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Colonel Sanders

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Even though Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville is the final resting place of many fascinating people, there’s no mistake about who the main attraction is. Simply follow the yellow line painted on various paths throughout the cemetery, and you’ll eventually find that all roads lead to Colonel Sanders.

Though his legendary status may lead you to believe that Harland Sanders has always been a success, he actually didn’t make his millions until late in life. When he received his first social security check for $105 in 1955, Sanders took his mother’s chicken recipe and a special pressure cooker and created what would eventually become the KFC empire.

Before that, Sanders did various stints as a railroader, a streetcar conductor, an insurance salesman, and a lawyer  (that one ended after he got into a courtroom fistfight with his own client). In 1929, he opened a service station in Corbin, Kentucky. In addition to pumping gas, Sanders served home cooked meals. They were so good, in fact, that restaurant reviewer Duncan Hines declared it a “very good place to stop en route to Cumberland Falls and the Great Smokies,” especially the “sizzling steaks, fried chicken, country ham, hot biscuits." Though he hadn’t found his secret 11-herbs-and-spices recipe yet, Sanders had definitely found his calling.

When the new interstate came through, the restaurant in Corbin took a hit. Sanders sold the property at a loss and decided to focus instead on franchising. He married Claudia, one of his waitresses (here’s a cringe-inducing quote: "I always hired widows with children, because they had to work and didn't have any foolishness about them"), and they took their schtick on the road. "Claudia and me got up sort of an act. We'd go into a franchise place, and she'd wear the old-time dress, the hoop skirt you know, and I'd be in my colonel outfit,” he once said. “She'd serve the chicken, and when I was done in the kitchen I'd come out and mingle with the guests."

Speaking of the iconic colonel outfit, he had at least 15 of them, in everything from summer linen to winter wool. The reason they were white, he claimed, was because they hid the flour well when he wiped his hands on his pants.

The franchising efforts made him a millionaire, but it was hard for the aging colonel to keep up with the demands of 600-plus restaurants. He sold the business for a pretty penny in 1964, but continued to be the spokesperson for Kentucky Fried Chicken, including making personal appearances.

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Oh, and the answer to the popular “Was he really a Colonel?” question is yes ... and no. No, he wasn’t a military colonel. But he was a Kentucky colonel, the highest honor the Commonwealth of Kentucky can give to a person. Other famous Kentucky colonels included Fred Astaire and Eddie Cantor.

Sanders died in 1980, succumbing to leukemia at the age of 90. His body lay in state at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort; more than 1000 people attended the actual funeral. Even though he’s been gone for almost 35 years, Sanders remains one of the most beloved characters in the history of advertising, business, and Kentucky. And if you need proof of that, just go to Cave Hill Cemetery and follow the yellow line.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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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