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.
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 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.
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.
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.
His obelisk is a landmark in the cemetery.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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