Living in L.A.: Exploring old haunts
I feel very at home in cemeteries.
Sure, that makes me the creepy kid in the class, but I don’t care.
When I was in elementary school, our class went to visit Forest Lawn in Glendale. You may be wondering what kind of school takes children to a cemetery? Well, mine.
I attend a small private school and we went to Forest Lawn to view the Hall of The Crucifixion-Resurrection. The exhibit includes two monstrous paintings. “The Crucifixion” by Jan Stykas is touted as the world’s largest permanently mounted religious painting at 195 feet by 45 feet. The work – which at one time was thought to be lost – was itself resurrected by Forest Lawn founder Dr. Hubert Eaton and can be seen hourly on display with audio-visual effects. Its companion piece, “The Resurrection,” was painted by Robert Clark and is roughly half the size.
Forest Lawn’s grounds are sprinkled with life-size replicas of works by Renaissance masters. Michelangelo’s “David” and “Moses,” along with a stained-glass version of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”
I’m not even sure I realized that all this amazing art was intermixed with dead people. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I could have spent all day looking at things.
As I grew, my understanding of death increased but I was no less comfortable in cemeteries. I love touring the California Missions and meandering through their small cemeteries. I can read history on the headstones.
I recall visiting the graves of family members. It seemed normal to pay respects. It wasn’t until my friend Jack died that I really consistently started visiting a cemetery. I would come hang out on the anniversary of his death or birthday, just weeks apart.
It’s a nice plot with a great view of a splendid mosaic of Jesus sitting on a rock surrounded by little children on the edge of the sea. I would sit on the grassy knoll for a bit – sometimes having lunch – and ponder life and talk with Jack. I always left feeling a bit sad that Jack was gone but uplifted for having taken time to remember his life.
One of the first places I saw when I moved back to Los Angeles this year was Glendale’s Forest Lawn. You can’t really miss it. It’s a giant patch of green with several cathedral-style buildings.
I also learned there is a museum with a revolving exhibit. The current exhibit is “Vroom, The Art of the Motorcycle.” It is free and runs through Jan. 4, 2015.
Now I really had to go back and visit. I had a chance to relive two awesome childhood memories at the same time: cemeteries and motorcycles. (Yeah, I hear people screaming the latter leads to the former.)
The paintings were just as immense and awe-inspiring as I remember. While the exhibit features a great deal of religious overtones, it should not prevent art lovers from checking it out.
The motorcycle exhibit was a non sequitur of awesome. Motorcycle-themed art, along with bikes and helmets were juxtaposed in rooms with stain-glassed scenes.
Easily my favorite piece was the 1939 Indian Chief that had been owned by my childhood hero Steve McQueen. I wanted to jump on the baby-blue chassis and ride away. McQueen, who died in 1980, had his ashes scattered at sea.
While visiting the ocean is kind of like visiting McQueen’s resting place, a large number of Hollywood icons are buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard.
The property was originally 100 acres but parts of the land were sold to Paramount and RKO studios. The current 62-acre facility has new owners who are working to restore it to its former glory. There are movie showings on the side of a mausoleum and special tours.
There are nearly 200 individuals with some connection to Hollywood buried here. Because I’m too cheap to spend $5 for a map, I used my semi-smart phone to navigate the grounds. These are not standard cemetery grounds.
I found the graves of silent film stars Rodolfo “Rudolph” Valentino (sometimes littered with lipstick kisses-covered letters) and Charles Chaplin Jr., famed director/producer Cecil B. De Mille, “Gone With the Wind” actress Hattie McDaniel (actually a memorial plaque because she was not allowed to be buried in the cemetery because she was black), actor Mickey Rooney, “Get Smart” actor Don Adams, philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith, Golden Girl Estelle Getty and mobsters Moe Sedway and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (sometimes adorned with coins left by people hoping for good luck in Las Vegas).
An employee shared a quick story on how Sedway and Siegel were pals until Siegel decided they were through and put a hit out on Sedway. When Sedway’s wife learned about it, she had her lover “Moose” – perfect Hollywood twist – kill Siegel. Until Moe’s wife confessed decades later, Siegel’s murder was one of the longest unsolved in Hollywood history. Now the two men are interned about 100 yards from each other.
Yeah, I may be the weird kid in class, but I have some pretty cool stories to tell.