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Levi Strauss, The Man Who Changed Fashion

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

If you can look at your behind right now and see a little red tag attached to the back pocket of your jeans, you have Levi Strauss to thank.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1848, the Bavarian-born Strauss moved from Germany to New York to help his older brothers with their dry-goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. Like many other folks seeking to make their fortunes, he decided to head west when he heard "there's gold in them thar' hills"—but it wasn't the mineral he was after. Figuring that all of the '49ers would need access to more supplies, Levi established a branch of the family business in San Francisco.

Strauss was successful enough that, in 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno who often purchased bolts of denim from Strauss, contacted him about an idea he had for stronger clothing [PDF]. The future, he figured, was rivets. His customers went through pants at an alarming rate, and Davis had noticed that wear and tear often occurred at the same points, regardless of the wearer or the pant. To reduce the amount of stress placed on these points, Davis had started putting rivets at each of the commonly torn locations. He wanted to patent the idea, but needed a partner to help him get up and running. Strauss was onboard, and on May 20, 1873, he and Jacob received the patent for blue jeans.

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Though the jeans were originally worn by blue collar workers looking to extend the life of their clothing, Levis quickly grew beyond just utilitarian use. From the pair of 501s Marlon Brando donned in 1953's The Wild One to the trusty leather jacket Albert Einstein wore almost everywhere, the Levi brand became a worldwide phenomenon. "It was the kind of clothing that represented the American West and it was this cachet and this sort of magical thing," Lynn Downey, archivist and historian at Levi Strauss & Co., told the BBC.

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Though Strauss didn't make it quite long enough to see his company become the global mainstream success it is today, it did flourish, leaving him a multimillionaire when he died in 1902. Perhaps that's why he "cheerfully fell into [his] last sleep," according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times. "Death came most suddenly to the old gentleman, and he passed away just as if he were going asleep. He replied cheerfully to a question from his nurse, and the next moment he was dead." Strauss had no children, so he left the business to his four nephews, who had previously been made partners in the company.

If you want to pay your respects to the man who helped change the face of fashion, you can find him at the Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum in Colma, California.

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History
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.
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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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History
Grave Sightings: Satchel Paige
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.

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 "How to Stay Young,' including "Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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