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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Grave Sightings: Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr.

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

While we may have William Clark to thank for mapping the Western half of the United States, his grandson also contributed quite a bit to American culture—especially if you like horse racing.

Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (his father was named after William's Clark’s expedition partner) was not quite 6 years old when his mother died. Afterwards, the elder Meriwether Lewis Clark sent Jr., whom they called "Lutie," to live with his aunt in Louisville, Kentucky. As one of the founding families of Kentucky, his mother’s side of the family was wealthy, and they introduced him to the world of horse breeding. In 1872, Lutie attended the Epsom Derby in England—and a light bulb went off in his head. Why couldn’t he create a horse racing event in Kentucky?

When Clark returned home the following year, his uncles, John and Henry Churchill, leased him 80 acres of land. He raised additional money for the project by selling memberships for $100 each. The steep price didn’t stop 320 people from ponying up.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Park officially opened in 1875, but no one called it that. Knowing where the land had come from, everyone referred to the new track as Churchill Downs. (Its name wasn’t officially changed until 1937, however.) By 1886, The New York Times was calling it "the greatest annual event of the American turf."

Sadly, Clark’s good fortune wouldn’t last. Angered by the lack of bookmakers—they had been locked out over a contract dispute—millionaire and Thoroughbred breeder James Ben Ali Haggin boycotted the Downs later in 1886 and took a bunch of his rich friends with him. While the boycott wasn't enough to close the track, it did harm its prestige—just four horses competed in the Derby in 1891, and only three in 1892.

To make matters worse, Clark lost big in the stock market crash of 1893. Upon selling the Louisville Jockey Club in 1894, he said, "I could wish nothing worse for my worst enemy than that he should become my successor and contend with all that I have contended with."

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On April 22, 1899, the 53-year-old Churchill Downs founder was found dead in a hotel room in Memphis, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Clark's body was returned to Louisville, where he was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery next to one of the men who had helped him make his dream a reality—his uncle, John.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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History
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.

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politics
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.


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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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