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Stacy Conradt

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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politics
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
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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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History
Grave Sightings: Joe DiMaggio
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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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