CLOSE
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Vachel Lindsay

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.

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was one of the most celebrated poets of the early 20th century. Known as the "Prairie Troubadour" for his sing-songy rhythms with midwestern themes, Lindsay is considered the father of singing poetry. But he didn’t start his career that way.

Though he originally went to school to be a doctor, Lindsay quickly realized that career “choice” was more for his mother and physician father than for himself. After three years of medical studies at Hiram College in Ohio, Lindsay told his parents his heart wasn’t in it. He enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute for two years, then headed to the New York School of Art. It was there that instructor Robert Henri suggested that Lindsay’s artistry would be better expressed in words than in paint.

Taking this advice to heart, young Vachel began selling his poetry on street corners in NYC, then expanded to the whole countryside, wandering on foot and sometimes by steamer or train. He gave lectures and performances, found time to (unsuccessfully) court fellow poet Sara Teasdale, and, oh yeah—wrote a lot of poetry. Traveling seemed to agree with Lindsay, as he wrote some of his best-known pieces while on the road, including "The Congo" and "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven." Born in Springfield, Illinois, Lindsay also found inspiration in the town's most famous son, Abraham Lincoln. Tributes include “Lincoln” and “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.”

Despite his success, things began to go downhill for Lindsay sometime around 1922, when his mother died. The following year, he had to endure two sinus surgeries, so he accepted a teaching position that would help him recover and pay for his medical costs. By the time he married in 1925 and had two children shortly thereafter, the popularity and sales of his poetry had declined greatly, and he was having trouble supporting his family. In 1929, he moved them to his old Springfield homestead.

On December 5, 1931, struggling mentally, physically, and financially, Lindsay decided to end it all. After an argument with his wife, he grabbed a bottle of Lysol, locked himself in the bathroom, and poured himself teacup after teacup of the solution until the bottle was emptied. He was crawling upstairs on his hands and knees when his wife found him. “I took Lysol,” he admitted. “They tried to get me; I got them first.” Those cryptic words were his last. Though Mrs. Lindsay called for the doctor, the Prairie Troubadour was dead before help could arrive. Rather than alert the world to Lindsay’s troubling suicide, his doctor decided the death should be reported as heart failure.

Lindsay was buried with his parents at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, the same final resting place as Abraham Lincoln.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Stacy Conradt
arrow
History
Grave Sightings: Joe DiMaggio
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Legendary Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio and equally illustrious actress Marilyn Monroe had one of the most famous and tumultuous relationships in modern celebrity history. After countless ups and downs, including marriage and divorce, the two had reconciled again and were reportedly planning to remarry when she died in 1962.

Stacy Conradt

Devastated, DiMaggio—who was born on November 25, 1914—stepped in and planned the whole funeral, banning almost all of Monroe’s Hollywood contacts from attending (as well as the public). He had her buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, in a crypt they had originally purchased together while they were married—his was located directly above hers. Afterward, DiMaggio had flowers delivered to her grave multiple times a week, a practice that continued for 20 years.

Despite their his-and-hers crypts, however, Joltin’ Joe’s eternal resting place isn’t near Marilyn. It’s not at the same cemetery, or even in the same city. He ended up nearly 400 miles away at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.

Stacy Conradt

Though most of us associate the Yankee Clipper with New York, he actually grew up in San Francisco, arriving in the Italian neighborhood of North Beach when he was just a year old and spending his entire childhood there. In 1939, after baseball success had brought him fame and fortune, he bought his parents a home in the Marina district. When they died, his widowed sister Marie moved in, and eventually, so did Joe. He was involved with the community, even helping his brother when he opened a restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Stacy Conradt

When he passed away from lung cancer in 1999, DiMaggio’s funeral was held at San Francisco's St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, where he had been baptized, taken his first communion, and was confirmed and married. Given his personal ties with San Francisco, it’s not that surprising that he ended up spending eternity in the area—especially since he sold his crypt at Westwood Village Memorial Park after Marilyn filed for divorce just nine months into their marriage.

Though he wasn’t buried with her as originally planned, Marilyn was still on DiMaggio’s mind when he left this world. According to Morris Engelberg, Joe’s lawyer, his final words were, “I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.”

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Stacy Conradt
arrow
History
Grave Sightings: Alexander Hamilton
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

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 out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Two hundred and thirteen years ago, a lifetime of political slights and injuries came to a head when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr dueled in Weehawken, New Jersey, on July 11, 1804. Thanks to that catchy little Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, you probably know how the story ends: Burr fired a single bullet that killed Hamilton and his own political career all in one fell swoop.

Burr made himself scarce for years after the infamous incident, fleeing the country for various locations in Europe before settling back in the U.S. under an assumed name. (In addition to killing Hamilton, Burr also had a pesky treason charge hanging over his head.) Hamilton, however, has been pretty easy to find: For more than two centuries, he's been resting at the Trinity Church cemetery at Broadway and Wall Street in Manhattan. And George Washington's right-hand man had quite a few visitors—especially the day of his funeral.

The ornate entrance to a Gothic church, with a wrought-iron fence and old gravestones in the foreground.
Stacy Conradt

The final farewell to Hamilton was extremely well attended; it probably helped that New York City declared July 14 a city-wide day of mourning. During the funeral procession from Angelica and John Church’s house (on what is now Park Place) to Trinity Church, “the sidewalks were congested with tearful spectators, and onlookers stared down from every rooftop,” wrote Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow. “There were no hysterical outbursts, only a shocked hush that deepened the gravity of the situation.”

After a eulogy delivered by Gouverneur Morris, Hamilton’s friend and the author of the preamble to the Constitution, Hamilton was laid to rest—but not beneath the grand grave marker that denotes his final resting place now. The large tomb, topped with an urn at each corner and an obelisk in the middle, was donated in 1806 by the Society of the Cincinnati, a Revolutionary War fraternal group of which Hamilton was President General.

It seems obelisks were a common theme for memorializing Hamilton. Another organization Hamilton belonged to, the Saint Andrew’s Society, had a 14-foot marble obelisk [PDF] with a flaming urn erected at the spot where Hamilton fell. Sadly, the monument was repeatedly vandalized, including by souvenir hunters chipping away pieces to add to their collections. By 1820, it was completely gone except for a plaque. The plaque ended up at a junk store before it was eventually donated to the New-York Historical Society.

Just as the cenotaph at the duel site slowly faded away, so did the mourners who paid their respects at Hamilton’s grave site. Visitors likely picked up again after Eliza Hamilton died in 1854, but aside from that, their plot at the Trinity Church cemetery was much quieter before the Broadway hit.

The flat, rectangular white marble gravestone of Eliza Hamilton, inscribed with her name, relationships, birthday and deathday. Pennies have been strewn across the stone.
Stacy Conradt

But Alexander isn’t the only Hamilton at Trinity getting love from the public these days. Previously forgotten to the annals of history, Eliza Hamilton’s contributions and sacrifices have been brought to light in recent years by Chernow’s biography and Miranda’s musical. As a result, she has just as many fans as her husband—if not more. “She tends to get more gifts than he does," Trinity archivist Anne Petrimoulx told NPR in 2016. "I think the musical makes people identify more with Eliza than with Alex."

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios