Famous Graves 2: Can I Get Your Epitaph?

March 20, 2015 — I visit famous graves all the time. Or the graves of the famous. Both syntaxes are applicable here. Sometimes I’m able to sneak them into posts on OTIS or into one of my books, but often there’s not much I can do with a picture of a me kneeling beside a piece of rock with a familiar name engraved on its surface. So I thought I’d pull together a bunch of those photos from the digital graveyard of my archives (like I did here years ago). Below you’ll find the final rocks of artists, leaders, literary inspirations, villains, and the monster clown from that one Stephen King story. Enjoy these graves. While you’re still above yours.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892): Union Cemetery, Amesbury, MA
I have a degree in English and a master’s in literature. And I sorta hate poetry. A lot of it anyway. Still, if the few vague phrases you stuck in truncated lines gets you fame, I’ll visit your grave. If you’re dead. Like John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet behind Moll Pitcher and Snow-Bound. It’s easy to find his grave in Union Cemetery. Look for the sign at the top of the tall pole bearing his cocky last name.

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865), Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD
Who knows what more Abraham Lincoln could’ve accomplished without the pressures of the Civil War spoiling his gravy every night? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth ensured that we’ll never know. Booth was eventually shot and killed in turn, and his body took a circuitous route before being lain in a family plot in this Baltimore cemetery, including being carried aboard multiple ships and being exhumed multiple times. So you’re in fine company gawking at this villain in his RIP place. But if it’s a little too uncomfortable for you to make the visit solely for his grave, the cemetery also contains the remains of freakshow performer Johnny Eck, as well as the inventor of the Ouija board, whose gravestone has a Ouija board on it. I wouldn’t suggest contacting Booth.

George Lippard (1822-1854), Lawnview Cemetery, Rockledge, PA
Gothic writer and activist, Philadelphian George Lippard should be most known for his books, including The Monks of Monk Hall, but he’s mostly known as a good friend of Edgar Allan Poe’s, especially during a wild, paranoiac night in Poe’s life where “The Tell-Tale Heart” author reportedly spent a few hours in Lippard’s home city running from murderers, being thrown in prison, and hallucinating the dismemberment of his mother-in-law. That’s probably when you need friends the most. And that’s what your mom meant about choosing your friends wisely. Your posthumous fame might depend on whom you’re nice to.

This is Lippard’s second burial, as he was originally interred in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in the city until that graveyard was needed for the living. Lippard’s last words are reported to be, “Is this death?”

Edward R. Crone, Jr. (1923-1945), Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY
I was introduced to Vonnegut by an older cousin when I was too young to fully appreciate Vonnegut. But Billy Pilgrim has always stuck with me. Also the asshole-asterisk from Breakfast of Champions. Pilgrim is the main character in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the story of a young World War II POW who jumps through time to revisit points of his life thanks to aliens. Or is crazy, one of the two. Vonnegut based him on a real POW named Edward R. Crone, Jr., also called Joe.

Crone fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was held in a POW camp in Dresden where Vonnegut was also being held. Crone died a month before the war ended, starving himself to death out of despair. His body was originally interred there in foreign soil, but was then moved to rest in the family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, also home to the victims of the infamous Torture Tree. Vonnegut himself visited this grave on the 50th anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden.

Osceola (1804-1838), Fort Moultrie, Sullivan’s Island, SC
Osceola was born in Alabama under the name Billy Powell. His father was British, his mother Creek, and he was raised with his mother’s people. They later moved to Florida and joined the Seminoles, where he grew up to be a fierce defender and leader during the Seminole Wars, gathering fame on both sides of the conflict. He was captured under a white-flag ruse, where he was eventually incarcerated at Fort Moultrie on an island in South Carolina. Osceola died three months later of some kind of infection or disease. He was buried at the entrance to Fort Moultrie, his only neighbors these day five of the 62 men who died aboard the U.S.S. Patapsco in 1865 when the ironclad monitor ship hit a Confederate mine.

James Buchanan (1791-1868), Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, PA
I’ve been to the graves and tombs of probably about a dozen U.S. Presidents. I usually don’t go out of my way to look for them, honestly, but if you hit up enough major cemeteries, you’ll stumble across those auspicious rocks. There are, after all, 38 and counting. The location of this, the final resting place of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, is in his home state of Pennsylvania. Fun facts: He launched a war against the Mormons of Utah and caused the Civil War. Don’t learn history from me.

Thelma Todd (1906-1935), Bellevue Cemetery, Lawrence, MA
Thelma Todd was a busy actress in the 1920s and 1930s, easily crossing the line from silent films to talkies and appearing in everything from the original Maltese Falcon to Horse Feathers with the Marx Brothers. However, she’s become most famous for her own “the end.” She was found slumped over her car wheel in her lover’s ex-wife’s garage. She had a bloody lip and was dressed to the nines in that way that only women in the 1930s could. It was ruled to be carbon monoxide poisoning. Rumors of suicide, accidental death, and murder have all competed in her credit roll.

IT, Mack Cemetery, Middlefield, MA
I love this grave. Although it has spawned a few local legends, nobody knows anything about it. Just says IT. Sits in a cemetery apart from the other stones on the edge of a forest beside a town hall that used to be an elementary school. It’s as if the incidents that went down in Stephen King’s story of the same name were based on real events that happened at this in town and at that school. And that grave holds the evidence of a story that a group of life-long friends will each take to their own.