Roy Bertelli, Mr. Accordion

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Unless you’re a Springfieldian or are well-versed in Lawrence Welk’s backup bands, chances are, the name Roy Bertelli doesn’t mean much to you.

Mr. Bertelli was a Springfield, Illinois resident with more than 5000 arrangements for the accordion and organ under his belt, not to mention his celebrated performances with Lawrence Welk himself. Bertelli had grown up admiring the park-like expanse of Oak Ridge Cemetery, the same place where Abraham Lincoln is buried, and hoped to someday be buried there himself. Open plots had been exhausted for years, so Bertelli knew he didn’t stand much of a chance—still, he stopped in one day to ask about the possibility.

Much to his surprise, there was one plot available. It was prime real estate, located on a small triangle of land at the start of the road that leads to Lincoln’s magnificent tomb. Bertelli jumped at the chance to spend eternity in his dream cemetery and purchased the plot on the spot.

Imagine his surprise when, a couple of weeks later, cemetery officials wrote to say that the sale was an error. Not only that, they said, but if Bertelli wouldn’t relinquish his rights to the plot peaceably, they would sue the pants off of him.

Unimpressed, Roy Bertelli fought for his tiny piece of land—and won. And just to stick it to the man, he erected a loud-and-proud monument to himself that no Lincoln tourist would be able to miss:

Stacy Conradt

As you can see, he spared no expense on his tribute to himself—to the tune of an estimated $30,000. Bertelli didn’t wait until he was dead to enjoy his notoriety, either. Instead, he regularly climbed on top of his tomb, accordion in hands, and played tunes for cemetery-goers.

But that’s not even Bertelli’s last laugh. When he died in 2003 at the age of 92, rumor has it he was actually buried at nearby Camp Butler because of his WWII service—but had his accordions buried at Oak Ridge.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.