Offending the Ghosts at Hollywood Forever Cemetery


So last weekend, I dragged my friend Elaine to the Save Pickfair Studios rally in West Hollywood. Because I have a thing for silent movies. I don’t know why, but I do. Maybe I’m fascinated by the lost worldness of them, the way they show a Los Angeles that no longer exists.

Or maybe I’m just strange.

Anyway, last weekend on the way to the rally, we passed Hollywood Forever Cemetery. I’d heard of it. I knew it was where Rudolph Valentino was buried. And maybe Marilyn Monroe too. But I figured Elaine would have had just about her fill of silent movies after hanging around the outside of Pickfair Studios for an hour or two. But she didn’t. In fact, going to the cemetery was her suggestion.

So we went.

We wandered around reading names for hours. Found Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks (Sr. and Jr.) and Toto too. No Marilyn though. Turns out she’s buried in Westwood. But it was all a matter of chance. If we stumbled across a name we recognized, we took a picture, but other than Mr. Valentino, we had no idea who we were really looking for.

So this weekend, we returned with a list of locations for people we’d missed the weekend before. It did not go well. Because cemeteries are not as well marked as you’d think. And the Hall of Memories is almost identical to the Abbey of Psalms which is almost identical to the Sanctuary of Trust. Instead of the peaceful reverent feeling I’d had the week before, it felt like I was participating in a morbid sort of scavenger hunt.

And I wasn’t winning.

Mildred Harris, Charlie Chaplin’s first wife, proved too elusive to find, although she was supposed to be right beside Seena Owen who we discovered even though we weren’t looking for her. So we trudged and trudged, looking for The Abbey of the Psalms Corridor G-1.

Instead we found Iron Eyes Cody. You may remember him as the Native American who cries at the sight of all the litter cluttering up America. Or you may not. Anyway, Elaine wanted to take a picture. The plaque on the wall vault says “Iron Eyes Cody/Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody.” Just as Elaine takes her photo, I laugh and say “Didn’t Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody have a name?”

And the big dome light above us goes out.

No, seriously. Just boop. Out. All the other lights in either direction are lit. The light above Elaine, Iron Eyes and I is out. Elaine and I look at each other, give a nervous laugh and say “Guess he didn’t like that.” Ha, ha, funny.

In a creepy cemetery sort of way.

So off we go to not find Marion Davies. We do find Charlie Chaplin’s mother Hannah and are able to track down Virginia Rappe not too much farther on.  As I’m taking my photo of Virginia Rappe’s grave, I am telling the story of her death in a joking sort of way. (For those who do not know, probably most of the planet, she may or may not have been raped by Fatty Arbuckle at a party in San Francisco. She died of internal injuries four days later. Fatty was tried three times for manslaughter, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. Most people think she actually died from an infection caused by a backstreet abortion performed the day before the party.) Elaine’s photo comes out crystal clear. My photo comes out…cloudy.

Elaine suggests that my lens is smudged. I wipe it off and take another picture. It also comes out very soft around the edges.

I turn to the left and take a photo of an egret wading in the lake. Clear. I take another photo of Virginia Rappe’s headstone. Not clear. I do the only thing I can think of. I apologize to her.

Virginia Rappe, not Elaine.

Because you shouldn’t really talk trash about someone while standing on their grave. It’s just a bad idea.


So we give up on finding Mel Blanc and head off for lunch at Canter’s Deli. And come out to find some poor guy being violently ill.

On the left rear tire of my car.

Which has no connection to anything involving the cemetery yet is darn odd and disconcerting anyway.

But everything is fine. Everyone gets home safely. Hours later, I’m bustling around the kitchen getting dinner ready. Well, really, reheating the previous night’s dinner for an encore appearance.  I’m in and out of the refrigerator about five times. The sixth time, a can of Barq’s root beer on the very top shelf leaps off the shelf and lands directly on my recently healed foot.

I was too astonished to even yell, although, yes, it did hurt quite a bit. But the sodas weren’t anywhere near the edge of the shelf. There was nothing to knock the soda off the shelf, barring an earthquake that I never felt.

My first thought was “Damn it, Virginia, I said I was sorry.” My second thought was “Oh, blog post.” But when I came in here to write it, my Wacom Tablet, which was working fine before dinner, was now unable to function. The computer told me it didn’t exist. After switching the tablet for a mouse, I was able to reboot and here I am writing.

Coincidences? Sure. I mean, anyone can have a day where a mausoleum light burns out over your head, your camera doesn’t want to take a certain picture, a guy vomits on your car, a soda can jumps out on your foot and your computer won’t work.

Who doesn’t?

But just in case, Virginia, Iron Eyes, and anyone else at Hollywood Forever Cemetery I may have accidentally offended, I promise never to do it again.


2 thoughts on “Offending the Ghosts at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

  1. Love this post, Robin.

    Back when i worked for that aluminum distributor in Gardena (remember all those phone calls from Fabio??) part of the territory I covered included Hollywood. When i did drive through that area I would frequently circle Paramount pining for that alternate reality where I was a high paid producer and one day decided to pull in to the Santa Monica entrance to the cemetary. This would have been 1990 so it was still called Hollywood Cemetary (or something like that… this is before it became Hollywood Forever).

    As I recall the cemetary then was beginning to fall into disrepair. I drove around and remember seeing Cecil B Demille and some other names that I recognized. But then i started getting creeped out. I mean really, really creeped out. I knew Valentino was in one of the mausoleums there and I fully intended to go see it – just to say I had – but I just got way too creeped out. And I hadn’t even got out of my car! (And oh yeah, I was really supposed to be out working but thats another story…). I remember there was a building down by a pond that I was working my way towards but there was someone standing out by there. Just standing. Not moving. The creepy feeling I had now morphed into a “GET OUT”. I thought to myself that Valentino could wait. So I drove out. As I left the grounds back onto a busy Santa Monica Blvd I felt an immediate relief. So very wierd that even surrounded by that mass of humanity that is LA there is a very surreal little section of creepiness.

    I have been to the Westwood cemetary – after all, I had to go see Donna Reed’s grave. Marilyn is there with lipstick smudges and who knows what else on her marker. I didn’t get the creeps there, though. Hollywood Cemetary though – that place was freaky. I’d love to go back again sometime though!

    I know what you mean about silent films and the LA that use to be. A lost world of Atlantis, indeed.

  2. Yeah, that place has a creepy little vibe going. It’s probably a lot nicer than when you saw it though. They are still working on part of it, but the section over by Valentino is really pretty now.

    Although the water in Douglas Fairbanks reflecting pool could use a boatload of chlorine. Just about anything could be breeding in there.

    When I got home, I did a little research and discovered that there are only two places in the cemetery that are officially considered haunted. Clifton Webb’s grave (which we saw, but we didn’t see him pacing the aisle as he is supposed to do) and VIRGINIA RAPPE’s grave. No, seriously. People hear her sobbing.

    As well as screwing up photographs.

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