Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Jesse James

Stacy Conradt
Stacy 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.

Here lies Jesse James. Or does he? The answer to that depends on who you ask.

According to most, the American outlaw and train robber was killed at his home on April 3, 1882. Legend has it that it was his clean streak that did him in. When James turned his back to take a feather duster (the "Feather Duster of Death," which you can actually visit) to the top of a picture frame, his supposed partner in crime took him out with a bullet to the head. The kicker? The assassin, Bob Ford, was one of just a few people Jesse James still trusted. Unaware that Governor Thomas T. Crittenden had secretly negotiated with Ford to bring the outlaw to justice, James had asked the Ford brothers to move in with him for protection.

However, this New York Times article from the day says that James wasn’t spring cleaning at all—he had actually just taken his pistols off and was “preparing to wash himself” when Ford struck. Whichever way it really happened, James’ body was supposedly positively identified by a partially missing finger and scars from previous bullet wounds. He was buried at the family farm under an epitaph written by his mother, shown here next to the gravesite.

Photo courtesy of ClayCountyMO.gov

“DEVOTED
HUSBAND
AND FATHER
JESSE
WOODSON
JAMES
SEPT .5, 1847
MURDERED
APR. 3, 1882
BY A TRAITOR
AND COWARD
WHOSE NAME
IS NOT WORTHY
TO APPEAR HERE”

James’ body was moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery to be interred with his wife, Zerelda, after her death in 1900. The original marker remains at the homestead.

That is, if it was even his body. Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to swirl that Ford and James had worked together to stage a murder. In 1948, these rumors were given some credibility when a man named J. Frank Dalton stepped forward and claimed to be the famous train robber. If he was James, he would have been 101 years old at the time. Though the claim seemed dubious at best, a publication called The Police Gazette reported that they examined Dalton and found him to have all of the scars the real Jesse James had. Though Dalton did have impressive knowledge of James’ robberies and the era in general, he didn’t do well under questioning from Stella James, who married James’ son, Jesse, Jr.

The James family declared that Dalton was a phony. Regardless of his true identity, when Dalton died in 1951, his tombstone was inscribed with the name of the man he said he was. It reads:

Photo courtesy of BSHC-Granbury.org

"SUPPOSEDLY KILLED IN 1882."

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History
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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politics
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.


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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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