A Momumental Birthday!
Question: “Hey Mom! What do you want for your birthday?”
Answer: “A trip to the cemetery.”
Real question and real answer, asked and responded to in anticipation of celebrating Mom’s 86th birthday.
I can hear you now—“What kind of birthday present is that? The cemetery?” Not that there haven’t been plenty of visits to Forest Lawn—my maternal grandparents, many aunts, uncles, and cousins are buried there, along with my dad, so the cemetery is a place with which we are very familiar. But this time she wasn’t talking about a family visit. For many years she has wanted to take the official, guided, get on the air conditioned bus, Sunday in the Cemetery Tour. Alrighty then.
Forest Lawn Cemetery and Crematory Buffalo, http://www.forest-lawn.com/ is legendary, historical, notable—in short it’s apparently a big deal in the cemetery world. So yesterday, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the last day of her three day birthday celebration, that is exactly what we did.
I remember visiting the cemetery on a school field trip (yes, really, 4th or 5th grade). Other than learning that Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States (because really, who remembers old Millard) and Red Jacket, the storied, peacemaking Seneca Indian Chief were buried there, I recalled nothing from that little jaunt. And I was all ready to be seriously bored on this return junket. Man, was I surprised!
It seems that Forest Lawn was the 3rd public cemetery in the US to be built as a non-town center, non-church proximate graveyard. It was modeled after the legendary Pere Lachais in Paris to be a celebration of not just lives, but also of nature and art. Sculpture, hills, lakes, streams, creeks, ducks, bunnies and birds are as much a part of the 289 acres as are the graves, crypts, and mausoleums. FL is the final resting place of an eclectic assortment of folks: Buffalo’s own Super Freak, Rick James, the woman responsible for both the Pledge of Allegiance being recited in schools and the institution of Flag Day, the founder of the world famous Pierce Arrow Automobile company, the Fargo half of the Wells Fargo guys –and who knew that Wells Fargo also started American Express? The first African American Congresswoman, Shirley Chisolm is spending eternity in one of the mausoleums—and FL was the first cemetery in the country to offer public above ground burial—before that the cost was prohibitive for regular folks because you had build your own little granite castle. FL is also the only place on the planet that has (or ever will have) a Frank Lloyd Wright designed memorial—the Blue Sky Mausoleum (http://www.blueskymausoleum.com/Pages/about.html). And I have to say I was pretty intrigued by the tomb for one of the titans of industry, who commissioned his grave marker to include statues of his grieving wife, daughter and his MISTRESS! I’m guessing they left flowers on different days or did they visit together and go out after to toast the old geezer? Definitely a story there.
The tour even has actors in period costume who “appear” at various spots on the trip, board the bus and tell their saga…like Irving Berlin’s wife, Dorothy Metz. She got sick on their honeymoon and died 5 months later. Her pseudo-shade shows up and sings “Always,” a song he wrote in memory of her.
Saving the most elaborate for last, just like on the tour, is the storied Blocher Memorial. http://www.keisterphoto.com/cemeteries/tom_blocher.htm built by parents consumed with grief and guilt after their only son died, apparently of a broken heart. The folks (Dad made a mint figuring out that mass manufactured shoes should have both left and right feet and come in different sizes—duh!) did not approve when he fell in love with the maid. They sent him on a trip, and got rid of her while he was gone. After he returned he pined away.
Obviously I had a ball on this little adventure, as did Mom. Afterward we went to out dinner again (Friday & Saturday night too!). Lobster, steak, family, wine, love and a cemetery—all in all, a pretty unique way to celebrate a birthday!