October 22, 2008 — He was nominated for four Academy Awards; acted alongside the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, and Jimmy Stewart; and was directed by the powerful megaphones of Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and Irwin Allen. Yet for some reason this London-born actor is moldering in a tiny cemetery in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire.
His name? Claude Rains, and I had to go see his headstone. Not because he Casablanca’d with Humphrey Bogart or Notorious’d with Cary Grant or Lawrence of Arabia’d with Peter O’Toole. I had to visit his grave because, as you and The Rocky Horror Picture Show both know, Claude Rains was the Invisible Man.
That’s right. Bela is buried in California, Boris in England, and Lon Jr. was donated to science. But New Hampshire can claim the final resting place of its own Universal Studios monster, the Invisible Man from the 1933 film of the same name.
The Invisible Man doesn’t get as much face time as some of the other Universal monsters, even at this hallowed time of year, but that’s because...I can’t finish that pun. Still, he’s not exactly a monster of the exterior sort—no decaying skin, no reptilian scales, no sharp fangs, no beastly hair. Just a human-shaped, monocaine-addled bit of nothing covered in bandages, goggles, and a Mr. Potato Head nose. The disguised appearance of the Invisible Man is unnerving. When he blusters snowily into that English pub at the beginning of the movie, his facade is just as disconcerting as his big un-reveal a few scenes later.
However, despite his lack of overt outward monstrosity, in some ways the Invisible Man is the most twisted, terrifying creature in the Universal cannon. He’s fear of the unknown personified. He’s the utmost in attainable human evil. He’s a mass murderer who delights in all the most atrocious acts of human malevolence. And he cackles.
That said, he also spends a lot of film time in simple mischief like stealing bicycles, slapping drinks out of people’s hands, and other general Three-Stoogery. He’s just as likely to knock a man’s hat off his head as cause a high-fatality train wreck. In fact, depending on your mood and thanks to director James Whale, you can watch The Invisible Man through on one occasion warmed with laughter and on another chilled with terror. But it took Claude Rains to bring the Invisible Man to full-blown megomaniacal life.
And as if playing the Invisible Man weren’t enough, Rains further embellished his Universal monster cachet by also starring as Larry Talbot’s father in the 1941 The Wolf Man and as the title role of the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera. Claude so reins.
So how did an Oscar-nominated, British-born actor with an impressive cinema resume end up in the middle of New Hampshire? I don’t know. But I could probably intuit a few reasonable guesses. Maybe it’s because the state has a nice, English-sounding name that would naturally draw a nostalgic expatriate. Or, and I’m admittedly stretching here, New Hampshire might just be a much cooler state than is generally figured by the populace at large. Then again, it could be as simple as he wanted to be invisible in his later years...wait, I want to take that joke back. Seriously, though, the monied always have places in the country, and even if Rains picked a place a little farther away, he was still close enough to New York City to work his craft. Regardless, he lived the last few years of his life in the Granite State, dying at the age of 77 in 1967.
And the proof of that is in a little front lawn of a graveyard called Red Hill Cemetery in Moultonborough, a small town on the northern point of Lake Winnipesaukee. The cemetery is surrounded by a white picket fence, and has only a handful of graves. It’s bracketed on three sides by houses, so it looks like just an empty house lot.
The cemetery is small enough that it only has a single dirt path that cuts through the middle of it and then exits out the back so that you can turn your car around in a clearing behind the cemetery. The address of the house across the street from Red Hill Cemetery is 289 Bean Road. I assume the cemetery itself has no address as we all know the attitude of the dead toward grocery store circulars.
Rains is buried beside the last of his six wives, Rosemary, under a unique pair of matching four-foot-tall bullet-shaped obsidian tombstones of Rains’ own design. Inscribed on his grave are a few lines from a Richard Monckton Milnes poem; on hers, a hybrid of a Christina Georgina Rossetti poem and a John Lodge Ellerton Hymn. I didn’t get much from the sentiments of eternity those epitaphs expressed, but, man, was I touched at what sat humbly on their graves.
In front of each of his and his wife’s headstones was a small freshly placed orange pumpkin, bequeathed by some unknown pumpkin fairy with a tremendous sense of whatever the word is for the quality of “just getting it.” The orange orbs looked great against the black granite slabs, but the aesthetics of the colors aside, it’s just a great idea. I want every grave to be adorned with a pumpkin at this time of year.
Of course, since Rains was buried here, I figured he probably lived nearby. It’s located on Rt. 109 in nearby Sandwich, NH, at the intersection of Little Pond Road and Wentworth Hill Road. In fact, that stretch of street in front of the house might itself be Wentworth Hill Road, but I’m not certain because country byways can get confusing. The number on the front of the house is 357, and it’s an L-shaped, white house with three columns, a red front door, black shutters, and out-buildings. All in all, it definitely fits the part of the country home of a rich and famous actor from the first half of the century, but then again I try to refrain from stereotyping when I can. Like most houses, it’s a private residence, so if you want to go see it don’t be jerky about it...like loitering too long in front of it for pictures and publishing the address online and stuff.
Claude Rains was the Invisible Man. That is all.
...at the late-night, double-feature picture show.