From Barbie to Wild Bill Hickock: The Allure of the Dead ~ Pam Crooks

If you’re a history lover like me, there’s something fascinating about famous historical people.  DEAD famous historical people.  Nothing like visiting a grave to get my imagination juices going about the life they led, the death they may (or may not) have suffered, and what the world they lived in would’ve been like.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited Deadwood, South Dakota.  Seeing the Mount Moriah Cemetery outside of town was a tourist must.  First stop was Wild Bill Hickock’s plot. His burial was in 1879.

Wild Bill Hickock Grave

You can see how large his plot is and how well the community cares for it.  He did, after all, put Deadwood on the map.

Nearby was Calamity Jane’s (Martha Jane Burke) grave.  To this day, I’m not sure where her grave began or where it ended.  It was quite a large retaining wall with the plaque bearing her name.

If you get a chance to visit Deadwood’s famous cemetery, you’ll see even more burial places of notorious characters from the Wild West. But I didn’t have to travel far from home to discover some fascinating graves right here in my own city.

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery is Omaha’s oldest, active cemetery.  The first recorded burial was on June 6, 1873. Holy Sepulchre is special because many members of my family are buried here, the oldest being my great-great grandmother, Salvatarice Salerno, who emigrated to America from Carlentini, Sicily, in the mid-1800s.  My husband and I have burial plots there, too.  In fact, our marker is already in place.

It was extremely important to my parents, especially my father, to keep the memories of our ancestors alive.  With his help, I wrote a map and detailed directions to each grave so we can “take the tour” every year and decorate the graves.

Last month, we took our daughters and grandchildren “on the tour.”  Along the way, we found some pretty fascinating graves of some pretty fascinating people.

Have you heard of Edward Creighton?  Along with his brother, John, he was one of Omaha’s earliest and most prominent businessmen who contributed substantially to our city’s growth.

One of his legacies is Creighton University. 

Creighton University

Three of our four daughters attended college there, as well as numerous other family members.  In fact, two daughters were married at the beautiful St. John’s Church on its campus.  You can see it here in this aerial view of Creighton’s campus today.

Creighton Campus

I’m sure Edward is smiling in his grave at the legacy he started that is thriving today as a world-renowned educational institution.

Anyway, back to the graves.  As a testament to his wealth and prestige, he and his family occupy a good chunk of land at Holy Sepulchre.

Creighton Obelisk

His obelisk is a landmark in the cemetery.

Creighton Family Markers

There are plain markers around the obelisk for various Creighton family members. I found them quite unusual.

Holy Sepulchre is home to many who once led very colorful lives.  Vincent Chiodo was one of them. This is his mausoleum.

Vincent Chiodo Mausoleum

He was Omaha’s first Italian millionaire.  He made his money in real estate and helped build homes for newly-arrived immigrants from his home country, which gained him their unwavering respect and honor. 

Along with all the good works he did, though, his life was full of tragedy and drama.  He was acquitted of murder twice, lost his fortune in the 1929 crash, and endured the death of his beloved son in his home. The death remains a mystery to this day.

Chiodo home

But his mansion still stands.  If you’d like to read more about him, here’s a recent article about him in our Omaha newspaper.  Just click HERE.

Ah, but I’m saving my favorite for last.  Again, thanks to an article in the newspaper, I learned about another famous person who rests at Holy Sepulchre.  She was much less flamboyant than Edward Creighton or Vincent Chiodo, but her legacy endures today in a different way.

I, like millions of other little girls, loved my Barbie dolls.  Charlotte Johnson was born and raised here in Omaha, but moved to Los Angeles where she became a fashion designer and instructor. In the mid-1950s, while working alongside Ruth Handler, who co-owned Mattel with her husband and is credited with conceiving the idea for the Barbie doll, it was Charlotte who designed Barbie herself, along with her glamorous wardrobe that so many little girls dreamed of having for their own.

I thought it was just the COOLEST thing she was in my cemetery!

Sadly, Charlotte never had a daughter of her own to play with the doll she helped create into an international sensation.  She died in Los Angeles, but came back home to Omaha to be buried.

Charlotte Johnson’s Niche

To learn more about Charlotte, click HERE

How about you?  Have you visited any famous graves?  Do you find them fascinating?  Any cool stories to tell?

 

Let’s chat, and you can be eligible to win an ebook of my new contemporary romance, A COWBOY AND A PROMISE (currently on sale for $1.99!)

 

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Pam Crooks
Pam has written 24 romances, most of them historical westerns. She has just released her newest sweet historical romance, TRACE, the launch book for the Bachelors & Babies series starting in June, More of her books are coming! Stay up on the latest at www.pamcrooks.com

35 Comments

  1. I don’t go looking for the famous I go looking for the un famous when I visit a cemetery. Those that died unexpectly. I’ve come a cross a few orphanges where a fire had killed all. Sad. A major epidemic that killed many. It’s a interesting history lesson on life and death but always a thrill on the find.

    1. Oh, my goodness. An orphanage fire would be truly sad. Just seeing how young the little ones were when they died would be depressing. I’m curious – do you read about an orphanage fire or the epidemic and then decide to go visit nearby cemeteries?

  2. Pam- What amazing places you have traveled. Speaking of Barbie, my mom still has hers and I played with her as a little girl. She looked just like the one you posted with the Black & White swimsuit, my moms had the same suit.
    I’m trying to think if I’ve visited a famous person’s grave? I can’t think of any. I have visited Boothill cemetery in Dodge City, Kansas, but for the life of me I’m drawing a blank on who I saw buried there.
    Thanks for such a great blog.

    1. Amazing that your mom still has her Barbie! She would’ve had one of the early ones. I so wish I still had mine, but they were played and played with so much, they weren’t worth keeping. The early Barbies have become very valuable. It’s amazing what someone would pay for them!

      Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Tonya!

  3. I have never visited a famous person’s grave that I can think of. There is a cemetery near where I live and I have walked through it. No one famous there that I know of although some of the tome stones are so old you can’t read what is on them. As far as Barbie’s go I have that same Barbie that you mentioned it was mine as a little girl. She is in very bad shape though because she was played with a lot.

    1. My Barbies were the same way, Quilt Lady. My girls played with them, but by the time my granddaughters came along, my girls wanted new Barbies for them. They ended up going to the Goodwill, which breaks my heart to this day. Boo-hoo!

  4. I remember visiting Will Rogers grave with my parents once in Oklahoma at the Will Rogers Museum. I love to visit old cemeteries and wonder what kind of life people had just from their epitaphs

    1. Oh, Will Rogers would have been a good grave to visit! He had quite the life, didn’t he? But like everyone else’s, that life has to end. Seeing his grave would sure get my imagination going, too!

  5. I visited some graveyards in Connecticut with my daughter who was working on her degree. So many fascinating stories to be found.

    1. Yes, fascinating, Debra! With geneaology so popular these days, often you can go online and find people’s stories. I wish I had the time!

  6. Avatar

    Loved your blog. I love to look at headstones in cemeteries. I’ve seen John Wesley Hardin’s burial plot at the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas. It’s very close to the Mexico border and is the eariest cemetery I’ve been to so far. My former MIL is buried there. It’s just a dusty old Cemetery with many old headstones I always imagine that eerie whistle and music they always played in old westerns when someone was fixing to die. I’ve been to a lot of famous cemeteries and seen many famous people’s headstones but that’s the one that sticks out in my mind.

    1. Oooh, El Paso with all its history would be chock full of graves from folks who lived the Old West! Interesting that as old as JWH’s burial plot is, that there’s still room for modern-day burials like your ex-MIL’s. I’d love to go there, too!

  7. I don’t think I have ever seen any famous people’s graves, but I have always enjoyed visiting cemeteries. It’s just so peaceful in them. One of my favorite is in Galveston. My mother and I went on a ghost tour one time and there were some interesting stories. My dream is to visit New Orleans one day and check out the big cemetery there.

    1. Yes! New Orleans is known for their cemeteries! They have those great walking tours to see the voodoo legends and music greats.

      Now you’ve made me want to go to New Orleans, too, Janine! Ha!

      1. I would definitely do one of the tours. I hope we can both get there one day soon. I have a sister who lives close to New Orleans, but still haven’t even been out there to see her.

  8. I have visited old cemeteries, but have never seen a grave of a famous person.

    1. I hope you get to visit a famous person’s grave someday, Estella. It’s so fun and memorable.

  9. We have been to Deadwood and visited those graves you mentioned. Just the other day, we visited the grave of Dan Blocker (Hoss Cartwright).

    1. Oh, Dan Blocker!!! A name from the past and very famous! Where is he buried, Melanie?

  10. I’ve been to Civil War and Revolutionary War battle sites which contain cemeteries, Arlington National Cemetery, I saw the Lee family crypt at W&L University with a then-boyfriend (school was his alma mater), and other historical sites with family cemeteries.

    1. The Lee family crypt would be AMAZING, Denise! I tend to travel toward the western part of the country, but I need to start visiting the east. The history of America in its early years would be incredible and fascinating.

  11. Hi, Pam. I love visiting old cemeteries. So much history. And I always find something to spark my imagination. One of my favorites was a small little cemetery in Acton, TX. Elizabeth Crockett (Davy Crockett’s wife) and some of their children are buried there. Gave me goosebumps!

    1. Hi, Karen! If I saw Elizabeth Crockett’s grave, I’d head right to Google and try to learn all the information I could about her. Hmm. I wonder why Davy wasn’t buried with her . . .

  12. I didn’t find any famous graves, but I really enjoyed touring the historical cemeteries on a walking tour of Boston. I had studied their artwork in a history class a few years before and it was fascinating to see the stones in person.

    1. Carrie, I’d love to do the walking tour!! I’ve never done one and Boston is so rich in history. I’ve been to Boston only once, and unfortunately, it was a miserable night spent at the airport due to storms which grounded the planes.

      But you and Denise are sure making me want to visit the east very soon!!

  13. Welcome Pam. Wow what a cool and interesting post today. My sister and I used to go to cemetaries and grave yards around us. We found a lot of OLD families. We visited a cemetery in Ohio where one of our ancestors was buried. He was in the civil war.

    1. How cool that you are descended from a Civil War veteran, Lori! My ancestors are from Italy and Germany, so I can’t claim that honor, but I’d sure want to know more. Like which side of the war he fought on and if he lived to tell about it. . .

  14. ours would be the very small local cemetery where most of my husband’s family is buried – they are getting close to being in this county for almost 200 years!

    1. Hi, Teresa! Sometimes the small local cemeteries are the most meaningful. Your husband’s relatives would have stories to tell about so many of the deceased, I’m sure. Especially after 200 years–amazing!!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Wow, this is so very interesting! Thank you for sharing this very interesting information and all the very nice photos! I have not visited a famous cemetery , but I have been to the site where Judge Roy Bean is buried. Thank you so much, I learned a lot on this post. God Bless you.

    1. You are quite welcome, Alicia! I’m glad you enjoyed reading my cemetery meanderings.

      Oh, Judge Roy Bean!!! He was quite the character, wasn’t he? I’m curious if he had a big pompous site for his burial place?

  16. Pam, Thank you for this fascinating post. I’ve not visited a famous grave.

    1. Maybe someday, Caryl. It really is pretty cool to see one, and there could likely be someone famous to the people around you (like Vincent Chiodo was for me). Ya never know!!

  17. We just got back from visiting Washington DC and when we went to Arlington Cemetery, it was quite humbling. To see the graves of so many of those who fought for our country was very, very humbling but also those like JFK and his brothers and wife. The ones that really touched me was the “group” gave of the Challenger astronauts. They buried the whole part of the cabin that fell to earth after it exploded because of the DNA of the astronauts that it contained. Amazing. Also the section of the 9/11 people who died at the Pentagon and the names of those whose bodies they couldn’t recover because the bomb blast disintegrated the bodies. Brought tears to my eyes.

    1. I would absolutely love this, Valri. I had no idea. I’d probably bawl like a baby. This is a must see for me – on my bucket list!

      Thanks for sharing. I learned from you!

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