Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Young and the Dead


What a stroke of luck to have happened on this title. We have visited the Hollywood Forever cemetery, it’s about a mile from where I’m writing this, and seen the graves of all the celebrities there and much of the rest of the place. What we didn’t know is that, by the late ’90s, the con-man who had owned the place (and refused to allow Hattie McDaniel to be buried there in 1952) had let it get into disrepair. Then it was bought by a young man from the Mid-West, Tyler Cassity, and taken over by him and a group of his yuppie friends. They had big dreams. They cleaned it up and planned to take it into the 21st century with 15-minute documentaries on the deceased that could be called up on kiosks around the grounds, or even accessed through the Internet. I just went to their website and sure enough, they have sample bios of some of their clients available for viewing. I don’t know if these are videos of dead people or “pre-need,” as they say in the trade. (In our cemetery rambles we’ve seen headstones for couples with no date of death on them; creeps me out. No way I want to see my name on a tombstone, but I guess some people find it reassuring.) They are professionally produced compilations of still photos and home movies, with music sound tracks or narration by the recently- or eventually-to-be-deceased. One guy is/was a drag racer. His video is almost all cars.

It all sounds very new-age and weird, but these yuppies seem to have a respect for tradition, too. They had a Halloween party on the grounds, and they keep up the yearly tradition of a celebration on Rudolph Valentino’s birthday. They aren’t like nearby Forest Lawn, which insists on nothing but real flowers. People can decorate graves with whatever they want. The film didn’t mention it, but there is one section along the east wall that is almost entirely children’s graves, and most of the names are Hispanic. We saw one mourning woman there with her two other kids, and I really doubt she could afford a plot, so we assume some sort of atonement is going on for Hattie McDaniel (they put up a stone for her), as well as community outreach. That wall just explodes with colorful toys and plastic flowers. It’s a heartbreaking place, and yet beautiful.