things to do in new york when you’re dead

Los Angeles and vicinity can claim its share of dead celebrities, but the east coast is no slouch. In April 2010, my wife and I woke up early one Saturday morning and drove through four states to visit some of the eternal resting places of some dead celebrities, 2500 miles from their colleagues.

We arrived at sprawling Ferncliff Cemetery, a vast conglomerate of poorly marked outdoor plots and several multi-level mausoleums. The kind employees in the administrative office apologized for the confusing layout of the place, but offered a many-times xeroxed map of the crypts and a listing of notable long-term residents.

After navigating the marble halls, we found Joan Crawford and her husband Alfred Steele, former Chairman of the Board of the Pepsi Cola company.
no more wire hangers or soda bottles

Al and Joan are neighbors to Ed Sullivan. I don’t know where Topo Gigio is buried. That’s Ed’s wife in there with him.
a really big shoo

Other notable interments at Ferncliff are Judy Garland (check those dates. that’s right, Judy was 47 when she died)…
over the rainbow

(In early 2017, Judy’s remains were removed and reinterred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, at the request of her daughter Liza Minnelli.)

Basil Rathbone, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in fifteen films.
elementary!

Character actress Marion Lorne, Samantha’s befuddled Aunt Clara on Bewitched, arole for which she received a posthumous Emmy. She is now in a convenient package.
witches' honor!

Here’s Ona Munson, best known as “Belle Watling” in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind. Ona committed suicide with an overdose of barbiturates in 1955. She left a note reading: “This is the only way I know to be free again…Please don’t follow me.” (I didn’t see the note before my visit.)
I ain't never seen hair that color before!

Near Ms. Munson is the Hart family reunion, featuring screenwriter Moss Hart (Hans Christian Andersen and A Star is Born) and his wife, Kitty Carlisle, the glamorous panelist on To Tell the Truth.
I voted for number three.

There are many more celebrities buried here, but the place is huge and grave sites are not easily identifiable. It’s so large, they even have their own Staples!
yeah, we got that!

We headed up Interstate 287 to Gate of Heaven Cemetery. As we drove through the wrought iron archway at 3:55 pm, a sign informed us that the “Gates of Heaven”  are locked promptly at 4 o’clock. We made haste in finding legendary Yankees manager Billy Martin.
You're fired!

Martin served as the Yankees’ manager five times and was fired each time by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. He was preparing a sixth run at the position when he died in a one-car accident on Christmas Day 1989. His elaborate headstone, decorated by carved religious symbols and bookended with two carved numeral “1”s (Billy’s retired uniform number), is inscribed: “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest.”

Just 150 feet away from Martin is the grave of another baseball legend, Babe Ruth.
the other house that Ruth built

Babe Ruth’s plot is marked by a huge carved headstone depicting Jesus imparting the secrets of home run hitting to an eager young boy. The Babe’s grave is adorned with baseballs and bats and Yankees hats of different eras, all left by reverent fans. Interestingly, on the day we were there, a prior visitor had fittingly left a bottle of beer for the Babe. Babe Ruth is buried here with his second wife Claire, who outlived her husband by 28 years. Claire’s birth year is incorrectly shown as 1900. She was born in 1897.

We drove through the narrow roadways and came across an ominous flock of turkeys, out for a stroll among the graves… just like us.
gobble gobble

Armed with a map and location, my wife and I drove around Section 48, searching for the grave of Bess Houdini, the master magician’s wife and assistant. We circled the perimeter of the small, yet crowded section of headstones for a little over an hour until we spotted Bess’ grave.

Rosabelle believe
Harry Houdini’s remains are at Machpelah Cemetery in Queens. Bess wished to be buried with her famous husband, but since she was not Jewish, she was not permitted to be buried there. Instead, Bess’ family had her interred at Gate of Heaven.

As we started toward the front gate and were approached by a security guard in a car who instructed us to slow down as he unlocked the long-closed gates to release us.
we is risen

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Don’t miss these other great cemetery visits:

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4 Comments

  1. What a fun day we shared!! And who says romance is Dead…you just have to know where to look for it!! One of the highlights of the day for me was making my decision regarding my final plans. As Josh & I toured the vast mausoleums, we discussed our preferences for our own fates. Although I have never been comfortable with the practice of creamation (having always dismissed it as cruel & barbaric), I have decided that this is what I would like. Why the change of heart? As we exited the Cemetery office, with our guide map in hand, we saw the Urn selections available for purchase. Included in the display were brass urns, glass urns, ceramic urns…some ornate, some plain…and then 2 magnificent styles that got my attention! One by Wedgwood and one by Limoges!! That convinced me! Sure, I would rather not have my lifeless body burned to a crisp…but spend eternity in an ornate jar made by one of the 2 greatest porcelain crafters ever? That’s for me!!

  2. It would be a great help if ya’ll had put up a copy of Frencliffs plot layout, Im trying to find one and Im living in FL, its not like I can just drive over and look up wat Im wanting to check out… Got a copy? can you email it to me? It would make my day if ya did!

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