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.
Meet Booth Tarkington. He doesn’t get much literary love these days, but during the height of his success as an author, the popularity of Penrod, Tarkington’s series about the misadventures of an 11-year-old boy, rivaled Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
In fact, Tarkington won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction twice—once for The Magnificent Ambersons and once for Alice Adams. That’s two more Pulitzers than Twain ever received. Only two other Fiction winners have won twice: William Faulkner and John Updike. Tarkington also made three appearances on the O. Henry Prize Stories list, and was named “the most significant contemporary American author” in 1921 by Publisher’s Weekly. The following year, Literary Digest proclaimed him “America’s greatest living author.”
That’s a lot of accolades for a writer most people have never heard of. So what happened to Booth Tarkington? It’s hard to say—there was no fall from grace, no public spectacle. The Atlantic suggests that Tarkington didn’t have staying power because the quality of his work was so up and down. He had his genius moments, obviously—but man, he had some stinkers, too.
Though it was his bread and butter, Tarkington was more than just a writer. He also served a single term in the Indiana House of Representatives when he was just 33, possibly thinking of taking after his namesake uncle Newton Booth, governor of California from 1871 to 1875. (The one term later inspired his book In the Arena: Stories of Political Life.) He dabbled in illustration and sailing and collected fine arts and antiques.
A proud Hoosier his entire life, Tarkington was buried in Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery when he died in 1946. And, like his current reputation, Tarkington’s gravesite is pretty quiet. Fellow cemetery celebrities like John Dillinger and Benjamin Harrison have trinkets and flowers adorning their graves, but the former two-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s tomb is pristine. The next time you’re in Indianapolis, stop by and leave him something. (I wish I would have!)
See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.