Where Some Very Famous Writers Are Buried

People can of course feel close to authors when reading their work. We get a sense of how they think, what they like and dislike, and so on. Then there’s getting REALLY close to authors — as in visiting their graves. That’s what I was able to do while in France the past couple of weeks.

A major highlight of the trip was visiting the Pantheon, the striking 18th-century neoclassical Paris structure housing the remains of many prominent French citizens in basement crypts. After walking down stone spiral steps, one first spots the coffin of Voltaire behind a statue of the writer of Candide and other memorable works.

But down a hallway was a room I most wanted to see. As I stepped inside, there were the tombs of Victor Hugo on the left, Emile Zola on the right, and Alexandre Dumas straight ahead. Wow — the 19th-century authors of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Germinal and The Drinking Den, and The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers within several feet of each other!

(For those of you who are my Facebook friends, I’m posting some Pantheon photos on FB tomorrow. I took the picture that appears with this column as I walked toward the building.)

The Pantheon highlight for my daughter was the crypt of a non-novelist: Marie Curie. Maria and her schoolmates recently learned about the famous chemist/physicist.

One can also feel close to late authors by visiting their homes. I’ve been fortunate to see the houses of Charles Dickens (in London), Herman Melville (Pittsfield, Mass.), Mark Twain (Hartford, Conn.), Harriet Beecher Stowe (next door to Twain’s mansion), and others.

What have been your experiences visiting the tombs or homes of famous authors? Also, your favorite French authors and/or your favorite books at least partly set in France?

Next week, a longer column in my usual style!

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about an endless superintendent search and more — is here.

68 thoughts on “Where Some Very Famous Writers Are Buried

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    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Dave, thanks so much for sharing your trip with us, both here and on Facebook. Your photos have been fascinating πŸ™‚

    Just randomly, if anybody cares, I’ve just started my first re-read of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I remembered it being good, but I didn’t remember it being THIS good!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sue! Glad you liked the photos! I tried to limit the number I took — about 100 in fourteen days — so I could focus on enjoying the sights rather than just “recording” everything. But it’s hard to resist taking photos in Paris and elsewhere in France. πŸ™‚

      Great that you’re rereading “To Kill a Mockingbird”! That novel DOES stand up very well. I reread it a few years ago after many years, and was also bowled over by how good Harper Lee’s book is.

      Like

  4. Wandered into Westminster Abbey at 19 (1970), and had intended to visit the graves of poets, but the place was being taken up with a very moving ceremony commemorating Red Cross service during WW2, then all of 25 short years past. Much pomp, and nearly suppressed emotion throughout, me included– but as a result, never saw the burial places.

    Have a lovely photo of that Parisian cemetery, Pere Lachaise, wherein Jim Morrison was interred among such immortals as Balzac and Colette, featuring two young ladies of my acquaintance, college chums, as they used to say in Nancy Drew books, now, like myself in their mid-60’s. But as I did not take the photo, I’m not certain I ever saw the place in the flesh, myself. (When I was in Paris, Jim Morrison was still alive).

    What I have done, here in NYC, as a citizen of the fabled West Side of Manhattan: I have visited a spot where Poe mused by the hour, during his time living near 84th Street. It’s a bluff, really the glacier-worn remains of an ancient mountain that faces the Hudson River. It was a little thrill to sit where he might have, looking at the sun reflected a zillion times on the moving water– but I never thought for a moment I was thinking Poe’s thoughts, or even looking at the same river, for as we know, ‘no man steps in the same river twice’, or, for that matter, sees one.

    Bonus: I have been inside the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home here on the East Side, to set up a PA system once, and then,years later, to the wake of a colleague. Through those portals passed Tennessee Williams, playwright, as well as Rudolf Valentino, author of “Daydreams”, a slim volume of verse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! Frustrating that you didn’t get to see the burial places in Westminster Abbey, but it sounds like there was a VERY good reason why.

      I missed Pere Lachaise again on my recent trip — have never visited that cemetery during my five trips to Paris (1979, 1980, 2004, 2007, and 2018). Not sure why, as I’m a fan of Colette, Balzac, and Jim Morrison/The Doors. Oh well.

      I enjoyed your very eloquent Poe paragraph. That writer really did get around — Boston, Baltimore, Manhattan, The Bronx…

      Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home has indeed been the place for some late greats. The one time I was there was for “Terry and the Pirates”/”Steve Canyon” cartoonist Milton Caniff in 1988.

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      • Re Poe– also, City Island, as I recall.

        As for your visit to Campbell’s– there’s an example of a guy who lived long enough to see his influence everywhere and credit for it nearly nowhere, though to be fair, the medium had shrunk in every way by then. What a cartoonist!

        Liked by 1 person

        • City Island is a nice place to visit. Almost feels like New England.

          Yes, Milton Caniff was extraordinarily influential. Also pretty famous in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s (he was even on the cover of Time magazine) before his renown waned somewhat. Now he’s mostly known to comic strip aficionados. A great cartoonist indeed, and a heckuva nice guy.

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  5. I was just thinking about when you, I and others visited Twain’s Hartford residence, because I just finished “Grant,” the biography by Ron Chernow that involves Twain late in Grant’s life as Twain published Grant’s memoirs. Great old home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill! Yes, during the 2013 NSNC conference! It IS an amazing house — so quirky and ornate. And Twain’s involvement with Grant’s best-selling autobiography was a huge accomplishment for them both.

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  6. France! That sounds amazing. I’ve never actually visited any authors’ graves or homes that I can recall (unless we’re counting Grant – I toured his home in Galena). I really need to get on that. I also really want to visit Benjamin Franklin’s grave someday since I’m related! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.! Related to Benjamin Franklin? That’s impressive. πŸ™‚ If I’m remembering correctly, I saw the grave of Franklin’s parents in the Granary Burying Ground when I last visited Boston, in 2006. Along with Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Crispus Attucks, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, on my mother’s side. I suppose it explains my passion for writing and obsession with lightning πŸ™‚ Yes he was born in Boston so his parents would be buried there. His heart belonged to Philly though and that’s where he was buried! I’d love to visit someday.

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        • Benjamin Franklin was certainly a Renaissance man! And, yes, Philadelphia is the city he’s most associated with. I haven’t seen his grave, either, though I’ve visited Philadelphia a number of times. I guess I didn’t know he was buried there!

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          • I had to look it up, but Franklin was buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, in Philadelphia, PA. One of the field trips we took as kids in grade school was to the Franklin Institute as well as Betsy Ross’s house and the Liberty Bell. All quite interesting! There’s so much history in Philly, which also has the Constitution Center (I wish Trump had made an effort to visit there!).

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for that information, Kat Lib! The historic part of Philadelphia is incredible.

              “…the Constitution Center (I wish Trump had made an effort to visit there!)” — ha! But even if he did visit, he wouldn’t allow himself to learn anything… 😦

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              • Dave, can you please clean up my comment on the Franklin Institute. It’s embarrassing to me that I have so much trouble writing (or should I say typing) some comments. My only excuse is that I’m totally frazzled by my sale, purchase and move coming up in mid-May. Today we went up to my new home to meet the home inspector (who turned out to be a really good guy), but of course there are many problems with both the exterior and interior that need to be addressed, but I’m still totally in love with the view and other things that I can’t find down here close to Philly.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Cleaned up, Kat Lib! Totally understandable that you’d have some keyboarding trouble given all the moving-related stress you’re under. It will be wonderful when the move is complete and you have that view!

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  7. Dave, welcome back and you were greatly missed! However, Paris is a great city and it sounds like your visit there was wonderful.

    When I traveled in Europe in 1969, we went to visit Westminster Abbey in London, where there are a great many well-known people buried there or memorialized. Of course, there’s Poets’ Corner that is hard for me to remember, which I’m sure we visited, but I also just read about it on-line. Jane Austen was buried in Hampshire but had a small tablet that was unveiled to her memory in 1967. My favorite story so far was that Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried with his first wife elsewhere, but as a compromise, his heart was buried with her in Stinsford, and his ashes were buried in the Abbey. Charles Dickens didn’t want a grand funeral so had a secret early-morning burial in 1870. And I think Chaucer was the first writer/poet to be buried in the Abbey.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lib! I missed posting new columns and being in new conversations.

      Paris and La Rochelle (which we visited for four days) WERE great. Some complications — we were all sick the first week, lots of rain and weather often in the 40s, my mother was hospitalized (in Florida) again during the trip, and our cat had what might have been an asthma attack while we were gone (he’s on medications now). So I spent too much time on the phone and texting with various people in the U.S. But the sights, the food, and more in France were fantastic. Now I just need a vacation from the vacation. πŸ™‚

      Wonderful that you saw Westminster Abbey! That must be the largest concentration of interred famous people anywhere. I visited WA in 1979 (my one England trip), and it was an amazing experience. And thanks for all that WA information! I had heard about the divided Thomas Hardy, but had forgotten about the Jane Austen tablet and didn’t know those very interesting facts about Dickens and Chaucer.

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      • To add to my comments, if I were ever to go back to Paris, I’d like to go to PΓ¨re Lachaise Cemetery, where Oscar Wilde, Colette and others were buried, but most especially Jim Morrison in 1971. I had the opportunity to see The Doors in concert somewhere back in the late 60’s in Philly and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the few concerts I’ve seen with my best friend, so it has a special meaning for me. Morrison was totally outrageous, but so entertaining and I truly loved most of The Doors recordings.

        Liked by 2 people

          • P.P.S. As an aside I just sold my home and have purchased a new home on a lake/spillway/creek in the Poconos. Just prior to this, I just happened to have bought a book on B&N “At Home in the Woods, Living a Life of Thoreau Today.” I think I actually have read this book many years ago (1972), under the imposing title of “We Like It Wild.” So there’s a lot of things to happen before I move, but I’m excited about living on a lake again and looking out on the water and trees when I get up every morning.

            Liked by 2 people

        • I hear you, Kat Lib. I also wanted to visit Pere Lachaise during this trip (especially to see the grave of Colette — I’ve read at least a dozen of her excellent novels). But I couldn’t quite find the time.

          Wow — you went to a Doors concert! I was a big fan of that band back then, but never saw them live. As you know, The Doors have literary connections — some of Jim Morrison’s lyrics, of course, and the name of the group came from Aldous Huxley’s nonfiction book “The Doors of Perception,” a phrase Huxley got from a line in a William Blake poem.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Sounds like an awesome trip! Hmmm famous graves I have visited…I’ve been to Gogol’s grave in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow. There’s a luridly awful rumor that he was buried there alive. Chekhov’s grave is also there and I visited that too. I believe Mayakovsky was also buried there so I probably visited his grave as well, although it’s such a large cemetery I could have missed it–the last time I was there was before I became a big Mayakovsky fan. I did tour the museum that is located in his old apartment building, which was fabulously modernist. I also toured Pushkin’s apartment where he died in St Petersburg, and saw his death mask.

    Visiting writers’ graves had a sort of ghoulish fascination, but much more interesting to me was visiting where they lived. Before I wrote my dissertation I went to Finland and visited all the places “my” author (Baratynsky) had been stationed when he was in semi-exile there. It really brought the poems to life to see what he was actually describing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Elena! A really interesting comment to read. You have definitely been to many places!

      I agree that one gets more out of visiting a late writer’s home than her or his grave, but, as you say, there is indeed a fascination seeing a burial place.

      I heard about that rumor relating to Gogol’s burial, and included it in my literary-trivia book. Creepy. I hope it’s not true. And seeing Chekhov’s grave and Pushkin’s apartment! Memorable.

      When in Paris, I also wanted to visit Colette’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, but didn’t quite have the time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The Novodevichy cemetery is pretty interesting if you’re into that kind of thing! Baratynsky was a poet who was a friend and contemporary of Pushkin’s and is considered to be one of Russia’s leading metaphysical poets. There are a couple of collections of his poetry in English translation available if you’re interested, the most recently released being “A Science Not For the Earth,” translated by Rawley Grau.

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          • Moving to Finland! I’m so envious πŸ™‚ If you’re interested, Baratynsky was stationed mainly in what is now Kotka and Hamina, with periods in Helsinki and Lappeenranta. He wrote a poem about the waterfall at Imatra, which you can still visit, although it only flows for an hour a day. It was and still is a popular tourist destination for Russians and the rocks around the fall are covered in pre-revolutionary Russian names. Supposedly you used to be able to see Baratynsky’s name where he carved it into a rock, but it’s gone now.

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            • Oh fantastic, thank you for all that information, if I’m in that area I’ll remember that. Actually yesterday I tried to figure out where in Finland one of Tolstoy’s great uncles was stationed. I’m thinking about doing some blog posts about the literary relations between Finland and Russia.

              Liked by 1 person

              • That would be fantastic! I don’t remember where Tolstoy’s uncle was stationed but the big Russian forts were along the southeastern border, in Kotka, Hamina, and Vyborg (which is now part of Russia). Unfortunately from my perspective the Finns don’t really celebrate that aspect of their history, so while you can go visit the forts there’s not a lot of information about the various Russian authors who were stationed out there. In Tampere there is a fascinating museum dedicated to Lenin, however, which also has some of Gorky’s things.

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          • That’s great you’re moving to Finland. I just received the results from my Ancestry DNA tests, and although I always thought of myself as 100% Swedish, my mom had an idea her mother might have been from the Swedish/Finnish border, so I guess she was right. The results were that I was 24% Finland/Northwest Russia, 65% Scandinavia, and the balance was a mix of Britain/Wales/Scotland/ and small portions of East and West Europe. This last was probably from my dad’s mother who was Swedish but the father was believed to have been a sailor and my dad was then adopted by a Swedish couple, my grandparents. Fascinating stuff!

            Liked by 2 people

            • Thank you, I’m looking forward to my new life in Finland. So you found out that you have some Finnish blood in you! That’s such an interesting thing to do, I have been thinking about it as well, I know I’m mostly Frisian, but the rest is a bit of a mixture.

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  9. Dave, I think the only French author I’m really familiar with is John le CarrΓ© (it’s a joke, son).

    We’re going to Scotland in June (right after NSNC), but our itinerary won’t bring us very close to Robbie Burns’s mausoleum. Perhaps we’ll stumble over some other dead authors (not literally, I trust) during that trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, John! le CarrΓ© could have also used the alias John le Carrefour (the French supermarket chain). Sigh…a missed opportunity.

      Wonderful that you’re visiting Scotland! I’ve always wanted to go there. Got relatively close on Saturday (we returned from Paris via a connection in Dublin).

      Scotland definitely has had its share of terrific writers — Sir Walter Scott being one obvious example.

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  10. Next attempt:

    The only two writers whose homes (childhood or adult) I’ve visited are Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

    I went to Hannibal, Missouri with my family when I was about eight years old and in full Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn play mode when we went to Hannibal and saw the boyhood home next door to a Mark Twain museum. Well, the house, based on my dim memories, DOES have a white (washed) fence as it did when MT was still living. I recall a picture of him in his later years on his last visit to Hannibal, taken in front of the house and the fence is there then so ‘Tom Sawyer’ immortalized the fence, the house, and much of the rest of the town. We also took a tour through Tom Sawyer’s cave and the tour guide shone the flashlight on the ceiling where a cross had been scratched just as I recall from the book. He also turned off all the lights so we could ‘see’ what the cave looked like when Tom and Becky wandered through it i.e. complete, utter darkness.

    I believe I’ve been to Faulkner’s Oxford home about three times over the years being the closest drive (about five hours?) from where I live. The last time they had a plastic barrier in the entrance to both the bedroom and the study. I guess they’d had trouble with tourists helping themselves to souvenirs. I had to look into the room from the doorway. In previous years, I could actually walk up and look at the typewriter, still with a repair tag strapped to the handle of the roller. I liked looking through the books in his bookcase as well as the magazines on the coffee table in the living room (Field and Stream, Saturday Evening Post issues from 1962). It’s always fascinating to be in close proximity to volcanic creativity like that.

    I’d love to make it up to New England to Twain’s Hartford home where the actual writing took place as well as Melville’s home with the view of the mountain that reminded him of the back of a whale (?). Of course, a trip to London or Paris or St. Petersburg, for that matter, would be a literary dream come true, to see places where masters such as Dickens, Balzac, and Dostoevsky lived and wrote.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, bobess48. Sorry that your first posts under a new column often need to be entered more than once. 😦

      I’ve heard about that Hannibal-based Twain house (a much simpler building, of course, then the Hartford, Conn., mansion the author would live in from 1874-1891). Sounds like you had a wonderful visit there, with all that Tom Sawyer immersion.

      Hope you can get to Twain’s Hartford house one of these days. An absolutely gorgeous building, with a very nice museum nearby. I especially liked seeing the top-floor billiard room where Twain wrote most of his best novels (in the company of his beloved cats).

      Amazing to hear how close a Faulkner fan could get to that author’s belongings. A real shame that some people took thieving advantage of that and limited the future experiences of others.

      “Volcanic creativity” — I like that phrase a lot.

      That Melville mountain you mentioned DOES look whale-like. I saw it from the vantage point of the desk at which “Moby-Dick” was written.

      I was in St. Petersburg once, but the tour I was on didn’t visit anything Dostoyevsky-related. I should have left the tour for a few hours to remedy that!

      Like

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