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Stacy Conradt

Merv Griffin

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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.

Though many know him from his talk shows and game shows, Merv Griffin was a man of many talents. From novelty song hitmaker to real estate mogul and thoroughbred horse breeder, he did pretty much everything he felt like doing—and he did it all well. Given everything else he had a hand in during his life, it’s not too surprising that he even wrote his own epitaph. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Long before Jeopardy! and even The Merv Griffin Show, Mervyn Griffin, Jr. was just a kid singing in his church choir in San Mateo, California. He was so good that he landed a job as a big band singer by the time he was 19. He was the vocalist for Freddy Martin and his Orchestra when they made this song a top 10 hit in 1949:

Griffin made enough money to fund his own record label and album, Songs by Merv Griffin; he was touring when Doris Day “discovered” him at a nightclub. She arranged for a screen test, and before he knew it, Merv found himself on the silver screen. He wasn’t crazy about it, though, so he bought out his contract and switched to TV, where he hosted game shows called Play Your Hunch and Keep Talking. He also guest-hosted on The Tonight Show in 1962 during the transition between Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. This led to his very own daytime talk show, which was a bit of a dud and was cancelled the next year.

Then Jeopardy! came along. Merv was mulling over a new game show while on an airplane with his wife, Julann. She asked if it was one based on knowledge and trivia. When Merv responded that the networks weren’t too keen on those shows after the Quiz Show scandal, Julann suggested that the host just give the contestants the answer. Merv didn’t get it. “OK, the answer is 5280,” Julann said. Merv considered, then realized that the question was, “How many feet are in a mile?” They played this game the whole way home, and by the time their flight landed in New York City, Jeopardy! was born. 

And if creating the world’s most famous game show wasn’t enough of a life achievement for Merv, he also composed the world’s most famous “thinking” music—the Jeopardy! song, originally called “A Time for Tony,” was written as a lullaby for his son. He once estimated that the little ditty had earned him more than $70 million over his lifetime. Here's an hour of it, just in case you really need to ponder something.

Of course, in the middle of all of this, Griffin launched a syndicated talk show called The Merv Griffin Show (exponentially more successful than the 1963 go-around) that was famous for its eclectic and sometimes controversial mix of guests. It was on the air for 21 years and won 11 Emmy Awards. It also became the plot of a pretty memorable Seinfeld episode. Here's Merv interviewing Salvador Dali in 1965.

After his show ended in 1986, Merv proclaimed himself bored and bought the Beverly Hilton Hotel from Barron Hilton. He also purchased an Atlantic City hotel from Donald Trump, and owned a resort in Palm Springs, a boutique hotel in Ireland, and an entire island in the Bahamas.

Oh, and he was also a big fan of horseracing. His colt, Stevie Wonderboy, won the $1.5 million Breeder’s Cup Juvenile in 2005. It may have been one of his proudest moments—“There’s a lot of excitement winning Emmy Awards and all of that stuff,” Griffin said after the win. "Then there’s the fighting with Donald Trump, which is fun. But this is extraordinary.”

Sadly, the multitalented entrepreneur died from a recurrence of prostate cancer two years after the Breeder’s Cup win, before he could realize his dream of having one of his horses win the Kentucky Derby. But don’t cry for Merv Griffin—he realized more dreams than most people can even imagine.

If you’re a fan of Merv’s incredibly varied work (including Wheel of Fortune), you can stop and tell him thanks the next time you’re in L.A. He’s at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, and as you can see, he had a sense of humor about his livelihood. He penned a couple of epitaphs in his 1980 autobiography, including “Stay tuned,” but ultimately, his family went with Griffin’s “I will not be right back after this message.”

See all entries in our Grave Sighting series here.

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History
Grave Sightings: Alexander Hamilton
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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.

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Stacy Conradt
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History
Grave Sightings: Satchel Paige
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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.

If you’re looking for life lessons at a cemetery, you’re probably imagining something abstract: A little reflection, and some deep thinking about the meaning of life and how fleeting our time on earth really is. Visit the gravestone of legendary baseball player Satchel Paige, however, and you’ll get step-by-step instructions.

Engraving on the granite tombstone of Satchel Paige with six pieces of advice on
Stacy Conradt

Originally printed on Paige’s business cards, this sound advice is just the beginning of what you can discover about the pitcher by paying your respects. The massive monument, which sits on a plot of land at the cemetery aptly named “Paige Island,” provides details about Paige’s career and personal life, including how he got his unique nickname:

Close-up of an engraving on the gravestone of baseball player Satchel Paige that details how he got his nickname.
Stacy Conradt

Part of the gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige and his wife, which provides the highlights of his career. The top of the grave is dotted with baseballs and coins.
Stacy Conradt

Paige died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 75—though he never did slow down much. In fact, on September 25, 1965, he became the oldest pitcher to ever play in a major league game, when the Kansas City Athletics put him in for three innings. The team made a big show out of getting the 59-year-old Paige a rocker for the dugout and hiring a nurse to oil and massage his pitching arm, but fans shouldn’t have worried that his “advanced” age would slow him down: In three innings, only one batter managed to get a hit off of him.

The granite gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige, with an engraving about his marriage and children. Fans have left baseballs, coins, and a necklace along the top of the stone.
Stacy Conradt

The large gravestone is a replacement for the original, a modest marker that can still be found at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. The first stone was donated by a fan who played up Paige’s reluctance to reveal his real birth year by inscribing a question mark for the date. Paige’s family was said to appreciate the donation, “but not for the perpetuation of the ruse over the pitcher’s age,” as his biographer Larry Tye wrote. As far as anyone knows, the 1906 date on the current tombstone is correct.

The granite gravestone of baseball legend Satchel Paige, with the dates of his birth and death and a bronze engraving of his likeness. Fans have left baseballs and coins on the top of the grave.
Stacy Conradt

If you’d like to learn a life lesson (or six) from Satchel Paige himself, you can find his grave at Forest Hills Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. Don’t forget to bring a baseball.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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