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The Quick 10: 10 Famous Cemeteries

Stacy Conradt
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Welcome to part two of my somewhat random Halloween Series!

I love old cemeteries (which apparently makes me a taphophile, which I just learned today). I know that's a little weird, but as a writer, it sort of makes sense "“ tombstones get my imagination going, especially the really old ones that are falling over, sinking into the ground or have intriguing epitaphs. Whenever we travel, I invariably end up looking to see if there's anything interesting in the area. Today's Quick 10 is a list includes a couple I've been to, but mostly just famous (or infamous) places that serve as the final resting place for thousands. By the way, I'm omitting Sleepy Hollow Cemetery because I have a whole Sleepy Hollow post planned for later in the month.

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2. Arlington National Cemetery. I've been there twice, but once was in fifth grade and once was on a class trip in eighth grade"¦ way before I became interested in the historical aspects of cemeteries. Back then I was probably way more concerned about the heat making my hair look bad in front of Clint Johnson (who didn't know I existed anyway). But I'd be much more fascinated by the cemetery today "“ it has some very interesting stories. First, there's the Tomb of the Unknown Soliders, or Tomb of the Unknowns - constantly guarded tombs for unidentified soldiers from WWI, WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam. The latter Unknown is no longer there, and no longer Unknown. It was determined in 1998 that the soldier was Air Force 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, who was then laid to rest near his family in St. Louis.

Other memorials at Arlington include the JFK Eternal Flame, the memorial to the USS Maine; the Challenger Memorial; the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial; the memorial to the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and a monument to Glenn Miller (his remains were not recoverable). There's also the graves of Joe Louis, Medgar Evers, William Jennings Bryan, Robert Todd Lincoln, Lee Marvin, William Rehnquist and William Howard Taft, among others.

Another interesting interrment is James Parks, the only man buried at Arlington who was also born at Arlington. He was born on Arlington Estate before the land was made a military burial ground. Parks worked there for nearly his entire life, digging graves and doing general upkeep. He was a slave before his owner, George Washington Park Custis (George's adopted son and also his step-grandson) freed him in 1862.

I know; I'm getting totally carried away with this bullet point. And that's only the beginning of the fascinating things at Arlington.

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4. The Forest Lawn Parks in California. Each one of these could be listed as their own bullet points, but I'm going to lump them together for the sake of keeping the list at least a little diverse. The Hollywood Hills version contains all kinds of statues and works of art, including a replica of the of Old North Church in Boston. There is also a cenotaph there that will be used in a crazy-elaborate Penn and Teller card trick "“ the monument is engraved with a three of clubs and the saying, "Is this your card?" But if card tricks aren't your thing, you can check out the graves of Steve Allen, Gene Autry, Bette Davis, Sandra Dee, Roy Disney, Marty Feldman (who I include because he was Igor in Young Frankenstein, Marvin Gaye, Andy Gibb, Buster Keaton, Ernie Kovacs, Dorothy Lamour, Stan Laurel, Liberace, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Ricky Nelson, John Ritter and Telly Savalas. And that's just at Hollywood Hills.

At Glendale, you'll find a stained glass replica of The Last Supper, full-sized reproductions of Michelangelo's David and Moses (using marble from the same quarry the real ones were made from, mind you), three chapels, a mosaic of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a 13-foot tall Statue of George Washington and a 195-foot long panorama of the Crucifixion of Christ. Supposedly the gates to the cemetery are even historic "“ they are thought to be the world's largest wrought-iron gates. At Glendale, you may be able to visit these people (I say "may" because some of them are in private areas the general public can't get to): Gracie Allen and George Burns, L. Frank Baum, Humphrey Bogart, Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, Clara Bow, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, W.C. Fields, Larry Fine from The Three Stooges, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Edith Head, Alan Ladd, Louis L'Amour, Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy.

5. Gettysburg National Cemetery, Pennsylvania. Between the Union and Confederate armies, there were nearly 8,000 people killed at the Battle of Gettysburg"¦ and that doesn't even include the missing people. A vast majority of the bodies were just buried in shallow graves where they fell, so a proper cemetery was purchased for the 3,512 Union dead (979 of which were never identified). The Confederate dead were just left where they were buried until seven years after the battle.

The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. Abraham Lincoln wasn't the main speaker at the event, but he is certainly the one who is remembered today.

As I mentioned before, Gettysburg College is another of the few places that the U.S. flag is allowed to fly day and night "“ Pennsylvania Hall is the site where the battlefield hospital and lookout would have been located during the battle. To honor this fact and those who died, a Civil War-era flag flies at all times.

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7. The Merry Cemetery is a cemetery that defies all expectations of a gloomy, Gothic burial ground. This open-air museum in Romania has colorful, cheerful tombstones with epitaphs that are often funny and poetic. The first epitaph was carved in 1935 by Stan Ioan Patras, an artist who sculpted all of the crosses out of wood and wrote all of the epitaphs/poems. When he died in 1977, he, of course, was buried in the Merry Cemetery. This isn't his epitaph, but here is an example of what you would find written on the tombs there:

...Now I will tell you a good one I kind of liked the plum ţuica With my friends at the pub I used to forget what I came for

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Royals buried there are quite numerous, so I'll just hit a few of the highlights: Elizabeth I; Mary I (AKA Bloody Mary); Anne of Cleves; Mary, Queen of Scots; Edward the Confessor and Henry VII.

There's also Darwin and Isaac Newton. I've been to London a few times; I can't believe I've never made it a point to go here...

9. ...but I have been to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. There are 91 Popes buried there, Pope JPII being the most recent, of course. The first Pope ever, St. Peter, is said to be buried here as well. In fact, the basilica is supposed to be built on the spot where he was crucifed by Nero in 64 A.D. This has never been proved, though "“ Pope Pius XII announced in 1950 that none of the remains buried under the Basilica could definitively be declared as St. Peter's. In 1968, Pope Paul VI said that the relics of St. Peter had definitely been found, though. However, around the same time, some monks in Jerusalem discovered hundreds of coffins believed to be from the first century, including one clearly labeled, "Shimon Bar Yonah" - Simon, the Son of Jonah: the original Biblical name of the Disciple Peter." So who knows??

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