Archive for the ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery’ Category

Judy Garland: her death and afterlife

Friday, January 19th, 2018

On the morning of June 23, 1969, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times both declared the same event with the same headline: “Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead.”

The actress died in her London apartment early on Sunday morning, June 22, 1969. Mickey Deans, her husband of three months, found her body behind a locked bathroom door. When the police arrived, they viewed Garland’s body slumped on the toilet, with her head resting in her hands.

Judy Garland’s British death certificate (click on image to enlarge)

An autopsy revealed that the cause of her death was accidental barbiturate poisoning, “an incautious self-overdosage of sleeping pills,” said Coroner Gavin Thurston. “This is quite clearly an accidental circumstance to a person who was accustomed to taking barbiturates over a very long time. She took more barbiturates than she could tolerate.”

Back in the States, Garland’s daughter Liza, by her first husband Vincent Minnelli, was staying with friends in the Hamptons along with her husband, singer and songwriter, Peter Allen. Early that morning, Allen took a phone call from Liza’s secretary. When Allen woke Liza, she suspected bad news but thought there was something wrong with her father. Instead, he told her that her mother was dead.

Late Wednesday night, Garland’s body was returned to New York, with her husband, Mickey Deans, and the Rev. Peter Delany, who married the couple earlier that year, accompanying the body. In New York, when the plane arrived, Garland’s daughter, actress and singer Liza Minnelli, waited in a car in the parking lot of Kennedy Airport.

Minnelli released a statement: “I know my mother was a great star and a great talent, but I am not thinking about those things today. What I am thinking about is the woman, my mother, and what a lovely, vital, extraordinary woman she was. It is because of my memory of that woman that all my life I will be proud to say, ‘I am Judy Garland’s daughter.’”

The casket containing the body of Judy Garland is placed into a hearse at the airport after arriving from London.

A hearse took Garland’s body to Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Church on East Eighty-First Street and Madison Avenue. The following day, she would repose for public viewing in a glass-covered coffin; a private funeral service would be held that Friday.

On Thursday, June 26, lines of Garland’s fans began forming by the thousand’s at one o’clock in the morning, ten hours before the doors opened to the public. Many were openly weeping, waiting to say their last good-bye to their idol. At the appointed time, each one passed by her bier at the rate of 1,200 an hour. Outside, recordings of Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and other of her songs were played by an admirer on a battery-powered record play. “She’s found the rainbow now,” sobbed one twenty-year-old fan. “I hope she has got some peace.” By noon, police estimated that there were 5,000 mourners waiting on the block between Madison and Fifth Avenues, that were closed to traffic.

In the flower-filled chapel—decorated with yellow and white daisies and chrysanthemums—fans moved past the glass-topped, baby-blue casket containing Garland’s body. The front of the casket, which was low to the floor, was wisely covered with flower arrangements so that those paying their respects could not get close to her. Her dark hair was short, and she wore red-orange lipstick and black fake eye lashes were placed on her closed eyes. She reportedly was wearing her wedding dress; an ankle length beige or light taupe gown with long sleeves, high neck, and a belt of gold and pearls. On her feet were silver satin shoes with silver bows. An Episcopal missal was in her gloved hands; she wore her wedding ring.

Huge floral sprays from such show business celebrities as Irving Berlin, Dirk Bogarde, several of the Hollywood studios, and from the Palace Theater, surrounded the bier. A huge, colorful “Over the Rainbow” flower tribute from Frank Sinatra was arched behind Garland’s casket.

Mickey Deans and Judy Garland.

Garland’s burial was left up to Mickey Deans (her children “had no say in the matter”) who announced earlier that morning that his wife’s body would be interred at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, a small town approximately twenty-five miles north of New York City. “I didn’t want to bury her in Hollywood, to have people walking over her grave and pointing,” he told reporters. “She has given enough. Anyway, they didn’t care in Hollywood. She was just a property and they used her as such.”

However, Sid Luft, Garland’s third husband would rather that his ex-wife be buried in Los Angeles, feeling it was where she became a star. But Deans felt that she would have preferred a cemetery on the East Coast since she reportedly was never fond of California.

Fans of Judy Garland stand in line to view the singer’s body.

The following day, the hot and humid weather did not deter the estimated 1,300 to 1,500 fans from maintaining a fervent vigil. Over the course of the previous day, an estimated 20,000 people had paused to peer into the glass-covered casket of their idol. It was the largest funeral that Campbell’s had seen since the death of silent film idol Rudolph Valentino in 1926.

In the crowd, pop icon Andy Warhol tape recorded many of the fans conversations, and photographer Diane Arbus took pictures.

Joey Luft, Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft enter Frank E. Campbell’s to attend their mother’s funeral.

Among Garland’s show business friends and colleagues attending were: Ray Bolger, Lauren Bacall, Alan King, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Johnny Mercer, Paulo Wayne, Fred Ebb, Freddie Bartholomew, Otto Preminger and Spyros Skouras, Harold Arlen, Mickey Rooney, Mayor and Mrs. Lindsay, and Patricia Kennedy Lawford.

The Rev. Peter Delaney of Marylebone Church, London, who officiated at Garland’s marriage to Deans, conducted the twenty-minute Episcopal service, portions of which were heard through a loudspeaker provided by Campbell’s in an upstairs room. Jack French, Garland’s musical accompanist, began the funeral with an organ rendition of one of Garland’s favorite songs, “Here’s to Us,” from the Broadway production Little Me.

The service included one of Garland’s favorite Bible passages, I Corinthians 13, which begins: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

James Mason, Garland’s costar from A Star is Born, gave the eulogy. “Judy’s great gift,” Mason began, “was that she could wring tears out of hearts of rock. She gave so richly and so generously, that there was no currency in which to repay her.”

French ended the service playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which the congregation sang. Then, Garland’s coffin, under a blanket of yellow roses, was placed in a waiting hearse that headed a cortege of three limousines and a flower car. On Madison Avenue, where the crowd had surged through the barricades, a few Garland fans still gathered. Said one, “I have nothing else to do right now.”

Later, at Ferncliff Cemetery, several hundred-people waited as Garland’s casket was placed in a temporary crypt where it would remain until the elaborate tomb that Deans planned to build was completed. The crowd lingered about the crypt until finally, a policeman told them: “The funeral of Judy Garland is over. We would appreciate your leaving.”

That evening, many of the still emotional mourners who attended that day’s funeral, were reportedly drowning their sorrows across town at the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar. Since the Stonewall had no liquor license, it was basically a bottle club (a meeting place where customers are served drinks from their own liquor bottles) so customers had to sign-in, however, many used pseudonyms and “Judy Garland” was one of the most popular that evening.

According to legend, because of Garlands death and the funeral that day, many were still expressive about the diva’s passing. Even more so, when the New York police raided the bar at 1:20 a.m. the following morning; the patrons were ready for a fight. According to Sylvia Rivera, a seventeen-year-old drag queen who would become a well-known gay rights activist, there was a feeling in the air that something would happen that night: “I guess Judy Garland’s death just really helped us really hit the fan.”

The Stonewall Riots

What followed was a riot that became the flashpoint of the modern day gay liberation movement. Time magazine wrote: “The uprising was inspirited by a potent cocktail of pent-up rage (raids of gay bars were brutal and routine), overwrought emotions (hours earlier, thousands had wept at the funeral of Judy Garland) and drugs.”

However, years later some historians have contradicted that Garland’s death influenced the burgeoning gay rights movement, stating it was untrue. Some contend that most of those involved in the riots “were not the type to moon over Judy Garland records or attend her concerts at Carnegie Hall. They were more preoccupied with where they were going to sleep and where their next meal would come from.”

Nevertheless, Judy Garland’s connection to the Stonewall riots has persevered throughout gay history. It even inspired a play, Judy at the Stonewall Inn, where the ghost of Garland appears at the fabled Christopher Street bar as a sort of spiritual cheerleader. Even Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, is proud of the connection, saying that her mother was a “huge, huge advocate of human rights” and that she would have found the rioting appropriate.

In the meantime, at Ferncliff, Garland’s body was not yet at rest. The cemetery is the final resting place of many celebrities, including Jerome Kern, Basil Rathbone and Moss Hart. The wing that would contain Garland’s planned memorial was still being built, so until then, her body was placed in a temporary vault. Ferncliff’s manager had assured Mickey Deans that “Judy would be its greatest star.” However, to pay for the memorial, Deans needed to raise $37,500, hoping to get it from Garland’s family and friends. But by November 1970, he still had not raised the funds and Garland remained in a drawer with the nameplate: “Judy Garland DeVinko” (Mickey Deans real name).

Deans was desperate. The fact that Garland was still in a temporary crypt evidently bothered him. “It’s wrong. It’s very wrong,” he would say. He hoped to raise the money by writing a book about his time with Garland (the book’s advance would cover Garland’s burial and more), but unfortunately Deans was not a writer, so he approached author Anne Edwards, who was working on her first non-fiction book, a biography of Garland. Deans suggested that they collaborate; he was sure it would be a best-seller. Naturally, Edwards refused his request, believing that Deans had created these “appalling” circumstances that he was in, himself. “I did not hesitate in telling him that I would in no way consider collaborating with him on a book,” Edwards stated.

Meanwhile, Garland’s interment bill at Ferncliff was still outstanding—plus steep interest charges. At the time, Edwards was corresponding with crooner Frank Sinatra about his memories of Garland. In one letter, she mentioned the “state of affairs at Ferncliff” with Garland still reposing in storage.

Then, several weeks later, Ferncliff’s manager informed Edwards that Sinatra had paid Garland’s outstanding bill, and that “Mrs. DeVinko” would be given a proper burial. Within weeks, Garland was placed in a simple wall crypt on the second floor of the new wing of the mausoleum with the simple inscription: “Judy Garland 1922 – 1969.” At Sinatra’s request, Edwards did not disclose that information in her biography.

Judy Garland’s grave at Ferncliff Cemetery.

Over the years, more celebrities joined Garland at Ferncliff including television host, Ed Sullivan; diva, Joan Crawford (downstairs in the old wing of the same building as Garland), and composer Harold Arlen (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”), among others.

Fans visited, and floral tributes were left in front of her floor level, beige marble slab. Members of Garland’s three fan clubs made sure there were always flowers. One fan had mums and roses delivered to her crypt every month for more than two decades. In the mid-1990s, a Ferncliff employee said, “Judy is the most popular interment we have here. We used to keep track of how many people came to see Judy, but now that everyone knows were she is they head right to her by themselves. If they forget, they simply look for the crypt with all the flowers in front of it.”

Fast forward nearly forty-eight years to January 2017, when Garland’s family announced that the singer’s remains would be exhumed from Ferncliff and moved cross-country to a new crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. The family, who were now living in Southern California, had deliberated for several years about moving her and “wished to have their mother resting near them.” In addition, when Mickey Deans died in 2003, it became the family’s “opportunity to do what they feel their mother would have wanted in the first place—to be united with her family in Hollywood.”

Entrance to the Judy Garland Pavilion.

Hollywood Forever set aside a recently built, special wing of the Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum and renamed it the “Judy Garland Pavilion.” There is room for Garland’s family, including her children Liza, Lorna and brother Joey. Additionally, there are crypts and niches available for sale to any Judy Garland fan that might wish to be interred near their idol.

Ironically, she is not far from many that she knew in life. There’s her close friend, Mickey Rooney, and from The Wizard of Oz: director Victor Fleming, cinematographer Harold Rosson, and costume designer Adrian.

At Ferncliff Cemetery, the management wasn’t certain what would be done with Garland’s empty crypt: “We haven’t decided what to do yet, but we think because she’s been here so long, we will just leave it here and memorialize her.”

In Hollywood, a private memorial service was held by Garland’s family and friends at her new crypt on June 10, 2017, which would have been the actresses 95th birthday. In a statement released to The Associated Press, the family offered gratitude to their mother’s “millions of fans around the world for their constant love and support.”

On a personal note, throughout my childhood, there were three yearly events that I excitedly looked forward to: Christmas morning; the last day of school, and the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz.

Judy Garland has always been a favorite of mine. The first television showing of The Wizard of Oz on CBS was broadcast less than two months after I was born. Of course, I don’t remember it, but I do know that Oz was the first film that left an impression on me, and Judy Garland was the first “movie star” I recognized. And I never missed a yearly broadcast–much to the chagrin of my poor mother. She couldn’t understand why I had to watch it every year. “But you’ve seen it already, why do you want to see it again?” she would cry in frustration. She didn’t get it.

Yet, each year I could watch it–some years by myself, or some years with my parents. Especially when we got our first color television and Technicolor brought the Land of Oz to life. Even so, one of my favorite scenes was the twister. The special effects fascinated me then, and they still hold up today.

I was also very defensive of Dorothy/Judy and her Yellow Brick Road companions. One year, on the day following an Oz broadcast, I was riding the school bus home and a kid sitting across the aisle began talking shit about Dorothy/Judy–he called her fat, and laughed about it. I was so angry, I wanted to punch him in the nose, but I withheld my ire.

Dressing up as The Wizard of Oz characters. I am the Tin Man on the far right.

Judy followed me yearly into young adulthood when I moved to Pittsburgh to attend art school. There, I was drawn to a group who was of like mind about Oz and Judy Garland. For Halloween one year, we dressed up as Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch–I was the Tin Man, and since we were art students, we made our own costumes (except for the Lion who had to rent his). Also, if memory serves me, I believe that was the last year of the annual Oz showing. But fear not, it wasn’t long before videos and VCR’s entered the market so you could own a piece of Oz and watch it whenever you wanted.

Let me just state–even though it may sound like it–I’m not a rabid Judy Garland fan. I don’t collect Garland memorabilia, nor do I attend the many conventions that are held yearly. But she was my first exposure to entertainment, and to Hollywood; a love that has remained with me my entire life.

It was almost fifteen years ago that the first rumors circulated that Judy Garland might be moving to Hollywood Forever. I was thrilled. But evidently there was a breakdown in communication within the family, or there was some other reason that it didn’t happen. I don’t know. Then, last January, when it was announced that it was finally happening–Judy Garland was being reinterred at Hollywood Forever in a beautiful art deco-ish mausoleum that sort of reminded me of Oz; it made me think.

 

 

I already had a niche at Hollywood Forever, in the Cathedral Mausoleum not far from Rudolph Valentino that I had bought several years ago. So, after deep thought, and with many niche’s (and some crypts) available for purchase, I decided to move. My new final resting place is directly across from Judy Garland’s crypt. To me, it made sense since Judy was a part of my early life–now she will be a part of my eternity (hopefully not for a few decades, though).

Please follow and like us:

The tragic death of Virginia Richdale Kerrigan

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

From left: W. W. Kerrigan, W. W. Kerrigan Jr., Nina Kerrigan, J. Warren Kerrigan and Virginia Richdale Kerrigan

Virginia Richdale Kerrigan was the daughter of Nina Richdale and William Wallace Kerrigan, the twin brother of silent film actor, J Warren Kerrigan. In 1915, Kerrigan was general manager of Universal Studios, and also managed his brother’s career.

Virginia was born on November 15, 1915 on the Universal Studios lot — the first of three children to be born there shortly after the studio opened. The others were: the son of Charles Oelze (assistant to Kerrigan), and Wallace Stith (named in honor of Kerrigan), the son of William Stith, who worked in Universal’s technical department. All three babies were used in several early Universal scenarios. In particular, baby Virginia appeared in Good and Evil (1916) and Her Soul’s Song (1916).

Over the years, Kerrigan directed the careers of such stars as William S. Hart, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Valentino first met Kerrigan while working on the set of Delicious Little Devil (1919) with Mae Murray. At the time, Kerrigan was managing his brother’s career and soon did the same for Valentino. Over the coming months, Rudy became attached to little Virginia, spending many hours at her Ivar Avenue home (2050 Ivar Avenue). Later, even after his success, Valentino continued to visit Virginia, taking her for rides in his car through the streets of the Hollywood Hills.

The death certificate of Virginia Richdale Kerrigan (click on image to enlarge)

On the day after Christmas 1924, Virginia and her family were attending a party at a neighbors house at 2006 Ivar Avenue. There was a nip in the air that day, and an open gas heater was lit to take off the chill. Virginia had received a new dress as a present the previous day, and was modeling it for the party goers. Shortly before noon, as she laughed and twirled around the room, the hem of her dress brushed over the heater and ignited. The flames spread rapidly to the upper part of her clothing and to her hair. Before the others could extinguish the flames, Virginia was badly burned about the arms, body, and head.

The Hollywood police rushed the injured girl to the Stadfield Hospital on Sunset Boulevard where she was treated before being transferred to the Hollywood Community Hospital at 1300 Vermont Avenue. Virginia lingered for nearly thirty-six hours before succumbing to her injuries at 10:30 p.m., Saturday night, December 27, 1924.

The home of actor J. Warren Kerrigan where the funeral for his niece Virginia was held.

The funeral was held at 2307 Cahuenga Blvd, the home of Virginia’s uncle, actor J. Warren Kerrigan. Afterward, Virginia was interred at Hollywood Cemetery in crypt 1399 of the Cathedral Mausoleum, across from her grandmother, Sarah McLean Kerrigan, who passed away two years earlier.

According to Virginia’s brother, Patrick O. Kerrigan (who was born a few years after Virginia’s death), Rudolph Valentino, who had a profound love of children, was devastated by her death and would often leave flowers at her crypt. In less than two years, Valentino would be interred in the same building, only two corridors away from Virginia.

Please follow and like us:

The Haunted Cemetery

Monday, October 30th, 2017

If you want to hear weird tales of something awful, things that will make the very marrow chill in your bones and that will cause the shivers to creep up your spinal column as you look fearful over your shoulder to see, you know not what, then go out to the foothills of Hollywood and talk with the old timers who live about the neighborhood of Primrose and Vista Del Mar where the Krotona Theosophical colony once practiced their religion. For the uneducated, Theosophy is a “collection of mystical and occultist philosophies concerning, or seeking direct knowledge of the presumed mysteries of life and nature, particularly of the nature of divinity and the origin and purpose of the universe.”

A leader of this institution, Ernest A. Sydow, was styled in the annals of his faith as a “pioneer of the colony,” a title well earned. In the fall of 1922, Sydow was on an evangelical mission in Northern California when he died and was buried at Vallejo, the scene of his last labors. But after a few years, the Krotona colony asked that his body be exhumed and brought back to Hollywood, his first love.

This was done, and the occasion of the return and reburial was made memorable by a series of phenomena which it is possible may be explained by natural causes, but which have not yet been so explained. This may be due to the unscientific character of the investigators at the colony, inclined by the nature of their calling to believe in a supernatural intervention where a scientist would see only the workings of a mundane force or the misinterpretation of sights and sounds. But I will relate the tale as a respected Hollywood centenarian told it, and the reader can draw their own conclusion.

After its arrival, the casket containing the body of Mr. Sydow lay for a time in the offices of Hollywood Cemetery, at its eastern entrance, and watchers sat with it. On the night before the reburial, the watchers were Jeremiah Altman, a member of the Krotona colony and Harry Westfield, an employee of the cemetery. Along in the hours near morning, Altman stepped out for a breath of fresh air, but in a moment, came rushing back with the exclamation: “Westfield, Westfield, the cemetery grounds are full of ghosts.”

Both men went out. In every direction through the tombstones they saw figures darting hither and thither in a wild and fitful dance. The men approached, but the figures drew back before them, forming to the left and right of them, and it was impossible to get within close range.

In the morning, when the casket was lifted, the floor beneath was found to be blackened by fire, and a hole was burned clear through to the stone foundation. How did this happen? No one has ever tried to offer a speculation.

This was not the end. That night, several members of the Krotona faculty sat in the cemetery’s office with manager Theodor Piltz discussing the strange events that perplexed them. Suddenly, their discussions were abruptly terminated by a startling and tremendous racket just outside the door, a clattering and whacking that was deafening. Piltz threw open the office door. Not a soul was outside the building. He returned to his office, but hardly had he sat down when the noises began again. Again, a sudden dash outside failed to reveal any one. Nor did a search of the building reveal any intruders. A third time the noises began, and this time Piltz spoke outside to the cemetery grounds: “If you are gentlemen, be still.” The noise stopped.

Coming at another time, all this might not have occasioned any mystification, but in conjunction with the other strange and unexplained happenings, it assumed an importance it would not have assumed alone.

After the reburial of Ernest Sydow, a photograph was taken of the cemetery. One of the cemetery staff was the photographer. In the foreground of the picture can be seen two graves, just as they appear in the cemetery. But at the foot of each grave stands something no visitor has ever seen, and for the peace of his mind it is to be hoped never will see. At the foot of one grave stood Buren Pratt, a well-known Hollywood practitioner of the mystical arts, dressed in his psychic garments. At the foot of the other grave stood the counterfeit presentment of its occupant, Charlotta Sweetwood, a woman who in life was a benefactor of the psychic.

When these startling things appeared at the time the photograph was developed, the cemetery management decided that possibly some well-timed conjunction of sunlight and foliage was the cause of the images; that they had no real existence—were only shadows. So, they had the picture thrown on a screen by stereopticon. But the figures came out more plainly—so plainly that there was no denying that they were the well-remembered features of Pratt and his benefactress, Charlotta.

The possibilities of photography were not so well known then as now. The superimposing of one negative upon another and the resulting “ghost photographs” that have been the stock in trade of so many imposters was an art not well known then. Still, there were those who suspected the photographer of a trick and charged him with it. He denied the charge and offered this unassailable plea of innocence: Because he was a man of unscrupulous character, there was no such thing as a photograph of Buren Pratt in existence and nobody had ever heard of one.

What of these ghosts? What explanation can be offered? The writer confesses he is unconvinced. Yet he has personal acquaintance with persons who claim to have seen them, with clergymen on the one hand, with university-bred agnostics on the other. So, there you are, and from the evidence presented can render your own verdict.

 

Dear readers, please note that this is a story of fiction to celebrate the Halloween holiday. Names, characters, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 

Please follow and like us:

Dia de Los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

THROUGHOUT THE CEMETERY GROUNDS

Saturday, October 28, 2017

NOON — MIDNIGHT

There is going to be a caravan taking place afterward with the elektroroller scooters, so bring your scooter and your mask.

Tickets are $20 at hollywoodforever.ticketfly.com
MORE INFO : ladayofthedead.com

Please follow and like us:

Louise Emmons: unique, mysterious and unforgettable

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

For Halloween month, we showcase Louise Emmons, an unknown actress today, except for truly hardcore students of film. Her unusual looks have caused many film-goers to squirm in their seats from her silent film roles to her last appearance in Tod Browning’s horror classic, Mark of the Vampire (1935).

Louise Emmons began her career late, at age 56, yet she worked steadily for the next twenty years in small and extra roles. A woman of mystery and misperception, nothing is known of her early life and there is little written about her film career. There are no interviews that would give a hint about the woman who was described as having “the kind of face that could stop a clock.” Yet, Emmons has endeared herself to fans by her distinctive look and moving performances.

First, to refute some of the erroneous information about her: She was not born in Germany, or during any of the birth years attributed to her. Regrettably, the month and date of her birth is still a mystery. In some cases, Emmons herself is the source of the incorrect facts. What follows is only a hint of this enigmatic actress’s early life:

Louise Emmons was born with the unusual first name, Louie—Louie A. Adkison–sometime in 1858, and most likely at, or near, Camptonville, Yuba County, California. She was the middle child of D. O. (David Oliver) Adkison (at the time a miner), and his second wife Mary A. Johnson.

Juliet J. Adkison, the older sister of Louise Emmons, died at age ten. Is there a family resemblance? (Findagrave)

After spending a brief time in Sonoma County, the family moved again to Virginia City, Nevada, where she spent her childhood and most of her early adult years. Louie, or Lucy as she was called as a young girl, had two siblings: an older sister Juliet (1856-1866), who died at the age of ten from typhoid, and a younger brother Oliver Charles (1860-1861), who was not yet one-year-old when he passed from infant fever. Both are buried in Virginia City’s Silver Terrace Cemeteries.

Throughout her childhood in Virginia City, Lucy lived downtown on South C Street and outside the town limits on Geiger Grade Road. Her father, originally from Indiana, was a well-respected man of multiple talents. During his time in Nevada, Adkison served as the Speaker of the Nevada Assembly; a justice of the peace; Virginia City’s postmaster, and as a judge.

When Lucy was twelve (1870), she attended the Young Ladies Seminary in Benicia, California. There she developed her artistic talents and by 1881 (she now went by the name Lou), she prophesied that she would “become famous as a landscape artist.” However, her local “fame” and talent developed more as a portrait painter. In fact, a journalist for the Reno Gazette boasted that the likeness of local businessman J. J. Becker, “painted by Miss Lou Adkinson [sic] of Virginia City, is by far the best oil painted likeness this reporter has ever seen by a Nevada artist, and compares favorably with those having national reputations as portrait painters.” Indeed, her talent was so celebrated that the following year, in September 1882, Lou had an exhibition of her work at Reno’s Pavilion during Fair Week.

After the deaths of both her parents in 1887, Lou moved to San Francisco where she continued to make her living as a portrait artist. Because of her unusual first name, she was known professionally as Miss Louie A. Adkison or Miss L. A. Adkison (sometimes misspelled, or perhaps purposely, as Adkinson).

Around 1903, Lou lived briefly in Santa Barbara. There she met her future husband, Roswell G. Emmons, a machinist who was thirteen years her junior. They married on April 24, 1904. Not long afterward, the couple move to Los Angeles where she continued with her painting. Within two years, they had a son, Marion.

From the 1910 census. Emmons gives her age as 37 but she was actually 52-years-old. They were living at 1021 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. (click on image to enlarge)

1920 census. Louise (as Lewis) is widowed and living with her son at 1625 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles (click on image to enlarge)

Confusion about her age and name probably got their start from the 1910 census; even though she was in fact 52-years-old, she gave her age to the census enumerator as 37 (making her two years younger than her husband), and her name as Louis (her profession was still artist/painter). In the same census, and in other records, Roswell is credited as a ‘photographer for motion pictures,’ possibly for shorts where he would receive no credit. Yet, it’s likely that it was through his efforts that his 56-year-old wife first entered motion pictures in 1914; her first billing was as Mrs. Emmons, then Mrs. Louise A. Emmons, Mrs. L. A. Emmons and finally—when she was credited—simply, Louise Emmons.

Over the next two decades, classic movie fans would get glimpses of her in small roles, many times uncredited, in such films as Judith of Bethulia (1914), and three Rudolph Valentino films: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Conquering Power (1922) and Blood and Sand (1922). In addition, she appeared in von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (1922), Rex Ingram’s Scaramouche (1923), DeMille’s King of Kings (1927), and more, for a total of seventy-four films. Her unique look often typecast her in mostly offensive sounding roles such as Hag, Smiling Hag, Old Hag, Crackling Hag, Gypsy Hag, and many variations of Gypsy and Old Woman. Still, she kept busy appearing in multiple films each year until her death.

Death certificate of Emmons’ husband, Roswell. (click image to enlarge)

On November 22, 1919, Roswell Emmons died from heart problems; he was buried in the Masonic section of Glendale’s Forest Lawn Cemetery. However, to further confuse matters, on his death certificate, while Louise is the informant (as Lewis A. Emmons), she states that Roswell’s wife is Laura A. Emmons. And again, just several months later for the 1920 census, she has herself listed again as Lewis Emmons. For the remainder of her life, she would refer to herself legally as Lewis or Louis Emmons.

Another mystery concerns her son Marion. He was reportedly born in 1906 in California, yet there is no record of his birth under that name. Considering that Louise would have been 48-years-old at the time, it’s possible that he was adopted. At any rate, other than the 1910 and 1920 censuses, there are no official records of Marion P. Emmons to be found—he has simply vanished.

By 1935, Louise and her many aliases was living at 5738 Waring Avenue in Hollywood. On March 6, she died from heart disease and pneumonia at nearby Hollywood Hospital. She was either 76 or 77 years old. Her death certificate is under the name Louis Emmons; information given by her informant Ralph Burbank, an electrician at one of the studios. However, he didn’t know her birthday, but approximated her age at 73.

Louise Emmons’ death certificate. Her mother is listed as Juliet Johnson, however, she was her maternal grandmother. Her mother was Mary Johnson. (click on image to enlarge)

Louise Emmons was buried at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) in a grave paid for by the Actor’s Fund. Why she didn’t join her husband at Forest Lawn is not known. For the next 79 years, Emmons gravesite remained unmarked and as mysterious as her life. That is, until March 23, 2014, when through the efforts of a dedicated group of fans (Lon Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake, animator Jenny Lerew, and Mike Hawks of Larry Edmunds Bookshop), her grave was finally given a marker and can now be visited by a new group of devotees.

The grave marker of Louise Emmons after being unmarked for 79 years. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Section 2W, #99, east of the peacock cages. (click on image to enlarge)

 

(NOTE: Information for this story was pieced together through census reports, newspaper articles, family trees and death records.)

 

Please follow and like us:

James Waller Somers: “He knew Lincoln…”

Friday, September 15th, 2017

It’s surprising how many Hollywood Forever Cemetery residents have a unique connection to Abraham Lincoln. There is Senator Cornelius Cole, a close friend who visited Lincoln on the day of his assassination. And Joseph Hazelton, who as a boy, was present at Ford’s Theatre on that night. Now we profile James Waller Somers, who knew Lincoln in his boyhood in Urbana, Illinois, and continued that friendship into adulthood.

James Waller Somers, the son of Dr. Winston and Mary (Haines) Somers, was born at Mt. Airy, North Carolina, on January 18, 1833. His father was a physician, and in 1843, moved his family to Urbana, Illinois. Somers became friends with Abraham Lincoln while in Urbana, one of the towns of the Eighth Judicial Circuit where Lincoln once practiced law.

“My recollections of Lincoln,” Somers said, “date back to 1843 or 1844, when as a boy ten years old, I arrived in Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois, with my father’s family from North Carolina. Urbana was then a mere village, containing a population of perhaps 150 persons. The Courthouse was a double, one-story frame structure, unpainted, and of primitive architecture. It was in the center of the village, surrounded by about an acre of ground enclosed. It was in this court yard I remember first seeing Mr. Lincoln. He was tall and ungainly but of very striking appearance.

“It was court week, and he was striding across the yard toward the Courthouse, in that peculiar manner characteristic of him, a sort of meditative shambling gait, head drooped forward and his hands behind him. He was lank and angular, with a massive head, covered with a short, stubby, dark-brown hair, brushed up in front, without any pretense of parting in the middle or anywhere else. He had a high forehead, thick lips, cheek bones of an Indian-like prominence, and a wart on the side of his face near his large nose, which was eliminated from his later photographs by the retoucher’s brush. His face was smooth shaven. His ears, hands and feet were abnormally large and his arms unusually long.”

At the age of 21, Somers studied law in the office of his uncle, William D. Somers, with whom he became a law partner after being admitted to the bar in 1856.

“When I was studying law with my uncle, Judge Somers, Mr. Lincoln frequently came into our little one-story office, near the hotel, to swap stories with ‘Uncle William,’ who was himself a good story-teller, though Lincoln far surpassed him as he did everyone one else. He used to sit on a rush bottomed chair with his feet on the rung, telling stories, hour after hour. He frequently laughed more heartily than anyone else, but the laughter was neither boisterous nor vulgar. His whole body swayed with merriment, wholesome and infectious, and his eyes would sparkle with amusement, while he ran his fingers through his close cropped hair, always standing on end.”

Originally a Whig, Somers helped to organize the state Republican Party and actively campaigned for Lincoln in 1858 and 1860. Henry Clay Whitney called Somers “the promising orator of our Circuit of the young men.”

By 1860, Somers had developed serious hearing problems which made the practice of law difficult. He wrote to Lincoln seeking advice on his future career. Lincoln responded on March 17, 1860, recommending that he resettle in Chicago where Whitney had offered him a partnership. Lincoln closed saying that his advice was given, “with the deepest interest for your welfare.” A week later Lincoln wrote a recommendation:

“My young friend James W. Somers I have known from boyhood and I can truly say that in my opinion he’s entirely faithful and fully competent to the performance of any business he will undertake.”

In 1861, President Lincoln appointed Somers to a position in the Department of the Interior, which led to a distinguished career of 25 years of public service in Washington.

During the Civil War, Somers received news that two of his nephews, both minors, had been forced to join the Confederate Army in North Carolina and were captured as prisoners of war in Elmira, New York. Somers asked Lincoln to have them released and sent to Urbana, with the assurance that they would not take an active part in the war.

“I was cordially received at the White House,” Somers said, “in his old familiar way. After talking a few moments on home affairs I stated my errand and he at once wrote an order to Adjt.-Gen. Fry of the War Department, directing the release of the young men and upon their taking the oath of allegiance to send them to their uncle in Urbana. In a few days my cousins were on their way West and did not again take up arms against the North.”

When Somers retired from the Department of the Interior in 1895, he moved to San Diego where his brother resided. In 1903, he moved to Hollywood to live with his niece, Mrs. H. G. (May) Condee at her home on what is now Cherokee Avenue. The library was adorned with some of Somers valuable collection, which included various portraits, busts and autographed letters from Lincoln.

On June 6, 1904, at 7:25 pm, Somers was returning from the post office and was crossing Hollywood Boulevard at Whitley Avenue when he was struck and killed by an electric cable car. At that intersection there was a strong arc light, and it was supposed that Somers confused it with the headlight of the electric car and, not being able to hear the warning bell, crossed the track just as the car came upon him.

J. W. Somers funeral was held at the home of his niece and interment was at Hollywood Cemetery.

The grave of James Waller Somers at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It is located in Chandler Gardens (Section 12), just a short distance behind the J. Ross Clark family mausoleum.

Please follow and like us:

Rudolph Valentino: an alternate ending

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

UPDATE: If you can’t attend tomorrow’s Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service at 12:10 pm (PST) at Hollywood Forever’s Cathedral Mausoleum, the committee has authorized for the first time, a live streaming broadcast via Facebook on the Group, We Never Forget Rudolph Valentino. Join in and enjoy!

 

What if Natacha Rambova had still been married to Rudolph Valentino at the time of his death? Where might he be interred today?

When silent film star, Rudolph Valentino died prematurely at the age of 31 in 1926, chaos ensued. From the moment his death was announced at New York’s Polyclinic Hospital, until he was laid to rest in Hollywood, riots, rumors and unrest followed the actors body.

And not unlike the circumstances regarding the death and burial of pop super-star, Michael Jackson, there were questions and disagreements over where the body of Rudolph Valentino would rest.

As Valentino lay dying at Polyclinic hospital, his brother Alberto was anxiously making his way from Italy and found out about his brother’s death when he arrived at the Paris train station. Later that day, Alberto released a statement affirming that Valentino would be buried in America.

“This is what he would have desired,” Alberto said. “He so loved America that I am sure he wanted to be buried there – rather, even, than beside our father and mother in Italy. He loved Italy, but he loved the country of his adoption and his success more.”

However, two days later, Alberto altered his decision, stating that he needed to discuss the matter with his sister Maria and Rudy’s American friends. Until then, no decision would be made.

Surprised by this turn of events, many wondered where Valentino would be interred. Rudy’s sister, Maria, told reporters by telephone from her home in Turin that she wished for her brother to be buried in Castellaneta (Valentino’s birthplace). “It is my desire that Rudolph be buried in Italy,” she said, “and I hope that my brother Alberto, now en route to New York, will agree to this.” Citizens of Valentino’s home town agreed and started making plans to welcome the body of their fellow townsman. A committee was organized to collect funds to erect a stately tomb in the town’s cemetery.

Valentino’s manager, George Ullman, still hoped to take his friend’s body back to Hollywood. “I think he belongs there and hope to so persuade his brother,” he said. Pola Negri (Valentino’s alleged fiancé) agreed, telling reporters that she too hoped Alberto would bring Rudy’s body back to the city where the actor had his greatest success. “Because he spent so many happy hours – his happiest hours – here, and because I am here,” she said. “I want him buried in Hollywood. But if his brother should wish him buried in Italy, to lie beside his father and mother – that is different. I can understand that.”

Valentino’s first wife, Jean Acker, sided with the Italian delegation. “I think he would prefer to lie by the side of his mother and father in Italy,” she said. “But I have no say in it. Who am I to say anything?”

Meanwhile, a contingent of Hollywood producers, directors, and actors cabled Alberto, urging that Valentino be buried in Los Angeles. “We, of the Hollywood motion picture colony, who knew, worked with and loved Rudolph Valentino, urge you to order that his mortal remains be allowed to rest forever here, where his friendships were formed and where he made his home,” they wrote. It was signed by thirty-eight Hollywood personalities, including Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Antonio Moreno, Ramon Novarro, Norman Kerry and Louis B. Mayer.

Alberto was very appreciative of the honor and interest that Rudy’s friends bestowed upon his brother, but hoped they would not insist on an immediate decision. “I have communicated with my sister in Turin,” he responded by cable. “There are many factors that must be taken into consideration. I cannot reach a decision until I reach New York.”

Being Valentino’s next of kin, the decision was left to Alberto, and as everyone now knows, that decision was for Hollywood Cemetery where Valentino still rests to this day. However, what if Valentino had still been married to Natacha Rambova at the time of his death? The decision would have been hers. If so, where would his remains be now?

Rudy, Winifred Hudnut, Natacha, Richard Hudnut

At the time of his death, Natacha was in France with her family. The only hint of what her plans would have been if history had been different was a brief cable she sent to Ullman during the fight over where Rudy’s body would lie.

“Unless otherwise directed by Rudolph, we prefer cremation; ashes to be placed in temporary security,” she wrote. “Later could go to my plot in Woodlawn.”

Woodlawn Cemetery is in the Bronx section of New York where many of the city’s historical figures are buried. Silent film actress Olive Thomas was interred there by her husband Jack Pickford just six years earlier.

The huge family plot of Richard Hudnut at Woodlawn Cemetery where only he and his two wives are interred. Who else could he have been expecting? Natacha had her ashes scattered.

Natacha’s step-father, Richard Hudnut, the famed perfume manufacturer, had a huge family plot at Woodlawn, where his first wife Evelyn was buried in 1919 and where he and his second wife Winifred (Natacha’s mother) were later buried.

Ullman, of course, did not take Natacha’s offer seriously. First, he insisted that cremation was impossible since the Catholic Church did not allow it, and Rudy, who had drifted away from his childhood faith, had returned to it on his deathbed. Ullman recalled that several years earlier they had discussed cremation, and Rudy had said, “Well, when I die I’d like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered to the winds.” Ullman insisted that Rudy was joking.

However, to continue with our speculation, had the couple still been married, the chances are that Valentino would have been buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Hudnut family plot. Now the only question would be if the yearly memorial services that have taken place since the actor’s death would become a ritual at Woodlawn, or would his memory have faded as so many silent film stars of the day have?

 

 

 

In any event, the 90th Annual Rudolph Valentino Memorial Service will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, August 23, 2017, at 12:10 pm, in the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where the actors body still resides. The public is welcome.

 

 

Please follow and like us:

The story of Rudolph Valentino’s borrowed grave

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

 

 

Once the late silent film star Rudolph Valentino had been interred and the obsequies completed, the thought of how the actor would be remembered was foremost in everyone’s mind. The city of Chicago, home of the infamous “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial, formed the Rudolph Valentino Memorial Association in the hopes of erecting a remembrance of some kind. The Arts Association of Hollywood proposed a monument that would be the forerunner of a series of memorials to pioneers of the film industry. A committee of local Italians, which included director Robert Vignola, Silvano Balboni, and his wife, screenwriter June Mathis, suggested the construction of an Italian park on Hollywood Boulevard with a memorial theater and a large statue of Valentino as its central feature. Despite those grandiose projects, no memorials materialized—and it slowly became apparent that the same would happen with Valentino’s final resting place.

Valentino and his manager, George Ullman

After Valentino’s death, a decision could not be made as to where the actor’s body would finally rest. George Ullman, Valentino’s manager, was confident that Alberto, the actor’s brother and the person who would have the final say, would consent to interring the body in Hollywood. The Mayor of Castellaneta, Valentino’s birthplace, cabled Alberto imploring him to have the actor’s body returned there for burial with ceremony. Valentino’s sister Maria, who at first wanted her brother brought back to Italy, later concurred with the Hollywood delegation, thanks in part to the suggestion of William Randolph Hearst. To solve the problem—at least temporarily—June Mathis offered her own crypt at Hollywood Cemetery’s Cathedral Mausoleum until an appropriate memorial could be decided upon or built.

A movement was started for the erection of a worthy memorial that women admirers wanted to be “everlasting.” Ullman and Joseph Schenck, head of United Artists and Valentino’s boss, formed a committee called the Valentino Memorial Fund with other producers, Carl Laemmle, M.C. Levee and John W. Considine Jr. Appeals were made to the public to donate one dollar each; memorial societies were organized in New York and Chicago, and were expected to extend to other cities around the world. Ullman sent out one-thousand letters to members of the film colony in which he expressed his feelings that the “success of the memorial will be a tribute not only to Rudolph Valentino, but to the motion picture industry, as a whole.”

The outlook appeared to be a success. Letters deploring the death of Valentino poured in by the thousands. Certain that sufficient contributions would be forthcoming, the committee authorized architects to submit designs for a mausoleum, with an estimated cost placed at $10,000.

However, the public response was not what they anticipated. A check for $500 came from an English noble woman. Other checks for $100 came from actors Ernest Torrence and William S. Hart. From the one-thousand letters that Ullman sent, fewer than a half-dozen replies were received. The committee collected approximately $2,500, half of which came from America; the major donations came from England, Germany, Italy, India, and South America.

Valentino and June Mathis

In the meantime, June Mathis died in New York (less than a year later). When Valentino’s body was placed in her crypt, Mathis had said, “You many sleep here Rudy, until I die.” Now that time had come; a decision had to be made about what to do with Valentino’s remains. As a good-will gesture, Silvano Balboni offered to have Valentino’s casket moved to his crypt next to Mathis’ until the Valentino estate ironed out its problems. On August 8, 1927, cemetery workers entered the Cathedral Mausoleum and, what proved to be one last time, moved Valentino’s remains to the adjoining crypt, number 1205.

Artist’s conception of the planned tomb for Rudolph Valentino at Hollywood Cemetery.

 

Artist’s conception of the front and overview of Valentino’s planned memorial.

While public memorials were still being considered, Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb. Photoplay magazine published plans for a proposed tomb by architect Matlock Price in the November 1926 issue. The design incorporated an exedra, a half-circle of columns standing serene and dignified against a dark background and curving towards the observer. Within that half-circle, a “heroic” bronze figure of Valentino as the Sheik, seated on an Arabian horse, towered above the onlooker. Following the curve of the exedra, a broad bench sat under two pergolas running across the ends of the terrace, which was paved with red Spanish tile.

These plans also went nowhere, and a permanent mausoleum for Valentino never materialized. Ullman hoped that the City of Los Angeles would provide the plot for a grave at Hollywood Cemetery and the $2,500 that was collected could be used for a bust of the actor to rest on a granite stand.

The statue “Aspiration,” dedicated to Valentino’s memory, shortly after it was dedicated. It still stands today in De Longpre Park.

Instead, in May 1930, a memorial to Valentino was finally erected, not at Hollywood Cemetery, but in De Longpre Park in central Hollywood; the only one of its kind dedicated to an actor in the film capitol.

Ironically, fans still flocked to his crypt (reportedly, Valentino is still one of the most visited grace sites today). But not always reverently. Once, a marble pedestal that stood before his crypt was overturned and broken to bits. Some of the pieces were carried away by souvenir hunters. Tourists would come, gaze at Valentino’s marker, then break flowers from the baskets and hide them in their clothing, as keepsakes.

Some attempts to remember Valentino have been positive. In London, a roof garden at the Italian Hospital was opened and dedicated to Valentino. Paid for by British money, it was the first attempt to perpetrate Valentino’s memory.

Finally, in April 1934, after Valentino’s body lay in a borrowed tomb for almost eight years, Silvano Balboni sold the crypt to Alberto. Balboni returned to Italy and never returned to the United States; Valentino now had his own resting place.

An early memorial to Valentino at his gravesite.

One wonder’s why the funds for the hoped-for resting place did not happen after Valentino’s death. The actor’s estate at the time could not cover the cost; it would not be fluid for several years. But certainly, his fellow actors who called him “friend,” could have pooled their money, or, any one of them could have paid the cost on their own. It was a mystery then and remains so today.

Nevertheless, every year on August 23rd at 12:10 p.m. (the time that Valentino died in New York), scores of fans gather near his crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to remember the man. Regardless of the circus atmosphere that once prevailed at these events during the past ninety years, whether it be reports of the actor’s ghost or the appearance of mysterious, dark-veiled women, it is hoped that somehow the spirit of Rudolph Valentino, the “Great Lover,” now rests in peace.

If you are in the Los Angeles-Hollywood area on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, drop by the Rudolph Valentino Memorial at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The service is held at the Cathedral Mausoleum and begins at 12:10 p.m.; the time of Valentino’s death in New York. Arrive early as seats go quickly. See you there.

Please follow and like us:

Eugene Plummer, the Last of the Dons

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Eugene Rafael Plummer (Los Angeles Public Library)

By Allan R. Ellenberger

He was straight of stature, succinct of speech, and as well-versed in nature as he was in the old days when Hollywood was not yet a dream and Los Angeles was a dusty pueblo.  Eugene Rafael Plummer, the man for whom Plummer Park in West Hollywood was named, was born in San Francisco on January 8, 1852. His father, John Cornelius Plummer  was a Canadian sea captain and his mother, Maria, was half Spanish and half Irish, a mixture which gave the younger Plummer the fire and romance of old Spain and the devil-may-care temperament of the Irish.

When Eugene was 16, Captain Plummer moved his family to Los Angeles where he homesteaded 160 acres of land where the Ambassador Hotel stood. He later acquired property which is now bounded by Wilshire and Beverly Boulevards, and La Brea Avenue and Vine Street.

In 1828, the land that now encompasses Plummer Park was a part of the 4,439 acre Rancho La Brea, granted by Governor Echandia to Antonio Rocha. After several selling’s, the property was sold to Major Hancock in 1865 for $2.50 an acre. In 1874, Plummer acquired the official title to the Plummer Rancho comprising 160-acres between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards and La Brea and Gardner Avenues.

That same year, on the three acres of land that eventually became Plummer Park, Captain Plummer’s sons, Juan (John) and Eugene built their home, a typical ranch house.

Plummer House, the home of Eugene Plummer that stood in Plummer Park for over 100 years. (Los Angeles Public Library)

In the early days Plummer’s home was the only habitation from Hollywood to the Plaza district and rattlesnakes, cactus and bandits were his only companions. Later, his home was the headquarters for the Vaquero Club, a group of adventurous horse riders.

In 1881, Plummer married Maria Amparo La Moraux and the couple had a daughter that they named Frances. As a court reporter for 25 years, she would befriend the pueblo’s Mexicans and act as their interpreter in court cases.

As early as 1922, the acreage was unofficially called Plummer Park. Six years later, options were offered by a committee of prominent bankers and businessmen to make it official. Plummer hoped to make around $25,000 from the deal but nothing ever came of it. In 1925, his wife Maria died and was interred at Hollywood Cemetery next to his father John.

By this time, Eugene Plummer was Hollywood’s oldest resident, and his homestead became its oldest residence. Each year, he would host the old-timers picnic which was open to as many of Hollywood’s original residents that were still living.

Gradually, Plummer’s debts continued to mount until he was forced into foreclosure. Ironically, Plummer once owned 142 acres where the Hollywood Bowl now is and sold it to a company named Burnoff & Teal for $2,400. In the 1930s, that same area was worth millions.  In 1935, Plummer Park was registered as a landmark. Finally, the county stepped in and acquired the Plummer land in 1937 for $15,000. Plummer was sad at the passing of his heritage, but never bitter.

Development of the park began the following year with the construction of a recreation building called the Great Hall/Long Hall at a cost of $65,000. The Spanish style structure, made of stucco and a red tile roof, included a dining room seating 300 persons. The building also had a library and reading room. The patio, adjacent to the kitchen, would seat 600 and was shaded by three ancient olive trees.

One condition of the purchase was that Senor Plummer be permitted to occupy the premises as long as he lived. The county designated him as the historical guide for the park. Plummer Park was filled with a fine collection of rare trees and plants. One pepper tree had a branch growing out horizontally over seventy-five feet in length. The limb was trained by Plummer by keeping a horseshoe on the end of it for many years.

The old frame home built by Plummer and his brother in 1874, was now used as the headquarters of the Audubon Society, and the office of the park superintendent. A modern home adjacent to the parks property became Plummer’s new home where he lived for the remainder of his life.

(Los Angeles Public Library)

In his later years Senor Plummer would sit beneath the shady pepper trees of Plummer Park, rolling cigarettes from loose tobacco, or break store-bought cigarettes into three lengths and smoke them a few puffs at a time in an old amber holder. Between puffs, he would conjure up memories of the “good old days” for anyone who asked.

Pepper trees were his favorites. “They kept the flies away,” he maintained. There was the time he chased a deer all the way up to what is now the corner of Hollywood and Highland and lassoed it. Nearby, in a little arroyo, he killed a giant brown bear after it had been gored in three places by a wild bull.

Once, in Laurel Canyon, he shot an antelope on the hillside but couldn’t find the bullet hole. “You scare him to death, senor,” said the old Indian who was with him. But it was later found that the bullet went right up the spine and lodged in the antelope’s brain. “Once in a million times,” said the Don concisely.

When Helen Hunt Jackson was writing “Ramona,” she used to visit Senor Plummer at his home for advice the early days of California. “If anybody is Alessandro, I am,” he said once during an interview, “for I showed Mrs. Jackson how young Spaniards and Indians made love.”

Senor Plummer welcomes actress Ruth Roland and banker G. G. Greenwood to Plummer Park.

Plummer delighted in wearing a tan leather jacket given to him by his friend Buffalo Bill. Another of his friends in the early days was the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who was shot by authorities in 1875. Plummer’s presence at the park gave it an air that no other presence could.

The plan was to keep the park in its original state for a unique gathering place for groups and societies. Barbecues and songfests under the old peppers and the eucalyptus trees were planned as the whirl of Hollywood traffic sped by. Visitors were sheltered by the towering blue gums, the gnarled old olives and the gigantic cypress that Plummer planted with his own hand in the late 1800s. Besides the old ranch house, the servant’s houses, the old barns, the barbecue pit, the old windmill, and the rodeo grounds, it became a chapter of the past brought into the present for the public.

Year after year Senor Plummer continued to enthrall and entertain the visitors to his park. To the last his mind and memory remained keen and filled with humorous memories. Then, one day, the Don suffered a heart attack in his home at Plummer Park. He wanted to remain at his hacienda with his collections of saddles, boots and guns, but friends convinced him to go to the hospital where he sank into a coma from which he never recovered. Senor Eugene Plummer died on May 19, 1943. He was 91 years old.

Eugene Plummer’s death certificate. (Click on image to enlarge)

Rosary for Eugene Plummer was recited in the chapel of Pierce Bros. Hollywood Mortuary. Mass was celebrated the following day at St. Ambrose’s Church at Fountain and Fairfax Avenues. More than 300 persons, most of them descendants of some of California’s oldest families, attended the rites. Plummer was interred next to his father and wife at Hollywood Cemetery.

The Plummer Family marker at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The names of  Plummers’ father and Eugene’s wife Maria are engraved. For whatever reason, Senor Plummer was never marked.

The Eugene Plummer family plot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

As for the Plummer House, it was known as the “Oldest House in Hollywood” and was designated as State Historical Landmark No. 160 in 1935. The Audubon Society continued to use Plummer’s old homestead to house their library and exhibits until 1980. Sadly, vandals set fire to it twice, and ruined the Audubon’s library and exhibits. The house was almost destroyed and stood abandoned and filled with trash for over two years. It was almost razed. Happily, the Leonis Adobe Association heard about the house’s fate and arranged with the county to move the front part to the Leonis Adobe grounds. The house has since been repaired and restored, and is now a Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop.

The old house that Plummer and his brother built was moved to Leonis Adobe grounds in Calabasas.

Plummer Park was once again in the news for the drastic changes that the city of West Hollywood planned. If you asked visitors to Plummer Park, or members of West Hollywood’s city council, who Eugene Plummer was, they probably wouldn’t know. Virtually nothing remains of the park that Don Plummer knew and loved, and sadly, there is only one plaque that mentions him. Hopefully, that will be corrected.


When in Los Angeles, visit Plummer Park at 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

Please follow and like us:

The life of Thomas Smith Robson; an adventurer, practical joker and low class Bohemian

Friday, July 14th, 2017

By Allan R. Ellenberger

Thomas Smith Robson, the scion of a great English family, was the son of Robert Robson, Esq., Newcastle-on-Tyne, and Emily Jane Snowden. His brother, William Snowden Robson, was an English lawyer, judge and liberal politician and a Member of Parliament. There was no similarity between these brothers: while Thomas was a jolly, roistering, and mad-cap fellow, his brother William was the personification of English respectability. Both brothers were born at 26 Eaton Square, a somber but eminently aristocratic square of London.

In his early life, Robson earned a PhD at Heidelberg, Oxford and other institutions. He was an expert chemist, man of letters, a thorough student of law, and an expert linguist of several European languages. Robson possessed a splendid physique, lived only at night, and slept during the day. When he wanted an evening alone, he would order a dozen quarts of Riesling wine, and drink the entire batch before the sun rose. He eventually became an embarrassment, dimming the dignity of his family traditions, and was sent on his way.

In 1890, he arrived in Denver with fourteen trunks and a desire to do something unusual. Accordingly, he took up with an infamous army officer whose only asset was his military title. Breaking ties with his family, he spent his last cent getting to Montreal, where he and the officer bluffed their way into the most fashionable hotel on the officer’s signature. From there, they became reporters on the Montreal Star until they were found out and were driven from the town.

Robson then went to Boston and was hired as a waiter in a 10-cent lodging house. Evidently this was not strenuous enough, so he hitch-hiked to Roxbury in mid-winter, eating only green apples for ten days. He then met a wealthy New Yorker, who attempted to make him a general agent of a big colonization scheme. However, Robson would rather starve than work for another man, so he became a stove tinker, making his way to Montana on a stock train. On the way, he was taken care of by an actor who owned a large stock farm; he promised to give Robson a good salaried job for as long as he wanted it. Five miles before reaching the farm, Robson changed his mind and jumped off the train; away from the actor permanently.

Robson traveled to Northern California and stirred up a band of Indians living on a reservation, to do wild deeds; he stayed with them for many months. His next stop was San Francisco, but he remained there only a short time. In 1896, he jumped on a train for Los Angeles. There he met J.R. Carson, who ran the Old Curiosity Shop on North Main Street, Carson persuaded Robson to write home to his family. He did, and discovered that his father was dead, and that he and his brother shared the estate. He was not interested in money except for the good he could do with it, and the trouble he could stir up.

With his inheritance, he booked a suite at the Van Nuys Hotel, but then he rented a 25-cent room in a lodging house where he would sleep. He made a bet with friends that he could escort one of the most notorious women in the city to one of the best hotels. He won his bet by bribing the clerk with a hatful of money. A quick trip to San Francisco followed, and there he sent out invitations to his former cohorts, a collection of loafers and loungers that he treated to a royal banquet at the Poodle Dog, San Francisco’s first and most famous French restaurant. On the way back to his apartment, he lay down in a mud puddle in his evening clothes, defied the police and stopped traffic. A wrecking car crew, and a wagon load of officers put him to bed.

Returning to Los Angeles, Robson found that a sewer trench was open on Main Street, and as a practical joke, he hired a gang of men to fill it up in the middle of the night. Then he engaged several undertakers, and had horses and lines of funeral coaches sit outside a friend’s house all day. Another time, about a hundred boys rushed into a busy drug store in response to a fake advertisement Robson had enlisted in the newspaper.

Finally, bored with his antics, he started for England. Stopping at New York, he bought a hand organ and a monkey from an Italian street musician, and performed up and down Fifth Avenue until he was arrested and put in jail. In Paris, he threw gold around the streets, and gave away money to every homeless person he could find. One day, when someone gave him a bad Franc, he became angry. So to show his disdain, he emptied all his money down a sewer and was left penniless. Once he replenished his supply of money, he attempted a “scientific demonstration” of the insidious effects of constant absinthe drinking, and informed his friends that he was now engaged in a work that would benefit humanity. This experiment resulted in his being locked up in a private asylum.

Going to London, his brother William was not pleased to see him; his antics were not those of a dignified Member of Parliament. But Robson was offended by a speech his brother made, so he left for Venice. There, he tried to organize the gondoliers into two factions; soon they were insulting and fighting each other before fleeing in the middle of the night. Returning to Paris, he remained there for a year or two.

Finally, he returned to Los Angeles. He was in ill health and asked Benjamin Balmer for help. Balmer took him into his home and cared for him. Robson allegedly settled down except for an occasional night of his own when he would lock himself in his room and drink. However, he kept clear of trouble and the police.

Balmer claimed that Robson had unclean habits and was frequently intoxicated. In spite of this, Robson was well cared for by the Balmer family, and Mrs. Balmer would serve as a nurse for him. For the last two years of his life, he was a broken man and scarcely able to help himself. On January 12, 1904, Thomas Smith Robson died at the Balmer home at 465 Bixel Street. He was 49 years old.

Robson’s body was buried in the Chandler Gardens section at what is now Hollywood Forever Cemetery. A large granite cross was placed on his grave.

The inscription:

“Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Smith Robson PhD (Heid) Youngest Son of R. Robson Esq. J.P. of New Castle Upon Tyne England. He Died at Los Angeles on 12th January 1904 Aged 49 Years. The Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible And We Shall All Be Changed.”

Robson left a considerable estate valued at about $50,000 in England, personal property in California amounting to $9,490 and real estate valued at $3,450. Robson left his entire estate to his brother William in England. William hired an administrator in San Francisco to handle his brother’s estate. For the care and attention that the Balmer’s gave Robson, they asked for $4,000 from the administrator, and when they were refused, they brought suit. As a reward for his kindness toward Robson, Balmer was allowed $2,400 by the judge.

William Snowden Robson (1852-1918)

Note: Robson’s brother, William Snowdon Robson (1852-1918) was a Member of Parliament between 1885 and 1886. Robson married Catharine Burge, daughter of Charles Burge, of Portland Place, London in 1887. He was invested as a Queen’s Counsel in 1892. He again held the office of Member of Parliament between 1895 and 1910. In 1905, he was knighted and was appointed to the Privy Council. He was Solicitor General for England and Wales from 1905 to 1908, and Attorney General for England and Wales from 1908 to 1910 when he was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer with the title Baron Robson, of Jesmond in the County of Northumberland. He resigned as Lord of Appeal two years later. William Snowdon Robson died aged 66, at Telham Court, Battle, Sussex. In available biographies, there is no mention of his younger brother, Thomas Smith Robson.

Please follow and like us: