Tag Archives: Los Angeles cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #173: the Crypt of Our Lady of the Angels


The Cathedral Mausoleum at Our Lady of the Angels
Also known as the Crypt of the LA Cathedral or the Saint Vibiana Chapel Mausoleum
Address: 555 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, California 90012
Phone: 213-680-5200
Dedicated: September 2002
Number interred: 395, according to Findagrave

Note: the Cathedral Mausoleum remains closed at the moment, due to Covid-19 restrictions. Please check the Cathedral’s website or call before you visit to make sure it’s reopened.

In 1996, the Diocese of Los Angeles chose a downtown parking lot overlooking the Hollywood Freeway as the site of its new cathedral. Named for the city’s namesake, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was dedicated on September 2, 2002. It serves as the mother church to approximately five million professed Catholics in the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Sealed into the floor around the altar are 26 relics, including Saints Benedict, Catherine of Sienna, Charles Lwanga, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Francis of Assisi, Gregory the Great, John Neumann, Martin de Porres, Patrick of Ireland, Rose of Lima, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American saint), and Junipero Serra, who founded the Spanish missions in California in the 18th century.

In the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs a reliquary with a fragment of the cloak worn by Saint Juan Diego that was miraculously stamped with Mary’s image when she visited him. The postage stamp-sized relic may be the only one of its kind in the United States. It was given by the archbishop of Mexico City to the archbishop of Los Angeles in 1941.

In the Chapel of Saint Vibiana, in the crypt below the church, rest the bones of a third-century Christian martyr whose grave was discovered in the Pretestato Catacombs near Rome’s Appian Way in December 1853. The original grave was sealed with a marble tablet which was marked with a laurel wreath, which indicated she was a martyr for her faith. Also in the alcove was a rose-colored vial, believed to contain dried blood. Despite a lack of history or miracles, Pope Pius IX canonized her as a Roman-era Virgin in 1854.

Vibiana’s bones were encased in a wax effigy. Bishop Thaddeus Amat, charged with overseeing all of California south of Monterey, took her relics on an eight-month tour before they arrived in Santa Barbara. Sometime in the 1860s, her reliquary was installed in Los Angeles. The Italian Baroque cathedral of Saint Vibiana was dedicated in her name in 1871.

In the 1950s, the Vatican dropped Vibiana’s feast day from the liturgical calendar for lack of historical information. In 1976, her relics were removed from public view and entombed in a marble sarcophagus. In 1994, the Northridge Earthquake caused damage to her cathedral and the diocese of LA took the opportunity to build Our Lady of the Angels. Vibiana’s, which had been named a City Landmark in 1963, was deconsecrated and is now available for rent as a wedding venue.

The construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was overseen by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, LA’s first native Angeleno archbishop, who was made a cardinal in 1991. A burial place is reserved for him in the crypt.

The Crypt Mausoleum of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels lies one floor beneath the cathedral itself. It can be reached via the stairway or elevators at the rear of the Cathedral Church. The mausoleum is surprisingly large, containing some 1300 interment “crypts” and 5000 cremation niches, most of them empty at this time. Its walls are faced with polished Spanish limestone, lit by alabaster sconces.

It features 16 large baroque revival stained glass windows and 9 lunettes, brought from the original St. Vibiana Cathedral. The windows were created by the Franz Mayer Company in Munich in the early 1920s and restored by Judson Studios before being placed in the crypt. Since they are underground, they are lit from behind.

In the crypt stands a chapel dedicated to St. Vibiana. The altar was refashioned from the marble altar of her cathedral. The brightly painted stations of the cross came from St. Basil Church in LA. A marble sarcophagus contains Vibiana’s bones, still in their wax effigy. A replica of the plaque that marked her original grave hangs nearby, inscribed “To the soul of the innocent and pure Vibiana.” She remains the patron saint of Los Angeles.

Buried in the Bishops’ Crypt are Thaddeus Amat y Brusi (the first Bishop of Los Angeles, who brought Vibiana’s relics to LA), John Cantwell (the first Archbishop of Los Angeles), Bishop Thomas James Conaty (who oversaw the restoration of the California missions in the early 20th century), Bishop Carl Anthony Fisher (the first Black bishop on the West Coast), James Francis McIntyre (the controversial second Archbishop of Los Angeles, who became a cardinal), Bishop Juan Alfredo Arzube (born in Ecuador), and John J. Ward (who served in the Vatican II discussions). Several of them had been buried at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral before being reinterred here.

Other bishops have cenotaphs to their memories, including Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany, who was sent to Northern California during the Gold Rush. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery Mausoleum in Colma, California, south of San Francisco.

The most famous person buried in the Crypt Mausoleum is actor Gregory Peck, best remembered for playing Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, for which he won an Academy Award. Peck was nominated five times for the Oscar and received the Academy’s humanitarian award in 1968. He served as president of the Motion Picture Academy and was active in the American Cancer Society, National Endowment for the Arts, and many other causes. He died in his sleep in 2003. He’s buried in the crypt beside his wife, philanthropist Veronique Peck, who followed him in 2012. Their epitaph crosses the front of both grave plaques. His says, “Together” and hers “Forever.”

Actress June Marlowe (born Gisela Goetten) was billed by Warner Bros. as “the most beautiful girl on the screen.” She appeared in the Rin Tin Tin movies, acted opposite John Barrymore in “Don Juan,” and played a recurring role in the “Our Gang” shorts as the teacher Miss Crabtree. She also appeared in the first Laurel and Hardy movie, “Pardon Us.” After she married in 1933, she stopped acting in films. Initially buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, she was moved to the LA Cathedral crypt and interred behind the epitaph, “Help thy brother’s boat across and Lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”

Actress Helen Wagner was best known for playing Nancy Hughes in the soap opera “As the World Turns.” She spoke the first line on the show in 1956 and continued playing the part until a month before her death in 2010. She’s credited in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-playing of a single role. Her husband, producer Robert Wiley, is also buried in the Cathedral Mausoleum.

Buried near the papal cross beneath the cathedral’s altar is Bernardine Murphy Donohue, who was rewarded for her Catholic philanthropy by being made a papal countess by Pope John XXIII. After her death, her family’s mansion was donated to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a retreat house.

Useful Links:
Map to the cathedral: https://catholiccm.org/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels-mausoleum
The Cathedral Mausoleum: http://www.olacathedral.org/cathedral/mausoleum/about1.html
The Cathedral homepage: http://www.olacathedral.org/
LA Time article “The Crypts that Keep on Giving”: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-feb-08-mn-26916-story.html
Findagrave: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1543836/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-the-angels

My reviews of books related to this cemetery:

Laid to Rest in California: https://cemeterytravel.com/2011/05/05/cemeteries-paparazzi-style/

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels guidebook: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3908630237

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 #51: Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #110: Holy Cross Cemetery

Death’s Garden: Muzak for the Dead

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Vintage postcard of Forest Lawn’s wrought iron gates – Taller than Buckingham Palace’s! From the collection of Loren Rhoads.

by Dana Fredsti

Cemeteries have never been scary places to me, despite my penchant for movies where corpses claw out of their coffins and munch on human flesh. The first time I saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, it scared the hell out of me, especially the first scene in the old graveyard. Even so, it has always amazed me that some people are actually afraid to visit cemeteries. I suppose, if I was in Forest Lawn and rotted hands started poking out of the ground, I might change my mind. Until then, cemeteries are mildly fascinating places to stroll with my husband.

When I was no more than five years old, my family visited a cousin’s grave after he’d been killed in Vietnam. He was buried in a military cemetery at Point Loma, out above the ocean. I remember standing around the flat white rectangular marker with my mom, dad, sister, and grandmother. Thousands of identical markers dotted a sea of green grass, which spread around us as far as I could see. I had to go to the bathroom really badly and couldn’t understand exactly why we had to stare at this white slab on the ground. I didn’t remember my cousin. The concept of death was not within my grasp at that age. There were no bathrooms in sight.

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Vintage postcard of Forest Lawn from the air.

I prefer old-style cemeteries, the ones with crumbling tombstones and old mausoleums. Unfortunately, my current hometown of Los Angels is the land of McCemeteries: Forest Lawn, the chain of full-service mortuary/cemeteries. One-stop shopping for all your burial needs. “One call takes care of everything” comforts the sign above the gates. Forest Lawn Glendale is a veritable theme park of the dead, complete with museums (filled with interesting armor, old coins, etc., but very little to do with death. I guess too much death-oriented stuff would depress the tourists.), gift shops (where you can buy postcards and religious kitsch – how about an ashtray with Jesus on it?), gardens, a lake with resident swans…and bathrooms.

Another amenity of Forest Lawn Glendale is piped-in music in parts of the cemetery, such as the Garden of Everlasting Peace and the Garden of Eternal Freedom. It’s really bad music, sort of Muzak for the dead. I wonder if the management thinks the music soothes those visiting their dead friends or if it is a holdover of the superstition of not disturbing the dead. I personally can’t imagine a worse fate than lying in a box, forced to listen to elevator music for the rest of eternity. It would send me clawing out of my grave just to change the tunes. I would be much happier, and more likely to stay put, if there was some lively music to listen to, maybe some activity going on around me. This is assuming, of course, that my “self” or “soul” or whatever is still sentient.

Our house is a half-hour walk from Forest Lawn Glendale, which provides at least another hour of exercise to cross. My husband and I recently walked over, stopping for coffee and chocolate croissants along the way. We hiked past the tacky “European” sculptures, up to the Garden of Everlasting Peace to visit Errol Flynn’s grave. Settling on a bench, we toasted Errol with coffee. (Alas, we had no whiskey.)

Forest Lawn001

Family monument at Forest Lawn

As we ate breakfast, we were spotted by a security guard. He told us amiably that eating wasn’t allowed in the cemetery, but he’d look the other way if we didn’t leave a mess. He added that “some people” got really upset when they saw folks with food around the graves, so we should “keep a low profile.” He wandered off, leaving us to speculate what about eating would offend people. I mean, I could see a problem if we had a food fight over someone’s dead relative or made orgasmic noises, but otherwise, what’s the big deal? I suppose that the dead might possibly get pissed off that we’re up top enjoying life while they’re stuck in caskets, but it seems ridiculous that such a basic function of life should offend anyone, dead or living. Maybe it comes from the same train of thought that inspires epitaphs like “God Grant That He Lie Still”: the fear that the dead won’t stay dead. As much as people miss their loved ones, who wants ’em back after they’ve been rotting in the ground for a few years?

I’d rather not be buried in a place like Forest Lawn. I definitely don’t want my funeral held at any mortuary that serves up an impersonal eulogy by a Rent-o-Minister babbling on about life and death, children and rebirth, how the newly deceased will be “walking the fields of Heaven” and rejoicing in the glory of the afterlife. In short, nothing that relates to the actual deceased at all.

My grandma’s funeral was that impersonal. It was held a couple of weeks ago at Greenwood Mortuary in San Diego. My sister and I drove down to attend. The eulogy was so generalized that, for me, it actually lessened the grief. I don’t know who the minister was talking about, but it was certainly not my Grandma. At one point, he said something like, “The first thing she’ll do upon entering the Gates of Heaven will be to look for her husband and gently call his name.” My immediate thought was “Nonsense!” The first thing Grandma would do would be to yell, “REX!” for her psychotic terrier – who certainly shouldn’t have been admitted through the Pearly Gates in the first place – in a strident Bronx accent. Then, maybe, she’d check around for Grandpa. I almost committed the unforgivable sin of laughing when that popped into my mind.

The final touch of impersonality was added by one of our uncles, a landscape artist, when we put flowers on Grandma and Grandpa’s graves. Everyone had a single carnation (compliments of the house), which we placed on the headstones. After we’d all finished, our uncle rearranged the flowers to suit his idea of what looked “right.” That act trivialized our sentiment and simultaneously underlined the tone of the whole funeral.

The Irish have the right idea: a loud, rowdy wake where they celebrate living, not dying, where people get smashed and tell their favorite stories about the deceased. (“Ah, he was a real bastard, but I loved him, so help me, God!”) My husband and I talked about having our ashes forged into sword hilts, with the requisite curse placed on the sword, naturally, to prevent theft. This way, we’ll be around our family, passed down through generations and, hopefully, remembered. I don’t want to lie beneath another weathered headstone in a cemetery, with flowers replaced once a month until there’s no one left to remember me.

Forest Lawn is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to be dead there.

This essay appeared in the original Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries, published by Automatism Press in 1996. Reprinted here with permission.

Dana photoDana Fredsti is an ex B-movie actress with a background in theatrical combat (a skill she utilized in Army of Darkness as a sword-fighting Deadite and fight captain). Through seven plus years of volunteering at EFBC/FCC, Dana’s been kissed by tigers and had her thumb sucked by an ocelot with nursing issues. She’s addicted to bad movies and any book or film, good or bad, which includes zombies. She’s the author of the Ashley Parker series, touted as Buffy meets The Walking Dead, and the zombie noir novella, A Man’s Gotta Eat What a Man’s Gotta Eat.


Death's Garden001About 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 — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.


Death’s Garden: In the Dark


Marilyn’s lipstick-pink marble

by Loren Rhoads

The sky burned with gold as we rounded the block again.  The Thomas Guide wasn’t helping at all.  None of the buildings seemed to be numbered.  I was ready to give up.  I considered suggesting we ditch the graveyard altogether and see about getting up to Griffith Observatory in time to catch the afterglow, but it was probably too late in the afternoon for that.  I had no idea where we were in the greater Los Angeles area.

Anyway, Brian was determined to show me a graveyard I hadn’t seen before.  He’d been there once, years ago, but hadn’t been driving.  All he remembered was standing amongst the graves and feeling boxed in by skyscrapers.  He didn’t remember which skyscrapers.  “That’s why they always shoot movies from the opposite angle,” he explained, “so you don’t see the buildings looming over you.”

The car was full of tense silence.  Brian had already apologized so profusely for getting lost that I couldn’t get mad.  The response had been short-circuited.  Now he was absolutely determined to find the place. I kept thinking about that James Van Pelt story in After Shocks where the couple is trapped in their car in LA as a metaphor for Hell.

Finally on the umpteenth pass by Glendon on Wilshire, I spied a little white sign at eye level between the skyscrapers.  “I think that’s it!” I crowed.

We circled the long block once more, passing the Westwood Presbyterian Church, the private school with the mysteriously painted mural, back through the neighborhood with the immaculate white houses and bright green grass.

We turned right onto Glendon again.  “Slowly,” I cautioned.  “I think it’s just past the pink building.”

Brian snapped, “Past the pink building is Wilshire.”

“No, there’s an alley…”

We were on top of the turn before I could see the little white sign for the Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park.  They certainly didn’t want to draw attention to the graveyard in the center of the block.

The sign directed us down the alley toward a uniformed guy in a little lighted booth.  Apparently he was there to sell parking for the movie theaters nearby.  He didn’t motion for us to stop.

Another right turn and the graveyard resolved ahead of us.  It was a tiny one.  An open mausoleum took up the east side.  In the northeast corner stood a little round chapel, which the map said would be locked.  On the north, a solid wall of office towers rose behind the cemetery walls.

Brian pulled his car over and we got out.  He started to lead me toward the southeast corner, which they had torn up for new construction.  I glanced down at the Map to the Stars’ Bones clutched in my hand.

“I think we’re going the wrong way.”  I turned around 180 degrees and oriented the map.  “She’s in that corner over there.”

In fact, from where we were standing, you could pick out her slot in the “Corridor of Memories.” A large bouquet of red and white rosebuds adorned the vase on the marble slab.  As we drew near, I nearly tripped over a pot of purple heather on the cement floor beneath her marker.  I reached out to touch the brass lettering.  It said simply “Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962.”

For someone whose legend exploded after her death, the humble monument seemed almost insulting.  I mean, I’d known in advance that she didn’t have a grand memorial like Douglas Fairbanks’ reflecting pool or Al Jolson’s three-story waterfall, but this — the bare marble without even an epitaph…

“Do you know who the blank one beside her is for?” Brian asked.

“Hugh Hefner.”  I’d read somewhere that he’d paid an exorbitant bribe to be buried next to her.

There weren’t really words I wanted to say.  I liked the movies of hers that I’d seen, but hadn’t troubled to track down the rest.  She was dead before I was born.  I felt no connection to her, other than sadness for someone who never found whatever it was she needed to live.

A fan club had dedicated a little marble bench nearby to her memory, so visitors would have a place to sit to commune with her.  Permanent Californians said Marilyn’s was the most visited grave in Los Angeles.  Hard to believe, after all the hour and a half of driving around it took us to find it.

The security guard strode toward us, so we turned away from Marilyn’s grave.  The map said that the cemetery was open until 7:30 year ‘round, but this January night was going to be pitch black long before then.

“Do we have to leave?” I asked.

“No, we don’t lock up ‘til 6,” the guard said affably.

“Are you allowed to tell us where anyone is buried?” Brian asked.

“I don’t actually know,” the guard answered.  “This is only the second time I’ve been in here.”

He rounded the low boxwood hedge behind us and stopped in front of Marilyn’s marker.

“I’d like to find Darryl Zanuck,” Brian told me.  Zanuck founded 20th Century Fox, where Brian worked.

I located Zanuck on the map.  As we walked across the lawn, I read off the other famous names buried here:  Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne from Poltergeist, Truman Capote, Natalie Wood, Jim Backus, Eva Gabor, and Frank Zappa. There were others listed that I didn’t recognize.

Only a luminous rosy glow remained overhead as we crossed the shadowy grass.  Brian bent to examine an inset plaque. The epitaph remembered one of the greatest Iranian singers ever.  Although she’d been dead eleven years, potted plants completely encircled the marker.

“Is this the anniversary of her death?” I wondered.

Brian consulted the plaque again and said, “No.”

Night was falling so fast that we didn’t have time to explore.  According to the map, Zanuck was buried under one of the trees.  Brian and I spread out to search the rows of plaques.

I got distracted when an Iranian man climbed out of a car parked in front of the office, a low building in the southwest corner of the graveyard.  He carried a potted plant over to a grave already outlined with low houseplants.  When he knelt at the foot of the grave to make his offering, I turned away to give him some privacy.

It grew too dark under the trees for me to read the dark plaques set into the black grass.  I found a bench beneath a towering chestnut tree and sat down.  The cement was chilly through my jeans, so I huddled into my leather jacket.  The tip of my nose was cold, but the hand with which I’d been holding the map was colder.

A scant handful of graves had vigil candles burning, flickering like stars in the grass.  Overhead, Venus burned like an icy diamond in the deep turquoise sky.  A silver rind of moon hung nearby.  If I wasn’t careful where I looked, the glare of the streetlights outside the graveyard burned away my night vision.  It took time for my eyes to readjust.

I watched Brian’s silhouette walking a grid amongst the graves.  I marveled that he could see anything.  I had a mini maglite, but it was in my backpack in the car.  Besides, I felt like if it was too dark to read markers without a flashlight, it was too late to read them.

I leaned back against the tree and wondered why I hadn’t heard birdsong as the sun set.  The trees around the cemetery seemed inviting enough.  I’d heard mockingbirds and seen robins already in San Francisco.  I knew the spring migration had already started.  Strange.

It was peaceful in the graveyard.  I listened to the rush of cars going by on Wilshire, the sound of life in the city.  It’d been a long time since I’d been in a cemetery at night.  I felt very safe, knowing that the security guard would be back to throw us out before too long.

A big boxy Lincoln pulled up behind Brian’s Pulsar.  An older couple struggled out of it.  They rattled keys, wielding a flashlight as they let themselves into the locked “Room of Prayer” chapel in the corner near Marilyn.  I wondered what they planned to do in there after dark.



Death's Garden001About 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 — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Cemetery of the Week #110: Holy Cross Cemetery

Grotto angel at Holy Cross

Grotto angel at Holy Cross

Holy Cross Cemetery
5835 West Slauson Avenue
Culver City, California 90230
Telephone: (310) 836-5500
Founded: 1939
Size: 200 acres
Number of interments: more than 160,000
Open: Weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Near the Jewish cemetery called Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary lies Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery. Holy Cross mimics the design of the Forest Lawn chain, with headstones replaced by small stone plaques set flush with the sod. At 200 acres, Holy Cross is the largest of the 11 Catholic cemeteries in Los Angeles.

Culver City, home of Holy Cross, lies west of downtown Los Angeles and just south of Century City. When the cemetery was founded in 1939, Culver City was considered the “heart of the film industry.” Because of that, many film industry veterans chose Holy Cross to be their final home. According to Laid to Rest in California, the cemetery staff is very helpful in pinpointing anyone you might like to visit on the cemetery maps.

View of the grotto at Holy Cross

View of the grotto at Holy Cross

Most celebrities surround the manmade grotto on the high ground in the southwest part of the cemetery. Once you enter the ornate main gate, turn left and drive up the hill. A grotto is a small cave, usually artificial, in a garden or park. In Europe, natural grottoes like the one at Lourdes are considered sacred sites, where Christian or even earlier miracles have occurred. In Los Angeles, they build their own grottoes and no one expects miracles.

This pile of rocks hosts several white marble statues: the Virgin with hands clasped in prayer, Joseph displaying the baby, and several kneeling angels who looked as if they’d been meant to adore at a crèche rather than gaze at the sod. Someone had placed flowers in front of one of the angels’ knees. We found Rita Hayworth’s monument in the grass on our way over to see her.

Rhoads_HC_TateSharon Tate’s grave also lies near the grotto. A polished granite slab with white lettering remembers “Our Loving Daughter & Beloved Wife of Roman,” 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate Polanski, and Paul Richard, “Their Baby.” According to Helter Skelter, Susan Atkins made a point of stabbing Sharon—eight months pregnant—in the belly, in order to kill the baby before it could be born. (Atkins was the first of the Manson Family killers to die in prison.)

Down the hill a little way, Bela Lugosi rests in the same row as Bing Crosby. Elsewhere in the cemetery are buried Ray Bolger and Jack Haley (respectively, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz), comedian John Candy, director John Ford, musical comedian Spike Jones (but not namesake Spike Jonez), Fred MacMurray, dancer Ann Miller, Rosalind Russell, Lawrence Welk, and many, many more.

Useful links:

Holy Cross Cemetery and Mortuary’s homepage

Seeing Stars’ tour of Holy Cross, complete with map of the grotto area

IMDB’s list of stars at rest at Holy Cross

News story about the cemetery

Photos of the interior of the mausoleum

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

L.A. cemetery books reviewed on Cemetery Travel:

Forever L.A.: A Field Guide to Los Angeles Area Cemeteries and their Residents

Laid to Rest in California: A Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous

Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of 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 #51: Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery

Communing with my Idol

HC Lugosi001Holy Cross, it goes without saying, is a Catholic cemetery. It hadn’t occurred to me that Hungarian-born Bela Lugosi had been Catholic. I knew he’d been addicted to morphine and that he’d been buried in his tuxedo and black silk opera cape, but I hadn’t known what the man who’d portrayed my first literary crush had believed about his immortal soul.

“I wish I’d known we were coming here,” I told Brian, who’d surprised me with a late-afternoon cemetery adventure. “I would have bought him some roses.”

I grew up watching Sir Graves Ghastly host horror movies on Saturday afternoons, never understanding the homage. Sir Graves was an elderly man in white tie and tails, hosting movies in a thick, obviously fake accent which I now realize he’d cribbed from Lugosi. Sir Graves showed all the classic black-and-white horror movies of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties.

Looking back, I recognize that the show was aimed at children. A “Ghoul Gallery” displayed children’s drawings inspired by monsters they’d seen on the show. That part always bored me. I simply wanted to see the heroines in their silk peignoirs swooning in the moonlight to be carried off by Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. or Lugosi himself.

Even as a child, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the heroine or the monster, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with the villagers and their torches.

The first vision of Lugosi standing on the castle steps, cape draped around him and eyes twinkling with reflected candlelight, changed my life. I would have died to be there with him, away from the farm and the small Michigan town where I grew up. When I saw Lugosi, I understood that I needed to escape.

I’ve stood at a lot of grave sites, but never before at one whose occupant had so altered and inspired my life. The marker was too simple to convey the depth of my admiration for the man below. Illustrating the stone was a polished black granite rose twining around a plain cross marked “I H S,” the abbreviation for Jesus in Greek. The epitaph listed only his name, “Beloved Father,” and 1882-1956.

Brian slipped away to allow me a few moments to commune with my idol. I wondered if I should prick my finger, add a drop of my blood to the green grass blanketing the grave.

“You are remembered,” I whispered.


This essay is excerpted from a longer one in Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. You can get a copy from Amazon.