Traveling Out West? Visit These Famous People’s Grave Sites

October 25, 2009
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imageHere are cemeteries in the West where you can visit the headstones of celebs and other well-known folks. ‘Ironically, it’s a way to see history come alive,’ says one author and aficionado. When Patricia Brooks was visiting her son Jonathan in California, he told her he was going to take her to see celebrities. Excited, she imagined a glamorous dinner at Spago. Instead, he took her to Pierce Bros. Westwood Village Memorial Park.

The final resting place of Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Natalie Wood, the Westwood cemetery may have more stars per square foot than any place in Los Angeles. Brooks has since written three books on the subject, including “Laid to Rest in California,” which she co-wrote with Jonathan, a freelance journalist.

“Ironically, it’s a way to see history come alive,” says Steve Goldstein, who runs BeneathLosAngeles.com with his brother Ken and is the author of “L.A.’s Graveside Companion.” We asked Brooks, Goldstein and other history buffs to tell us about their favorite cemeteries of the West. To read more about their picks, go to http://www.latimes.com/cemeteries.

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Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles

One of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles, Rosedale celebrates its 125th anniversary in November. “It’s full of Egyptian-style pyramid mausoleums, loads of marble angels and weeping figures and stone,” Brooks says.

Although actress Hattie McDaniel (“Gone With the Wind”) wished to be buried at what is now Hollywood Forever, its owners forbade it, so the pioneering African American actress was interred after her death in 1952 at this West Adams location, the first cemetery in Los Angeles County open to all races and creeds. (Hollywood Forever now has a monument honoring her.)

McDaniel is not the only famous name at Rosedale. There’s also Chinese American actress Anna May Wong, serial killer Louise Peete, who was executed at San Quentin State Prison, and jazz great Art Tatum.

Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, Ariz.

It’s only fitting that Tombstone, which gained fame for a shootout, has a rough-and-tough gunslinger grave site. Check out the political commentary on the epitaphs of Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury, killed as they battled Wyatt Earp and his posse at the O.K. Corral. For a taste of headstone humor, there is “Here lies Lester Moore / Four slugs for a 44 / No Les / No more” and George Johnson (wrongly sentenced to hang for buying a stolen horse): “He was right / We was wrong / But we strung him up / And now he’s gone.” Who says you can’t be a quick draw with a pen?

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, Calif.

It might be more accurate to include the entire city of Colma, because the Bay Area suburb is known as “The City of Souls” for its high dead-to-living ratio. Around the turn of the 20th century, when San Francisco officials realized that its space was at a premium, authorities created new burial grounds in nearby Colma.

Complete with a small forest of trees, a fine-art collection and stained-glass mausoleums, this is the final resting place for Northern California aristocracy such as William and Phoebe Hearst and San Francisco Chronicle co-founder Charles de Young, who was shot dead in the newspaper building in 1880 by a politician’s angry son.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles

One of the few cemeteries in the area known for its intricate statues and marble architecture, Hollywood Forever was founded in 1899 as Hollywood Memorial Park and is on the National Register of Historical Places. Its famous tenants include Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino and Mel Blanc. Founders Isaac Lankershim and son-in-law Isaac Van Nuys wouldn’t deign to be buried with such riffraff and are in Boyle Heights’ Evergreen Cemetery.

Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood

“Why is Betty Grable in Inglewood?” Goldstein asks. “At the time she died, it was a nice suburb. Cesare Cardini, who [is credited with creating] the Caesar salad, is in Inglewood. The guy who tracked down Butch and Sundance is there. I found the mother of [author] James Ellroy [in Inglewood], right by Big Mama Thornton.” Goldstein also found the grave of “Little Mouse,” Charlie Chaplin’s son Norman, who lived just three days, in Inglewood Park.

Kit Carson Park and Historic Cemetery, Taos, N.M.

Don’t know a lot about New Mexico history? Not a problem. The markers in this tiny cemetery reveal added details about some of Taos’ permanent residents. Padre Antonio Jos

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