Cemeteries can be beautiful, historic, and filled with interesting people. On Halloween night or under a full moon they might be just a little bit spooky or awfully sinister, depending upon your tolerance. Regardless, my family loves them. For my daughter who relishes the macabre, there is always the hope and possibility of encountering a graveyard ghost. My husband and son are scholars of the past, and there is nothing quite so historic as a bunch of dead people. Me, I like the trees and the grass and the inscriptions.
A good boneyard has something for everybody (including some great Day of the Dead celebrations). While Los Angeles is a town where people come seeking eternal youth (or at least a botoxed rendition), nothing lasts forever. Nevertheless, our sundrenched landscape is not a bad place to spend eternity, and you may even find yourself alongside somebody quite famous in one of these LA final resting places.
1. Village Memorial Park – Westwood
1218 Glendon Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
I never pass by the movie theater that used to be the Avco on Wilshire Blvd. without thinking of Marilyn Monroe, because her final resting place is hidden behind it in a tiny cemetery that at this point has more celebrities than an evening at the Oscars. This one is cool because you don’t even know it’s there. It is somewhat lacking in tranquility, as there are several high rises crowded around.
2. Evergreen – Boyle Heights
204 N. Evergreen Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90033
There is show business, and then there are show people. In 1922, the Pacific Coast Showman’s Association established a “showmen’s rest.” Here, by a lion-topped granite marker, lie countless carnies, circus geeks, and sideshow performers. Our infamous local evangelist Amiee Semple MacPherson often performed their graveside rites. This town is known for its diversity, and Evergreen was the last stop for many African American residents. The Chinese, however, were excluded. Also here are members of the Chandler, Lankersheim, and Van Nuys families.
3. The Chinese Cemetery of Los Angeles
102 S. Eastern Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90022
Though banned from Evergreen’s cemetery, the Chinese were permitted to be buried in its potter’s field. But while that lowly last stop was free for Anglo-Saxon indigents, Chinese were charged $10. In 1922, therefore, The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association founded its own burial place for its citizens. There's not so much to see here, but plenty to talk about; and then you could head across the street to the Mercado for tacos and mariachis.
4. Oakwood Memorial Park - Chatsworth
22601 Lassen Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Nestled against the Santa Susanna Mountains, Oakwood is a particularly rustic place to spend eternity. Though never a couple in real life, apparently Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers didn’t want an inconvenience like death to break up their duo; they are both here - as is Gloria Grahame.
5. Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park - Calabasas
5068 N. Old Scandia Lane
Calabasas, CA 91372
Founded by a veterinarian to the stars, Dr. Eugene C. Jones, this cemetery was immortalized by Evelyn Waugh as “The Happier Hunting Ground” in his satire of the American Death Industry, The Loved One. Many celebrity pets are housed here: Topper Cassidy (Hopalong’s horse), Droopy Bogart, and Boots Chaplin to name a few. Those famous in their own right include MGM’s Lion, Leo.
6. Pet Haven - Gardena
18300 South Figureroa
Gardena, CA 90248
While most of us think of Halloween as the right holiday for perusing cemeteries, apparently this one is special at Christmas time. Pet owners bring trees and decorations, creating an enchanting effect.
7. Hillside Memorial - Culver City
6001 W. Centinela Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045
A Jewish cemetery, Hillside is also home to many celebrities. Its landmark is the Al Jolson mausoleum, designed by renowned local architect Paul Williams.
8. Hollywood Forever - Hollywood
6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
The residents of this one got lucky when they picked their final resting spot. This place is actually lively. Just because dead people live here doesn’t mean you can’t have rock concerts, broadcasts, and outdoor screenings - not to mention the huge annual Day of the Dead Celebration in November. There are many cool graves to visit, among them Rudolph Valentino, Mickey Rooney, and Gangster Bugsy Siegel.
9. Los Angeles National Cemetery - Westwood
950 South Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Surely this one catches the kids’ eyes when you’re driving by on Wilshire Blvd.. Dedicated in May of 1889, the cemetery is now closed for new burials. There are several soldiers from the Civil War here including more than 100 African American, Buffalo Soldiers. Wyatt Earp’s father is here, and notable, because it is no longer allowed, so are two dogs: Bonus, who lived as a pet in the soldiers' home that was once on the grounds and Blackout who served as a war dog in the Pacific.
10. Woodlawn - Santa Monica
1847 14th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404
A shout out to my daughter’s third grade teacher, Lorissa Boxer, who won “Teacher of the Year” from the Santa Monica Museum for creating an annual field trip to our local cemetery. The third graders walk over from Edison Language Academy each fall season. At Woodlawn, they look for important figures from our local history like Leo Carillo and Abbot Kinney, do math problems with the dates on gravestones, and try to replicate stained glass windows depicting regions of California in a coloring book. The cemetery also hosts a yearly Day of the Dead celebration, a Memorial Day Remembrance, and during the winter season anybody is welcome to stop by and remember a lost loved one on the Tree of Life.
Finally, if you're game for a haunting tour on Halloween, Long Beach Municipal Cemetery does a daytime tour every year (with the tag line "Every plot has a story") on Halloween, with historical reenactors poised by stones to tell their tales. It costs a few dollars, but it's definitely a different way to launch a day of spooky celebrations.