Tomorrow, I leave for a three day trip down to Pennsylvania to bury my grandmother, Marie Deemer, who passed away in early January, a little less than a month after Ida died. Ida’s middle name was May, which was my wife’s grandmother’s middle name and a name quite close to that of my grandmothers, Mary and Marie. Her loss is a sad one, though at 95 she lived a full life.
The trip does offer me a chance to get back to this blog’s mission, however: to seek out and photograph the resting places of some of the most influential people in the United States – and I will accomplish that in large quantities. The route I’m taking brings me to two impressive cemeteries and a collection of other sites where some deeply influential figures are buried.
First I’ll stop at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY. Ferncliff doesn’t get the attention of other major cemeteries, but its resident list can go up against anyone’s. It is, first, the resting place of several incredible, uncompromising advocates for African American rights. Malcolm X is buried there, as is author James Baldwin. Paul Robeson, the singer, writer, and Renaissance man, also rests there; so too does Whitney Young, the former head of the Urban League. Highly controversial former Nation of Islam and New Black Panther leader Khalid Muhammed is there as well, as is James Powell, the teenager whose death sparked the 1964 Harlem riots.
In addition to civil rights and Black Power figures, the cemetery also contains many entertainers, from jazz legend Thelonious Monk to actors Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and Basil Rathbone. Cab Calloway, Ed Sullivan, and a host of early vaudeville, TV, movie and radio stars rest there as well.
From Ferncliff, I’ll head up the road to the legendary Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, home to an interesting mix of figures from the Gilded Age, industry and labor alike: Industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, William Rockefeller, and Leo Baekeland share space with labor heroes such as Samuel Gompers, Belle Moskowitz, and Carl Schurz. Of course, author Washington Irving’s resting place is also within the cemetery.
After my grandmother’s burial, I’ll head to Philadelphia to stay with an old friend, and visit the graves of Benjamin Franklin; former VP George Dallas; famed military commander Winfield Scott; Nicholas Biddle, former head of the Bank of the US and enemy of Andrew Jackson; Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Women’s Rights advocate Lucretia Mott; and Revolutionary War figure Benjamin Rush.
Finally, on the way back to Boston, I’ll stop in New Jersey at the graves of Transcendentalist poet Walt Whitman and women’s suffrage and rights hero Alice Paul.
Not a bad trip; I imagine there will be several posts following it.