Tag Archives: Jewish cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #116: Wyatt Earp’s gravesite

View of Hills of Eternity

View of Hills of Eternity

Hills of Eternity Memorial Park
1299 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-4700
Established: 1889
Size: 20 “graciously landscaped” acres at the foot of the San Bruno Mountains, according to the cemetery’s website.
Number of interments: More than 13,000
Open: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. Closed on Shabbat, major Jewish Holy Days, and secular holidays.

Hills of Eternity (Giboth Olam in Hebrew) is affiliated with San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel and is the third of their graveyards. Originally composed mostly of Polish Jews, Congregation Sherith Israel opened its first graveyard — in 1850 — at Vallejo and Gough Streets in what’s now called San Francisco’s Cow Hollow District.  At that point, it was the edge of town, but not for long.  The Congregation moved its pioneers to the southernmost side of what is now Dolores Park when two of the Jewish graveyards moved out near the old Mission. Even that wasn’t far enough from trouble.  Spurred by vandalism, the Congregation moved its pioneers a third time to a new graveyard called Hills of Eternity in Colma in 1889.

Colma, California has the distinction of being the only town founded to guarantee the rights of the dead, according to Michael Svanevik in his book City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma. Three of the four Jewish cemeteries in Colma are managed as one: Home of Peace, Hills of Eternity, and Salem Memorial Park all share staff and record-keeping.

Home of Peace predates the others by a year.  Congregation Sherith Israel purchased land them in May 1888 and opened Hills of Eternity on January 1, 1889. The cemetery shares its entryway off of El Camino Real (the old Spanish Royal Road between the Missions) with Home of Peace. The two cemeteries had a lovely Gothic entry gate when they opened at the end of the 19th century, but it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and was not replaced.

Rhoads_Savely_EternityNear the entry to Hills of Eternity stands the Portals of Eternity Mausoleum and Chapel, which opened in 1934. It was originally designed by Samuel Hyman and Abraham Appleton, but has been added to and remodeled many times since.  Its octagonal towers, capped by copper and tile domed roofs, are an example of neo-Byzantine architecture.

Inside the mausoleum rests Cyril Magnin, who owned an upscale department store named for his grandfather on Union Square. He donated enough scratch to build the Jade Room in the old Asian Art Museum to house the Avery Brundage Collection of jades. Magnin also served as San Francisco’s chief of protocol for 24 years.

One of the most spectacular monuments in Hills of Eternity was sculpted by Leo Radke. The bronze Commedia dell’arte masks remember Savely Kramarov, an acclaimed Russian actor and comedian who emigrated to the U.S. for in order to be able to practice his religion. He is much less known in this country — he starred in Moscow on the Hudson with Robin Williams, as well as Red Heat and Tango and Cash — but he was considered the Charlie Chaplin of Russian back home. His grave receives lots of visitors.

Wyatt Earp's second -- or third? -- headstone

Wyatt Earp’s second — or third? — headstone

The most popular permanent resident of Hills of Eternity is Wyatt Earp. Earp was never Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, and while he did take part in the shootout at the OK Corral, it was over in about 40 seconds. At the time of his death from liver failure in 1929, Earp worked as a sports writer in Los Angeles, consulted on Western movies, and owned oil lands near Bakersfield. His wife Josephine Marcus, who was Jewish, brought his ashes to be buried in her family plot in Colma. Her family still owns the plot.

Wyatt Earp's current headstone

Wyatt Earp’s current headstone

Earp’s legend is familiar to a lot of people, who leave coins, playing cards, cigars, or bullets on his monument to mark their visits. Local historian Michael Svanevik estimates 50-60 people visit Earp’s grave each month. It’s not easy to find, but it’s down the same row as C. Meyer. You can ask for directions in the cemetery office.

The large stone on Earp’s grave is the third (or fourth?) to mark the spot. A smaller gravestone, purchased by his widow Josephine, was stolen just after her death in 1944. That white marble stone was discovered in a backyard in Fresno. The second stone, made of flat granite, was found for sale in a flea market after actor Hugh O’Brien, who portrayed Earp in a TV series, offered a reward for the stone’s return. Cemetery officials set the 300-pound stone flush in concrete, but it was stolen again. Kevin Costner offered to replace it with a bigger one, but the Marcus family considered the offer self-serving and rejected it. Eventually, the Marcus family agreed to allow a group from Southern California to put this new stone in place in 1998-99. The earlier stone is on display in the Colma Historical museum.

Useful links:

The Hills of Eternity homepage

My review of Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

My review of Images of America: Colma

Other Colma cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park

Woodlawn Memorial Park

Kickstart a Documentary about a Cemetery

Prospect Cemetery trailer

You can help fund a project to document Prospect Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, New York:

Director’s Statement: Peter Riegert

I discovered Prospect Cemetery in the pages of Cornelia Read’s novel Invisible Boy, based on an actual 1989 murder case. Cornelia heard the story over twenty years ago when a friend introduced her to Cate Ludlam, president of the Prospect Cemetery Association.

For the last twenty-three years, Cate has worked as a volunteer to rescue this abandoned burial site from the ravages of vandalism, neglect, and nature’s relentless encroachment. A grant was secured last year to have decades’ worth of debris, fallen trees, and invasive weeds and vines hand-cleared from Prospect’s four-and-a-half acres.

Cornelia introduced me to Cate and Prospect board member Andrew Farren several months ago to advise them on creating a video record of the reclamation project. When they took me to see Prospect, however, I found myself deeply moved by the mystery and history of this beguiling ruin and we soon decided that a documentary seemed more appropriate.

I started talking about the project with friends and colleagues who shared their own impassioned stories about long-forgotten people and places, and why posterity and preservation matter.

Our intent is not just to tell the history of the cemetery, but to use this place as a prism to refract the many themes that are part of Prospect. We want to interview historians, artists, writers, poets, archaeologists, and others for insight into this most mysterious part of every life: the end.

Prospect’s History

Located in Jamaica, New York, Prospect Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the borough of Queens, and among the oldest in New York City.

When you stand at the center of this uneven, wooded ground, you’re in direct contact with the New York of 350 years ago. It’s a small remnant of what was here before the city existed, before skyscrapers and police sirens, subways and concrete.

In 1655, fourteen English families traded two guns, a coat, and a handful of ammunition with the local Lenape Indians for acreage alongside Beaver Pond and founded the village of Jamaica. Peter Stuyvesant officially recognized their settlement the following year, and we know that the villagers were using Prospect’s land as a burial ground by 1668.

Memorialized here are Americans from every walk of life: parents and children, servants, laborers, and bosses… veterans of every American war from the Revolution through World War II, statesmen who shaped the colonies into a nation, and artists, actors, and writers who helped create our culture.

Here’s the Kickstarter link.

Here’s the link to the Prospect Cemetery Association.

Cemetery of the Week #45: Hillside Memorial Park

Jacob wrestles the angel at Hillside Memorial Park

Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90045
Telephone: (310) 641-0707
Established: 1946
Size: 40 acres
Number of interments: over 60,000
Open: Sunday through Friday 8 p.m.-5 p.m. Hillside is closed Saturdays and all Jewish Holy Days.

Al Jolson, star of the original talking picture, has one of the most ostentatious graves in Southern California. After Douglas Fairbanks’ shrine with its white marble columns and reflecting pool at Hollywood Forever, that’s saying something.

Just inside the gateway at Hillside Memorial Park, the Jolson monument is impossible to miss. In fact, Permanent Californians reports that the monument has become a landmark along the San Diego Freeway. A two-story waterfall (unfortunately switched off for repairs during my visit) steps five blue-tiled levels down the hillside. On the grassy knoll at the head of the falls stands a round Grecian-style temple like the temple of Athena at Delphi. The six white marble columns blazed in the SoCal sun. Apparently, Jolson’s third wife paid $75,000 for the monument in 1950: the same amount Fairbanks’ widow spent on his shrine.

Al Jolson’s momument

Jolson’s grave is the antithesis of the modern mausoleum. Its columns soar skyward, supporting a brilliantly colored mosaic of Moses resting the Ten Commandments (written out in Hebrew) against his shoulder. Surrounding the mosaic runs the inscription, “Sweet singer of Israel, man raised up high”: King David’s last words from the second book of Samuel.

Inside Jolson’s monument

I’d mistakenly expected the nearby bronze statue of Jolson — down on one knee, arms flung wide — to be gigantic. Instead, it was less than life-size. He smirked as if he’d just belted out, “Mammy, how I love ya, how I love ya!” His blackface performance is not one of American film’s finest moments. It might be justly forgotten, without the benefit of being the first motion picture with sound — and if not for this amazing display of funerary art, which was designed by the first African American Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Also buried at Hillside are Shelley Winters (whom you’ll remember from the original Poseidon Adventure) and Moe Howard (boss of The Three Stooges), Michael Landon (of TV’s Little Home of the Prairie) and his TV father, cowboy Lorne Greene, and television pioneers Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Dinah Shore.

Vic Morrow, star of Humanoids from the Deep and The Bad News Bears, hadn’t made an impression on me until his last film. The 1983 Twilight Zone movie wasn’t good or particularly scary, but it had the pre-release publicity that Morrow had sacrificed his life to make it. As John Landis illegally filmed his climactic Vietnam sequence one night, Morrow carried two kids across a simulated rice paddy in the Santa Clara River. One of the FX explosions went off too close to the helicopter above them and swatted it out of the sky. The rotors sliced through Morrow, decapitating him and dismembering both children.

Permanent Californians gave us only the vaguest coordinates to Morrow’s grave, limiting our search to Block 5 of the Mt. Olive section. Finally, as I was about to give up the hunt, I stumbled across Morrow’s headstone. Eloquent in its simplicity, it said only, “I loved him as ‘Dad.’ To everyone else, he was ‘Vic.’”

I blinked back tears. Facing his tombstone, I was forced to consider the family and friends he’d left behind. Vic Morrow was loved and missed. My reasons to visit him would have appalled his survivors. Chastened, I left a pebble on his grave.

Useful links:

The cemetery’s homepage (not updated recently)

PDF guide to Hillside’s Distinguished Residents

A beautiful photo gallery

Information about the sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the angel

Seeing Stars entry on the celebrities of Hillside

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Hillside:

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 #51: Angelus Rosedale Cemetery


Cemetery of the Week #39: the New Jewish Cemetery of Prague

View of the New Jewish Cemetery

Novy Zidovsky Hrbitov
Vinohradská at Jana Zelivského
Vinohrady, Prague, Bohemia, 120 00, Czech Republic
Telephone: I’ve found 3 on the internet, all of them different.
Established: 1890
Size: 25 acres
Number of burials: 15,000 under more than 5000 stones.
Open: October to March: Sunday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 2. April to September: Sunday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. to 2.

Entrance to the New Jewish Cemetery

Complete with ornate wrought iron doors and a gilded legend in Hebrew, the gate of the Novy Zidovsky Hrbitov — the New Jewish Cemetery — towers above the street directly across from the Zelivského metro station. Even though it was founded in 1890, the graveyard is called the New Jewish Cemetery to distinguish it from the jumbled old burial ground of Prague’s historic Jewish Quarter.

The earliest known Jewish community in this area of town was settled around 1888. There are other non-Jewish cemeteries in the area, so it’s possible this land is too stony to farm. The Jewish cemetery was established in 1890 and continues to serve the community. It survived WWII intact, but now contains many markers that remember people who went into the concentration camps and never returned.

As my husband Mason and I entered the gateway and tried to get our bearings, an old man bustled out of the cemetery office. He spoke rapidly in Czech. We didn’t understand a word until he held out a blue crocheted yarmulke for Mason. Men must cover their heads, we understood, to show respect. My research indicates that these yarmulkes are for sale, but we didn’t understand that. Mason returned it to the office when we left.

We wandered the path along the outer wall. Most of the monuments had been carved from polished black granite, their incised letters picked out in gold. Between the stones, shiny dark green ivy crawled up the tree trunks and flowed over the ground. Late October painted the oak leaves bright yellow. They drifted across the pathways, ankle-deep. Mason claimed this was the most beautiful graveyard we’d ever visited.

Kafka’s grave

The most famous of the graveyard’s denizens is easy to find, thanks to good signage. Franz Kafka’s monument was 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. When Mason and I visited his grave 75 years later, floral tributes surrounded the geometric obelisk.

It seemed odd to stand at Kafka’s grave in the sunshine, with the gilded leaves around us. Somehow I’d pictured Kafka’s world as shadowy, gray as a black-and-white movie. I hoped he could feel the sunshine, wherever he was.

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.

I haven’t been able to track down a lot of information about the cemetery and its residents, but we spent a lovely afternoon there.

Useful links:

Map to the New Jewish Cemetery

Useful information about the Jewish cemeteries of Prague

Other cemeteries in the Czech Republic on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #4: The Old Jewish Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #38: the Bone Chapel of Kutná Hora

Cemetery of the Week #59: Vysehrad Cemetery

Weekly Photo Challenge: Textured

Monuments moved to Home of Peace from defunct graveyard in San Francisco

A large part of what I find appealing about grave markers is their attempt at permanence.  By definition, tombstones outlive the people whose names they bear.  Cold, hard, unfeeling: stone strives for immortality by its presence.

In truth, what I’ve learned from cemeteries is that limestone melts, marble breaks, slate slivers, and sandstone cracks.  White bronze can become brittle.  The materials of permanence are not so permanent after all.

In the course of my study of graveyards, I’ve learned that permanent burial places, as we think of them, are a fairly recent phenomenon.  I was shocked when I discovered the “final” resting places of millions throughout the U.S.  are rarely final. In San Francisco, the anonymous graves of the Spaniards and Mexicans buried at the Presidio have been consolidated into mass graves at the San Francisco National Cemetery.   In fact, whole cemeteries have been exhumed and shifted from Russian Hill, South of Market, Civic Center, beside the old Veterans Hospital, for miles along Geary Boulevard between Masonic Avenue and Arguello, and from Lincoln Park where the Palace of the Legion of Honor now stands.

San Francisco also had several cemeteries of Jewish pioneers, all of which have been moved to Colma.  The largest of these was in what’s now Dolores Park, in the heart of the very Catholic Mission District.  Vandalism was an ongoing problem before Temple Emanu-El bought the land for Home of Peace in Colma, where these stones now stand.

I love the faces of these old stones. They look as if they’ve led interesting lives. They may be stained and painted with lichen, but still they stand proudly upright. They continue to honor those who lie beneath them and their memories are clear.

Other remnants of San Francisco’s historic cemeteries:

The Wave Organ

Cemetery of the Week #13: Mission Dolores Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #30: the San Francisco Columbarium