Tag Archives: dia de los muertos

When Death Delights: Dia De Los Muertos, Part 2

For a graveyard, Hollywood Forever Cemetery certainly is a lively place.

The cemetery, which shares a block of real estate in Hollywood with Paramount Pictures, is a place of pilgrimage for Hollywood historians and fans. But it has also become a popular “event” site for people who previously may have never wished to enter a cemetery except in the back of a hearse. Today, the grounds not only host funerals, but also films, bands, and celebrations, like this past weekend’s fantastic Dia de los Muertos festival.

This wasn’t always the case. Not long ago, Hollywood Forever (then known as Hollywood Memorial) had been left for dead. The mausoleum was padlocked with standing water on the floor, headstones were lost in jungles of uncut weeds, and Douglas Fairbanks’ tomb was submerged in stagnant water.

The credit for the revitalization goes to Tyler Cassity, the hip young owner of the cemetery, who was the subject of an award-winning documentary in 2000 called The Young and the Dead. When Cassity took over ownership of the cemetery several years ago, it was on the verge of condemnation. He was able to bring it back to “life” by capitalizing on its history and by transforming it into a park for the living as well as the dead.

Dee Dee Ramone's grave got dolled-up for "Dia De Los Muertos."

The cemetery is one of the most historic spots in Los Angeles. It is the eternal home of dozens of Hollywood’s fallen, like Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Nelson Eddy, Fay Wray, Tyrone Power, Marion Davies, Mel Blanc, and the aforementioned Douglas Fairbanks. Recent arrivals include Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Don Adams, Maila Nurmi (known to the world as “Vampira”), and Darrin McGavin.

On Saturday, I saw hundreds of people filing into the once-dejected mausoleum, many in Day of the Dead attire, to hear a band and to examine colorful artwork that lined the walls. Valentino, who occupies a crypt in southeast corner of the building, once again drew crowds, as he did in life. Most were young people who had probably never heard of the silent screen idol until coming face-to-face with his crypt.

As did Johnny Ramone's.

As a taphophile, I have spent many rewarding hours searching for the final resting places of the world’s famous and infamous and I find cemeteries to be a great place for quiet contemplation. But I can say without reservation that Hollywood Forever is the only cemetery I have ever visited that I am able to describe as fun.

We can thank Tyler Cassidy and his staff for that.

Which goes to show that even a graveyard can be brought back to life if you’re willing to think “outside the coffin.”

When Death Delights: Dia De Los Muertos, Part 1

According to a sign on an altar I saw at Saturday’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery, there are actually three deaths: the first comes when our bodies die; the second when we are buried; and the third and final death only happens when there is no one left alive who remembers us.

Dia de los Muertos celebrants do what they can to keep the third death from ever happening for former friends and loved ones.

The holiday is an ancient Mexican tradition that goes back to the Aztec days where the usually rigid line between the living and dead becomes as porous as the U.S.-Mexican border. During the celebration, the deceased are honored with altars featuring pictures and memorabilia from their lives. Their spirits are invited to attend the celebration where their living friends and relatives dress as skeletons to make them feel more comfortable in our world.

The celebration consists of native dancing, brightly painted skeletons and skulls, and dozens of elaborate altars. The altars are sometimes dedicated to a single person, like in the case of the one we saw that was made for  Bela Lugosi, but more often they honor the descendants of an entire family. The family of Guadalupe Gonzalez, who died in September, re-created the front porch of his house as his altar with trinkets like a Raggedy-Ann doll, a football, several family photos, and a sombrero. A skeleton representing Mr. Gonzalez was placed on the porch, where he often took naps during life.

On this altar, a skeleton representing Guadalupe Gonzalez, who died last month, sits on the front porch of his "house."

As we strolled the grounds with hundreds of other attendees, we saw altars dedicated to dead comedians, anti-gay bullying victims, and even to deceased cats. One altar featured a “wedding ceremony of the dead,” while another demanded justice for female victims of murder in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico.

A "mostly dead" family.

My personal favorite was a large “Familia Quintero Reunion” altar featuring several living members of the Quintero family in sombreros and skeleton makeup who were symbolically inviting their deceased family members to drop in on the party. It was obvious to everyone looking on that the dead Quinteros were in no danger of suffering the third and final death anytime soon.

While it may sound creepy to some, the Dia de los Muertos festival at Hollywood Forever is one of the most fun celebrations you can have above ground.

(Tomorrow we will take a closer look at Hollywood Forever, along with its legion of famous residents.)