Paul Conradt
Paul Conradt

Herbert Hoover

Paul Conradt
Paul Conradt

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 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 (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use. See all the Grave Sightings posts here.

Forget Parker Lewis. Before he became the president that will always be remembered for plunging the country into the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover couldn’t lose. He had career success—in fact, he was the most well-paid mining engineer in the world at one point in time. He was a humanitarian respected worldwide when he organized relief for German-occupied Belgium during WWI. Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to be the head of the U.S. Food Administration, and later Warren G. Harding appointed him Secretary of Commerce.

In 1920, a New York Times poll showed that the public believed Hoover was one of the greatest living Americans. No less than FDR himself said, “He certainly is a wonder, and I wish we could make him President of the United States. There could not be a better one.”

Roosevelt jinxed it—and Hoover seemed to know it. When he became president-elect in 1928, Hoover was already wary. “My friends have made the American people think me a sort of superman,” he said in December. “They expect the impossible of me, and should there arise in the land conditions with which the political machinery is unable to cope, I will be the one to suffer.”

Conditions arose. In a matter of months, Hoover went from being the most celebrated man in America to the most hated. Time magazine referred to him as “President Reject.” People started calling newspapers “Hoover blankets” and dubbed the encampments of unemployed people “Hoovervilles.” He was booed everywhere he went; angry citizens literally threw tomatoes at his train when it passed through their towns. It came as no surprise to anyone, least of all Hoover, when FDR swept the 1932 election.

He could have disappeared into the annals of history after his ouster, but instead, Hoover dedicated himself to public service, raising money for charitable causes, organizing WWII relief missions, becoming chairman of the Boys’ Clubs of America, and delivering dozens of speeches across the country every year. Even at the age of 86, Hoover was working up to 12 hours a day. "There is no joy to be had from retirement, except in some kind of productive work,” he said. “Otherwise you degenerate into talking to everybody about your pains and pills. The point is not to retire from work or you will shrivel up into a nuisance to all mankind."

In his later years, Hoover was asked how he managed to deal with the decades of blame and hatred that surrounded his presidency. “I outlived the bastards,” he said. And he really did—Hoover lived to be 90 years old, passing away in 1964. Should you want to visit Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, they can both be found in a lovely park-like setting at his Presidential Museum in West Branch, Iowa, not far from Iowa City.

See all the Grave Sightings posts here.

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Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images
The Curse on Shakespeare's Grave
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images

It's a pretty good practice to avoid incurring the wrath of the dead in general, but if there's a ghost you really don't want to upset, it's probably William Shakespeare's. Just think of the many inventive ways he killed people in his plays. That's why the curse on his grave at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon should be taken seriously:

"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones."

It's thought that the warning was penned by Shakespeare himself. In his day, it was common for bodies to be exhumed for research purposes or even just to make room for more burials, and the Bard did not want that to happen to his remains. So far, his warning seems to have worked. Even when the grave received some repairs in 2008, workers said the stones would not actually be moved and the bones certainly would not be disturbed. 

It has recently been suggested that Shakespeare's remains be exhumed and studied using the same techniques that allowed us to learn more about King Richard III, so we may soon find out how effective that curse really is. Professor Francis Thackeray from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who wants to exhume the bones, seems to be pushing his luck. "We could possibly get around [the curse] by at least exposing the bones and doing high-resolution, non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses without moving a single bone," he said. "Besides, Shakespeare said nothing about teeth in that epitaph."

Will it be enough to avoid the Bard's wrath? Only time will tell.

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Stacy Conradt
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.


Getty Images

Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.


Stacy Conradt

The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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