Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Paul Revere

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 cemeteries to 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 photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

Listen my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. You probably know that the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem is catchy, but historically inaccurate. But here are a few things you may not know.

Mr. Revere almost certainly never shouted the line famously attributed to him: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Because there were Redcoats stationed everywhere, and because many colonists were sympathizers, blatantly announcing the arrival of the Brits in such a manner could have been a fatal mistake, and at the very least would have compromised the mission. Additionally, most colonists still thought of themselves as British, so to say "The British are coming!" wouldn't have been terribly clear. "The Regulars are coming out" is how he actually announced the impending arrival to villagers.

Another misconception: Although the silversmith is hailed as the hero of this story, he wasn’t the only man to ride through towns warning people—in fact, he wasn’t even the most successful one.

The original plan was for Revere and William Dawes to get news of the invasion to Concord, where military supplies were stored, and also warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had been targeted for capture. To get to them, the pair rode across Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, warning patriots as they passed through. In Lexington, they came across Samuel Prescott, a doctor who was probably coming home from a booty call. (At least, that’s how the history books paint the late-night encounter when they say he was “returning from a lady friend’s house at the awkward hour of 1 a.m.”) Prescott joined them in their quest.

About three miles into the six-mile ride to Concord, the trio was intercepted by Redcoats. Dawes and Prescott managed to get away, while Revere was captured and interrogated. Redcoats threatened several times to “blow [his] brains out,” which is something you don’t learn during this unit in elementary school. They eventually took his horse and abandoned him in the middle of road. He was able to walk to town to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but Prescott is the real hero—he was the only one who made it all the way to Concord.

So why did Revere get all the credit? First of all, he was the most famous, even then. Secondly, Longfellow’s 1863 poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” cemented that fame. Historians have joked that the only reason it wasn’t “The Midnight Ride of William Dawes” is because “Revere” was easier to rhyme.

After the war, Revere tried his hand in the Massachusetts militia before turning to silversmithing and ironworking, which, as you might know, he did pretty well at. By 1792 he was one of the best bell-casters in America, which gave Paul Revere & Sons foundry a steady line of work. The company moved into rolled copper production in 1801—in fact, the Revere Copper Company was hired to cover the original dome of the Massachusetts State House.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

On May 10, 1818, Revere died at the ripe old age of 83. He was buried at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street in Boston, which is also the final resting place of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and five of the Boston Massacre victims.

Upon his death, The Boston Intelligence wrote, “Seldom has the tomb closed upon a life so honorable and useful.” Since then, we’ve honored one of our most famous patriots by not only naming a pizza chain after him, but also a 1960s American band that emulated the sound of the British Invasion. Let’s hope Revere had a sense of humor.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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.

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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