Grave Sightings: Erma Bombeck


For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to 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 (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

In 1964, Ohio homemaker Erma Bombeck accepted a job writing some humorous pieces for her local newspaper at $3 per column. Her slice-of-suburbia humor struck a chord with women, and soon, The Dayton Journal Herald took notice and asked her to contribute two columns per week for $50. Her quips on topics from cleaning to child-rearing led to the national syndication of her work, and by 1967, her first book, At Wit’s End, was being snapped up by housewives and working mothers everywhere. Eleven more would follow, nine of which ended up on The New York Times' bestseller list.

Here are some of her best gems:

"When you look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home." “All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them. ” “I have seen my kid struggle into the kitchen in the morning with outfits that need only one accessory: an empty gin bottle.”

And then there’s this piece about what she would do differently if she could live her life over.

But not everything in Bombeck’s life was funny. What her loyal readers didn’t know was that the humorist had long suffered from polycystic kidney disease. She was able to get a transplant in April 1996, but died of complications after the surgery on April 22.

Bombeck is buried at Woodland Cemetery in her native Dayton, Ohio—and though her name isn’t inscribed on the tombstone, there’s no way you can miss her grave. Her husband wanted Erma to have a “piece of Phoenix” to pay homage to their 25 years in Arizona, so he had a 29,000-pound boulder brought in to serve as her tombstone.

It’s elegant, but it’s missing the epitaph Bombeck once suggested for herself: “Big deal. I’m used to dust.”

Stacy Conradt

Peruse all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.