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.

Stacy Conradt

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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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.

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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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