Where Are They Buried?
How Did They Die?
A Guide for Tombstone Tourists of the South
Tess Press, an imprint of Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2003
What a strange book this is! One hundred dead famous folks buried in the American South and this book tells you how they died and where to find their graves (with one notable exception—see below). The book is divided by the various southern states. I have provided on one famous folk from each state for your perusing enjoyment. BTW – this book is an honor book from the public library (yeah libraries!).
- Alabama: Hank Williams (9/17/23-1/1/53) – his “health deteriorated from the abuse [booze, women, and drugs] and, at 29, he died en route to a show in Ohio of a ‘heart attack from excessive drinking.’”Hank is buried in Montgomery. Mr. Williams was only 29 when he died. I was shocked when I read that. He is one of my favorite old-time country singers. (Patsy Cline & Loretta Lynn are also favs.)
- Arkansas: Sam Walton (3/29/18-4/5/92) – he “died at 74 due to complications due to cancer” and is buried in Bentonville. Mr. Walton, of course, gifted the world with homogenization by putting mom and pop stores out of business. His heirs have thrown up a Wal-mart any where they could and I really dislike them for that. I won’t shop there even if they’re prices are better than anyone else’s. At what cost are they cheap?
- Florida: River Phoenix (8/23/70-10/31/93) – “River’s death was attributed to accidental “acute multiple drug intoxication” involving lethal levels of cocaine and morphine. River was cremated and his ashes scattered at his family’s ranch near Gainesville.” River died so young; I enjoyed him in The Mosquito Coast and never really saw him in anything else.
- Georgia: I am not going to include any of the folks Mr. Benoit provided, instead I will tell you of one he missed. Johnnie Mercer (11/8/09-6/27/76), who together with Henry Mancini wrote Moon River (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and Days of Wine and Roses (Days of Wine and Roses). Shame on Mr. Benoit for forgetting him! BTW, Mr. Mercer died of an inoperable brain tumor, and is buried in Savannah.
- Kansas: The Clutter Family (d. 11/15/59) – the subject of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. “In November 1959, he read a small news item about the deaths of the Clutters, a Kansas family who were systematically and savagely murdered by point-blank shotgun blasts to the head…. Just three days after the murders, he traveled to Kansas and began a six-year, all-consuming writing project about the case. … The subjects of In Cold Blood—Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter are buried at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City.” I object to the inclusion of the Clutters because Kansas is not a southern state (in my humble opinion) and the entry was mainly about Truman Capote anyway.
- Kentucky: Daniel Boone (11/2/1734-9/26/1820) – died at age 85 in Missouri and was buried in Marthasville, Mo. “In 1845 a delegation from Kentucky honored their pioneer hero with a monument in the capital city’s cemetery…, and [later on] Daniel and Rebecca [his wife] were exhumed and reinterred in Frankfort.” Both gravesites have monuments to Daniel Boone (the real Dan’l Boone, not Fess Parker!).
- Louisiana: Gram Parsons (11/5/46-9/19/73) – Gram died of “drug toxicity, due to multiple drug use.” In a prearranged agreement with two friends his body was snatched and “then [they] drove 150 miles to Joshua Tree and by moonlight dragged the coffin as close to Cap Rock as they could. [Phil] Kaufman pried open the lid, poured in gasoline, and tossed in a match. As a giant fireball rose from the coffin, the two headed back home. … Meanwhile, Gram’s charred remains were sent back to his stepfather, who had them buried at the Garden of Memories Cemetery in Metairie.” I don’t know who Gram Parsons was but I thought the tale of the hi-jinks that went on after his death was amusing.
- Maryland: John Wilkes Booth (5/10/1838-4/26/1865) – we all know who he is – he died during his apprehension by authorities and was buried three separate times with the third being the last in Baltimore. My favorite Booth is the fictional relative, Sealy Booth, on the show Bones. That Booth is a man of principle and integrity, at least that’s how his character is written. I like him better that Bones herself.
- Mississippi: Robert Johnson (5/8/11-8/16/38) – blues songwriter born to a Mississippi sharecropper. “In true blues fashion, his demise was dramatic: he was poisoned with strychnine-laced whiskey provided by a jealous husband. After three days of tortuous agony, lolling madly on a makeshift cot amid the relentless humidity of a Mississippi summer, Robert died of his poisoning at 27.” He is buried in Morgan City. I confess I didn’t know who he was but his story is nevertheless interesting. Also I love the way the author describes his last day on earth.
- Missouri: Tennessee Williams (3/26/11-2/25/83) a tortured soul if there ever was one. He choked to death on a bottle cap at the age of 71 and is buried in St. Louis. I have only seen movie versions of his plays and my fav is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—naturally—but I did love Elizabeth Taylor.
- North Carolina: Charles Kuralt (9/10/34-7/4/97) – For all his folksy, all-American reporting, Mr. Kuralt had a second family which only came to light after his death at 62 from complications from lupus. He is buried in Chapel Hill. I liked Mr. Kuralt only his folksy style only goes so far with me before I get bored.
- South Carolina: The author only listed one notable buried in this state – “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (7/16/1887-12/5/51) – I only know of him from the movie Field of Dreams. A former baseball star who was banned for throwing a game and spent the rest of his his life running a liquor store and pool hall. He is buried in Greenville.
- Tennessee: Where do I begin to choose? Elvis, Tammy, Conway, Patsy? How about Alvin York (12/13/1887-9/2/64) – He was a World War 1 hero who lead a group of 9 soldiers behind enemy lines to capture 132 German soldiers. He is buried in Pall Mall.
- Texas: My favorite recluse – Howard Hughes (11/24/05-4/5/1976), by all accounts a business genius seems to have had some sort of psychotic break and removed himself from humanity as best he could. He is buried in Houston.
- Virginia: Well as this is our home state I will include the one notable who resides in our area – General Douglas MacArthur (1/26/1880-4/5/1964), of WW2 fame had a long career in the Army and because we haven’t visited the MacArthur Memorial in many years, I don’t remember why he and his wife are buried in Norfolk.
This book is light, interesting reading, if you’re into reading about dead people’s graves. However I have to hand it to the author, he gives specific instructions on not only how to get to the cemeteries but to the actual grave itself. The following is an prime example: for Jim Valvano, buried in Raleigh, North Carolina – “Enter the cemetery, turn right and go under the archway at the office. Then bear left twice, onto Elm and then Walnut Drive, proceed past the maintenance shed, and bear left onto Locust Drive. After a hundred feet, Jim’s stone is near the curb on the left.” Really, you can’t get more specific than that unless our human drove you there herself.
My Rating: 3 paws for interesting and sometimes amusing facts and for giving the reader an edge at winning trivia games.
Courtesy Workman Publishing:
Tod Benoit is an entrepreneur who has logged more than 10,000 miles driving around the country in search of notable graves.
other books by the author