Grave Sightings: Charlie Parker

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Legendary jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker was just 34 when he died of pneumonia in 1955, but he packed a lot of living into those few decades. In fact, his body was so ravaged from years of drug and alcohol addiction that the coroner who conducted his autopsy initially estimated Parker at 55 or 60 years old.

Black and white photo of jazz musician Charlie "Bird" Parker playing the saxophone.
Charlie Parker playing the saxophone at the Three Deuces jazz club in New York in 1947.

To add insult to injury, Parker’s final resting place in Kansas City, Missouri is about 1200 miles away from where he wanted to be buried, according to his common-law wife, Chan Parker. She said Bird wanted to be buried in Long Island next to his daughter, who had died from a heart condition at the age of 2. Parker’s mother, however, wanted him home in Missouri. Ultimately, a committee of Parker’s friends claimed his body at the funeral home and sent it home to his mother. Addie Parker had her son interred at Lincoln Cemetery on the outskirts of town and was buried next to him when she died in 1967.

Gravestone of jazz musician Charlie Parker and his mother, Addie Parker, including birth dates, death dates, and an engraving of a bird and a saxophone.
Stacy Conradt

But Bird's afterlife problems don’t end there. His name was misspelled as "Charley" Parker in his Kansas City obituary. And the marker that designates his final resting place has been plagued with problems since the day it was installed. The original headstone listed the wrong death date—March 23 instead of March 12—and though the egregious engraving error was eventually fixed, the whole thing was later stolen in 1992. It took two years to get a replacement, and when it arrived, there was a new mistake: The engraving above the name is a tenor saxophone. Parker played the alto.

In 1998, there was some talk of having Parker moved from the out-of-the-way, difficult-to-find cemetery. Fans, including then-mayor of Kansas City Emanuel Cleaver, had a more fitting resting place in mind: 18th and Vine, a historic jazz location in Kansas City proper where the American Jazz Museum now stands. Cleaver even requested $25,000 from the City Council to help move the city’s famous son. “It will be much more than a grave,” he said. “It will be a shrine. It will take up about half a block behind the museum. I believe having Charlie Parker’s grave near the museum is almost as important as having the home base near the playing field.”

Unfortunately for Cleaver, the request was denied, and to this day, Parker remains in Lincoln Cemetery. Even so, the obscure spot gets pretty lively every year on Parker’s birthday when the local jazz community shows up to serenade him with a New Orleans-style “21 Sax Salute.”

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

Tourists Are Picking Apart Britain's Oldest Tree

Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fortingall Yew in the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland has seen a lot. Since it started growing at least 2000 years ago, it's been present for the Roman settlement of Scotland, the shift from paganism to Christianity, and the country's induction into the United Kingdom. But after standing for millennia, the ancient tree is facing its greatest threat yet. Tourists are removing twigs and branches from the tree to take home as souvenirs, and the tree is under so much stress that it's spontaneously changing sexes, Atlas Obscura reports.

Because of how the tree grows, it's hard to date the Fortingall Yew precisely. It comprises several separate trunks that have hollowed out over the years, making it easier for the tree to support itself in its old age. Based on historical measurements and 19th-century ring counts, the yew has been around for at least two millennia, but it could date back as far as 5000 years. That makes it the oldest tree in Britain and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

That impressive title means the tree gets a lot of visitors, not all of whom are concerned with extending its lifespan even longer. A stone and iron wall built in the Victorian era encloses the tree, but that hasn't stopped people from climbing over it to break off pieces or leave behind keepsakes like beads and ribbons.

As the abuse adds up, the tree has responded in concerning ways. It sprouted red berries this spring, a sign that the tree is transitioning to a different sex for the first time in its life. Yew trees are either male or female, and sex changes among the species are incredibly rare and misunderstood. Some botanists believe it's a reaction to stress. The change may be a survival mechanism intended to increase the specimen's chances of reproducing.

Scientists aren't sure why this particular yew, which was formerly male, sprouted berries on its upper branches, an exclusively female characteristic, but they've collected the berries to study them. The seeds from the berries will be preserved as part of a project to protect the genetic diversity of yew trees across the globe.

In the mean time, caretakers of the Fortingall Yew are imploring visitors to be respectful of the tree and keep their hands to themselves.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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