Historic Havens once again takes another Walk Among the Tombstones.
Over the years, people have enjoyed this story so much it has inspired them to visit a few of these graves, so please remember cemeteries are nothing to fear. They are intriguing places, full of history, incredible artwork and tranquility, so don’t be afraid to visit.
Let’s meet some of New Jersey’s famous and fascinating eternal residents.
Baseball great Yogi Berra said, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Well, even though you missed his funeral, you can visit the baseball legend at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.
Book lovers may not recognize the name Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, but lovers of the Nancy Drew books will recognize her pseudonym, Carolyn Keene. This prolific author had several other pseudonyms as well under which she penned more than 200 books in the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins series. She resides in Fairmount Cemetery in Newark.
The show business world is also well-represented in the Garden State. Everyone loves the song “Stand by Me,” and you can stand by the grave its singer, Ben E. King, by visiting the Hackensack Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hackensack. King had 21 songs on the Billboard Top 100 as the lead vocalist of The Drifters and as a solo artist. He performed almost until his death in 2015. He was married for 50 years and had three children and six grandchildren.
Tony, Academy and Emmy Award-winning actress Shirley Booth is buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Montclair. Booth had a long career on stage and was the first actress ever to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same role in “Come Back Little Sheba,” although she is best known to vintage TV fans as Hazel. She is hard to find as she rests under a stone simply named Baker where she rests with her second husband, William Baker. Another Academy and Emmy Award-winner, Olympia Dukakis, also rests in Mount Hebron where she is joined by Herman Hupfeld, composer of the classic “As Time Goes By.” You can also visit Grammy Award-winner Reggie Lucas who produced Madonna’s debut album and wrote and produced songs for Roberta Flack, Stephanie Mills, the Four Tops and others. Conductor Vincent La Selva, a world-renowned symphony and opera conductor and founder of the New York Grand Opera, is there too as is Nobel Prize Winner John Raleigh Mott.
Now let’s turn to royalty – Leo the Lion, King of the Silver Screen. If you’ve ever seen that powerful lion roaring at the open of an MGM film, you’ve met Leo. You can meet him in person in Gillette. Leo was trained to roar on command by Hollywood’s top animal trainer of the day, Volney Phifer. Phifer left Hollywood in the 1930s and bought a farm in Gillette. Leo lived a long life, passing at 23 and had a simple grave because even then, Phifer was concerned about vandalism, but he now has a new marker. Also buried on the farm is Cheetah, the chimpanzee in the Tarzan movies.
And there are hundreds more famous and fascinating stones plus ornate mausoleums and memorials, meaning that we will be back again next year for another stroll. Explore, enjoy, reflect and remember.