Old Tombstones And Famous Graves? Yes, Please!

By Gwen Dawkins

As Halloween and Day of the Dead approach, it seems appropriate to spill the beans on one of my more unusual sightseeing activities: I love visiting graveyards! 

Some of my friends and family (husband and children especially) find this desire of mine to be not only macabre but also abhorrent. I don’t mean it to be. I like to visit cemeteries for the same reason I read obituaries of people I don’t know –– because I think individual lives deserve another look.

In truth, I am mainly only interested in old cemeteries. The kind in which the tombstones are so weathered and worn, you can’t always read the words anymore. I also love “unusual” cemeteries, such as those in ghost towns, or pioneer graveyards, or above ground, such as those in New Orleans, etc. And while visiting celebrity graves and tombs is not my true pastime, I do get a slight thrill when I run across them. 

How do you feel about this? Interesting or scary? Or pointless? Do share! Here are a few of the notable graves I’ve come across:

John Dillinger

The infamous gangster who terrorized the Mid-West, most notoriously during 1933 – 1934. He was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list until his capture and shooting by the FBI. He was born and raised in Indiana and interned along with other family members at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. An interesting fact about Dillinger’s grave is that it’s encased in two and a half tons of concrete as a defense against years of grave robbing and body snatching attempts! Johnny Depp offers a modern take on Dillinger’s dastardly deeds in the movie Public Enemy.

Jim Morrison

The Doors frontman, famously died young at the age of 27, officially, of a heart attack in the bathtub after a night out to dinner and a movie. He had moved to Paris to escape burnout and in an attempt to get clean from drugs and alcohol. But according to The End: Jim Morrison, by Sam Bernett, Jim was anything but clean and died from a heroin overdose on the toilet at the Rock n’ Roll Circus nightclub and was moved to his apartment to avoid a scandal. Morrison’s grave has been a popular tourist attraction for years, attracting an estimated 1.5 admirers each year.

In fact, the grave has endured many incarnations. Originally, lacking any official marker, a shield was placed over the grave. By 1973, it had been stolen. Ten years after Morrison’s death, a bust and simple headstone were placed over his grave. This, too, was vandalized over the years and eventually stolen. By the 1990s, Morrison’s family replaced the tombstone with a Greek epithet reading: KATA TON DAIMONA EAUTOY, which offers more controversy. Morrison’s father, who was studying Greek, chose the phrase. The literal translation means, “Against the demon within thyself.” However, most people speculate the intended meaning was, “True to his own spirit.” Ironically, both could be true when it came to the life of Jim Morrison. He is buried at Cimetiere du Père Lachaise.

Uncle Alfred’s Tombstone photo by Gwen Dawkins

Uncle Alfred

Alfred Jackson was born into slavery and lived at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee, longer than any other person. Alfred’s mother, Betty, served as the Jackson’s cook. At the same time, Alfred primarily worked with horses and wagons. He married and raised two children. When slavery ended in 1865, Alfred chose to stay on the plantation and took the Jackson name as his own last name. He became a tenant farmer and rented land from Andrew Jackson Jr.  When the Ladies’ Hermitage Association took over the property in 1889, Alfred continued working at the Hermitage as a caretaker and tour guide. Alfred made a deal with the ladies to be buried in the Jackson family graveyard in exchange for some Jackson family heirlooms that he had personally purchased. As a result, he rests adjacent to Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s. That’s a small slice of poetic justice. 

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