Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Marilyn Monroe

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.

Happy belated birthday to Marilyn Monroe, who would have been 88 yesterday if she hadn’t overdosed on barbiturates in 1962.

Even 50-plus years later, though, her death remains a bit of a mystery. The barbiturates are mostly undisputed—the unresolved issue is whether the overdose was accidental, purposeful, or murder. Conflicting stories from people close to Marilyn have had experts scratching their heads for decades. These are the most popular theories.

The cause: A fatal sleep aid cocktail.

Marilyn’s physician was in the process of slowly weaning her from Nembutal, a sedative. But she had other means of getting it, and may have been mixing it with other drugs. Evidence of both Nembutal and chloral hydrate, another sedative, were discovered during the autopsy. However, they weren’t taken intravenously—there were no needle marks—and reports state that no traces of the drugs were found in her stomach, either. This leads to the theory that Marilyn’s physician administered a drug enema, and perhaps accidentally gave her too much or the wrong combination.

The cause: Getting too close to JFK and RFK.

There are two theories as to how these affairs resulted in murder: Either one of the Kennedy brothers had her killed because she was getting too needy, or a third party (the CIA and the Mafia are both mentioned in conspiracy theories) decided that enough was enough and took her out themselves. Some of Marilyn’s neighbors reported that they saw Robert Kennedy at Monroe’s house the night of her death.

The cause: Marilyn decided to end it herself.

She had attempted suicide at least four times previously, and she had access to a number of drugs. Peter Lawford, Marilyn’s good friend and JFK’s brother-in-law, says that when he spoke to the starlet in the early evening, she said something a little odd: “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you're a nice guy."

Whether it was suicide, murder, or accidental overdose, Marilyn’s ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, was convinced that Hollywood had killed her. He arranged her funeral and only allowed 25 people to attend. He excluded most of Monroe’s Hollywood contacts and friends. When studio execs tried to convince DiMaggio that they belonged at the service, he refused, saying, “Tell them if it wasn’t for them, she’d still be here.”

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

For 20 years, DiMaggio had six long-stemmed roses delivered to Monroe’s grave twice weekly. So why wasn’t the baseball great—who never remarried—buried with his longtime love when he died in 1999? It's possible that he would have been, had he not sold his adjacent crypt after he and Marilyn divorced in 1954. The crypt went to Richard Poncher, whose wife agreed to have him placed face down when he was interred, so he could always be on top of Marilyn.

Monroe continues to make people money even in death. Not only was she one of the top-earning deceased celebrities in 2013, the real estate surrounding her crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Park continues to be hot. In 2009, Richard Poncher’s widow tried to sell his vault on eBay. (So much for resting in peace.) Though it sold for more than $4 million, the winner had to retract his bid.

As of February, the vault next to Marilyn was up for sale—but not the one on the left. Though he never met her, Hugh Hefner bought that piece of "land" for $75,000 in 1992. Hef isn't alone in continuing to love her—the picture above shows how discolored her vault is from more than 50 years of lipstick kisses.

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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