Oct 18, 2020

A Walk Among the Tombstones, Part 3

By Lori Draz

Historic Havens is honored once again to welcome our tour guide Beth Woolley as we take our annual Walk Among the Tombstones.

Woolley and her husband, Peter, are the owners of Peaceable Kingdom monuments, and in her 40-year career, Beth toured cemeteries nationwide and has designed more than 10,000 tombstones and memorials, including the first Martin Luther King Monument in Long Branch and numerous historic site monuments and plaques including ones for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the National Park Service.

Cemeteries are nothing to fear. They are intriguing places, full of history, incredible artwork and tranquility, so don’t be afraid to visit – they are plenty of people there just waiting to see you.

Please be respectful. Don’t blare your radio or take silly selfies. Rather, use your camera to capture images instead of doing rubbings which, over time, wear down the stones. They are, after all, important to the residents of the graveyards.

New Jersey is the final resting place of many famous and fascinating folks. Monmouth County alone hosts a registry of amazing eternal residents.

We begin our tour at Monmouth Memorial Park in Tinton Falls where we meet professional football player and coach Sam Mills. Mills played 12 seasons for the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers, was a five-time Pro Bowler and also had a career in the United States Football League. Mills started 173 out of 181 games. He never missed a Panthers game, even after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. He scheduled treatments on the team’s days off.  Mills’ #51 jersey was retired by the Panthers, the first number retired by the franchise.

Also residing in Monmouth Memorial Park is musician and composer G. Howard Scott, the first municipal organist contracted to play at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park. His evening concerts were broadcast on radio station WCAP, and he also performed at the Mayfair Theater in the days of silent films. Highly respected as one of the finest theater organists, Scott was the first organist in the country to use synchronized lighting effects during his recitals because he felt different keys and moods in music suggested certain colors.

Staying in a musical mood, we move to Neptune’s Mount Calvary Cemetery to meet opera singer Guido Ciccolini. The famous tenor was recorded by Thomas Edison as one of his famed Italian Tenors series on cylinders and diamond discs. On a curious note, Ciccolini also had a ticket to sail on the RMS Titanic (which his family still has), but at the last minute, he missed the sailing due to a performance scheduling change, giving a whole new meaning to the “Show must go on.” He was a popular performer in America and Italy.

Opera singer Guido Ciccolini is buried at Neptune’s Mount Calvary Cemetery.

There are many military graves, like that of Horace Porter, found in Old First Methodist cemetery in West Long Branch. Porter was an American soldier and diplomat who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was personal secretary to General and President Ulysses S. Grant. He also was secretary to General William T. Sherman, vice president of the Pullman Palace Car Company and U.S. Ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905.

Some residents like to share a smile or some good advice like Wilma Greenspan, whose grave in the Agudath Achim Cemetery reads, “Maintain your sense of humor. It’s all you have left.” Another is the grave of Miriam Bell, found in the Roosevelt cemetery, who shares her favorite Dorothy Parker quote: “The cure for boredom is curiosity, There is no cure for curiosity.”

Grave of Horace Porter at Old First Methodist cemetery in West Long Branch

Cemeteries are home to the works of some incredible artists whose monuments are elaborate testimonies to master carvers and craftsmen. Woolley points to St. George Greek Orthodox Cemetery in Asbury Park. Her work is mixed in with many other impressive stones. At the entrance, Woolley did the stone donated by the late Stephen Pappayliou to welcome visitors. There are plenty of others, like the large Pappas monument, Woolley’s Megaris stone and the bold red cross of Eleftheria Karatzia.

And there are hundreds more, plus we haven’t even touched on the massive mausoleums and monuments, meaning that we will be back again next year for another walk.

Explore, enjoy, reflect and remember as you take your walk among the tombstones.