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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Wyatt Earp

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Old West icon Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone is, of course, legendary—but his actual tombstone has a lot of stories to tell, too.

Most Wild West fans will be surprised to learn that Earp is buried not in Tombstone, Arizona, nor Dodge City. Instead, his final resting place is at the Hills of Eternity Jewish cemetery in Colma, California. No, he wasn’t Jewish—but his last wife was.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Upon his death in 1929—not because of a shootout, but due to complications from a urinary tract infection—his wife, Josephine, had him cremated and buried in her family plot, which she was a bit secretive about. When she died in 1944, very few people knew of Wyatt's whereabouts. But someone must have known, because the original tombstone was stolen shortly after she died.

In 1957, the Tombstone Restoration Committee expressed interest in having the legend's ashes moved to Tombstone, Arizona, to attract tourists—but no one seemed to know what had become of them. After many inquiries, Arthur King, one of Earp’s deputies, revealed the location of his former boss's urn: the Hills of Eternity Jewish cemetery in Colma.

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The Tombstone Restoration Committee gave up their bid to move Earp—but shortly thereafter, his 300-pound granite marker was stolen, marking the second time the grave had been desecrated. The thieves had been after more than just the stone: They dug a hole 5 feet deep, apparently searching for the urn containing the sheriff's ashes. Thankfully, their efforts were unsuccessful. Though the timing was slightly suspicious, the city of Tombstone was quick to deny any involvement. “We think it was a pretty low trick for anyone to steal that marker in California,” the secretary of the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce commented. “And don’t get the idea we stole the stone.”

Actor Hugh O’Brian, who played the title role in the TV show The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, offered a reward for its safe return, but no one claimed it. The stone was reportedly found several months later in a clump of bushes on a roadside in San Bruno, California—only to disappear again, possibly removed by cemetery officials to prevent further theft. The current marker, much larger and presumably harder to steal than the first two, was placed in the late 1990s. Whatever the cemetery is doing to prevent it from being stolen seems to be working—or maybe people have just decided that stealing from a legendary lawman is a pretty bad idea.

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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