Sometimes you just can’t make it in time to hang out with somebody – whether you’re late by a few months or 50 years. I know I can’t possibly be the only one who has spent a sunny afternoon tiptoeing around grave markers in search of final resting places of the rich and famous. Below are a few of my favorite spots. I used a rating system to illustrate how difficult each grave is to find, should you be curious enough to try visiting yourself.
4 – You can’t miss it
3 – The chances of you tripping over this headstone all on your own are pretty good
2 – With a little research and some time on your hands, you’re golden
1 – Good luck, pal!
I’m sure quite a few readers are familiar with this one, since it’s a stop on one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States. Elvis Aaron Presley was originally interred at Forest Hills Cemetery, but was moved to the backyard Meditation Garden of Graceland after body snatchers tried to get themselves a hunka’ hunka’ souvenir. There’s always a ton of people crowding around, so if you’re trying to have a reflective moment, you might wanna schedule it over at the stables or something. The first time I tried to have my photo taken at his graveside, I didn’t smile because I felt like it would be inappropriate…the end result is me looking so depressed that I’m standing next to dead Elvis. OR AM I??? Maybe he’s still upstairs at the mansion, peeking out the window at the parade of people shuffling in and out, day after day…
Chance of encounter with the dearly departed: 4
This next resting place didn’t take very much searching, seeing as how it is housed in a gigantic castle-like structure. Located in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery, the Garfield Monument is an impressive building that contains the remains of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States. I don’t dig politics and I honestly have no interest whatsoever in world leaders, but I do like poking around in creepy old buildings with decaying corpses in the basement. I love walking around the grounds of this massive cemetery, and it is always on my list of “must see” attractions for people visiting Cleveland. Not only is this one of the largest memorials for any U.S. President (including Washington and Lincoln), it is also significant because Garfield is the only President whose casket is on full display.
The first level of the monument contains a large statue of Garfield, as well as gold mosaics and colorful stained glass windows. If you take the winding staircases up to the roof, you can stand on the observation deck and see the entire cemetery (as well as a great view of Cleveland!). It isn’t until you descend the spiral staircase to the basement crypt that you find Garfield’s casket, draped in a flag. The room is quiet and dimly lit, and I always get a weird, suffocating feeling whenever I’m down there. Local legend says the Garfield Monument is haunted, and I have absolutely no problem believing that to be true.
Chance of encounter with the dearly departed: 3 (The structure is big, but so is the cemetery)
Another grave in Lakeview is that of Eliot Ness. While most people know of him because of his role in the crime-busting Untouchables, I am more interested in his role as Cleveland’s Public Safety Director during the time the Torso Murders happened. Never heard of them? Not surprising, since this is a dark piece of history that a lot of Clevelanders don’t even know about. The Torso Murderer (also known as The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run because of where the body parts were dumped) was a serial killer operating near downtown Cleveland in the 1930s who murdered and dismembered at least 12 victims. Victims were always decapitated; some heads were recovered while others were never found. Evidence showed that some victims were decapitated while still alive. Body parts washed up on the shore of the Cuyahoga River or were found around town stuffed in burlap sacks. Victims were usually vagrants living in the makeshift shantytown near Kingsbury Run, which led to some suspicion that the killer might live among them. The Torso Killer was never caught, and still remains a mystery today.
As the death toll grew, Ness and his safety task force were under heavy scrutiny by the public to get some leads. In a desperate move that would be his downfall, Ness ordered a midnight raid on the Kingsbury Run shantytown, sending the vagrants off to work camps and burning down their houses. This seemingly rash move produced no real results and Ness began to lose credibility in the public eye. His reputation never recovered from the raid scandal and the fact that the Torso Killer remained at large, and he died an undignified death in 1957. There is a large grave marker for Ness in Lakeview Cemetery, although his ashes were actually scattered in the small lake behind the marker.
Chance of encounter with the dearly departed: 2
If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying to find something in West Virginia, allow me to illustrate it for you: there are a lot of winding roads called “hollers.” These roads have no guardrails and people like to drive reeeally fast on them. You can be on a holler and be up a holler but you can’t go down a holler, I don’t think. I’m still learning. Landmarks and streets aren’t clearly labeled, so you pretty much have to have grown up in the area to know where you’re going. Luckily my husband did just that, so I didn’t get lost up a winding holler when I visited back in November of 2009. Part of the reason for our trip was to pay our respects to one man band legend Hasil Adkins. We did some digging and had some vague directions to find the little cemetery where his family was buried. The directions sounded like this: “Go up the holler and go over the river and next to the railroad tracks you’ll see a hill and that’s where they’re buried.” Got that? We stopped at the local Dairy Queen, which was reputed to serve some of the best hot dogs in the area (unfortunately, we heard that it has since closed – guess there really is “No More Hot Dogs”). As the hot dogs grew cold, we drove around trying to guess where this hill was and which river we were supposed to cross. Eventually we pulled over at a spot that my husband believed to be the correct place. The only problem was that on one side of the hill, there were several houses. If we were to climb the hill we thought might be the right one, we would effectively be trespassing in their backyards. Did we really wanna get shot with a bag full of hot dogs in our hands? We stood there trying to decide what to do, and that is when things got spooky. A big dog came out of the woods and walked over to us. It never barked and never tried to mow me down for my hot dogs, which I was very afraid of. Instead, it walked up to us, then started walking up that big hill. I shit you not. He would walk up a few steps, stop, turn and look at us as if to say, “Well? Ya comin?” and then continue up the hill. We took that as our cue to make the climb.
The hill was steeper than it looked, and I almost lost my balance a few times. There was no clear path to walk on, so you had to brush past branches and leaves and be sure not to trip on fallen logs. Finally, we made it to the top of the hill. That dog just sat there while we looked around, and we quickly concluded that it was Hasil’s spirit animal, there to guide us and show us the way. Who knew?! We saw several stone markers for the Adkins family, and there, without much searching at all, we came upon the grave of Hasil Adkins, “World’s Greatest Guitarist and One Man Band.” We toasted to his honor and left some little mementos on his marker (I wish I had thought of this beforehand so I could have brought something better; we went through our wallets and came up with a business card for the record store where my husband got his first Hasil record, and a crazy 8’s playing card, because I thought the Wild Man could appreciate that). After we took a few pictures, I’ll be damned if that dog didn’t start leading us right back down the hill, signaling that our time was through and he would be more than happy to lead the way back down. We got back in our car, and he ran off to wherever he came from.
Chance of encounter with the dearly departed: 1 (I don’t know if we could even find this a second time if we tried)
My husband and I honeymooned last July in one of my favorite places to visit, Memphis, Tennessee. We did the usual tourist stuff (Sun Studios, Stax Records, etc.), but we also carved out some time for off the beaten path sightseeing. We drove past the house Jerry Lee Lewis bought with his cousin-wife, Myra (where their young son drowned in the pool – I wonder if it’s still there?) and ate lunch at The Arcade, where Elvis reportedly hung out and scenes from the movie “Mystery Train” were shot. We also drove out to Forest Hills Cemetery to see the grave of rockabilly great, Charlie Feathers. It was a 90 degree day and Forest Hills has no trees for shade, so it was a quick visit to Charlie and then we were on our way. I may have never had the opportunity to see Charlie Feathers in life, but at least I got to say howdy after death.
Chance of encounter with the dearly departed: 2 (This cemetery contains only flat markers, so there are no landmarks and everything looks the same. Go into the office and ask for a map; the helpful lady working when we went circled the exact location on the map and we found it with very little trouble)
Know of a cool resting place to check out? Leave a comment and maybe our staff will make the trek and share our adventures with you.