana. At least Lindbergh had more company than a couple of nearly anonymous children.

If you are interested in visiting London’s gravesite, you should do so this year. In 2012, Jack London State Historic Park is due to be closed because of the California state budget crisis.

Useful Links:

Jack London’s life

Jack London’s books online

Jack London State Historic Park

California State Park page

Docent tours

Other Jack London information Cemetery Travel:

My visit to London’s grave

My review of Permanent Californians

My review of Laid to Rest in California