March/April 2011
Bess Lovejoy

A Deck of Cards and a Golden Whistle

Grave Goods of the Stars

The ancient Egyptians interred their dead alongside practical objects: cups, bowls, eating utensils, and little statues of servants that were said to come to life when activated by magic spells. Archaeologists call such items “grave goods.” Today, we still bury our dead with grave goods, though the objects tend to be more sentimental than practical. Even actors, whose films have granted them more immortality than most, are routinely buried with mementos meant to defy the nothingness of the beyond. Here are some of the items that Hollywood stars have taken to their tombs.

Harry Houdini (d. 1926)
Buried with his mother’s letters

In between his death-defying feats as a celebrated escapologist, Harry Houdini found time to produce and star in several films, as well as to set up a business devoted to high-speed film processing. Houdini had always worshipped his mother, and when in New York he would try to visit her grave daily, either at dawn or fifteen minutes after midnight, the time of her death. When Houdini himself died, of a ruptured appendix, he was buried in a bronze casket purchased for one of his acts, with his mother’s letters placed in a black bag and propped beneath his head as a pillow.

Bela Lugosi (d. 1956)
Buried in his Dracula outfit

The brilliantly ghoulish Bela Lugosi was forever pigeonholed as a horror villain, and he spent his later years languishing in B-movie obscurity, addicted to morphine and alcohol. Director Ed Wood shot the very last footage of Lugosi wearing his Dracula outfit, and spliced it (rather randomly) into Plan 9 from Outer Space. But the last time Lugosi ever wore his vampire attire was at his funeral, and he now rests in it forever. According to one tale, the effect of Lugosi’s final outfit was so eerie that when Peter Lorre saw Lugosi in his coffin, he turned to fellow mourner Vincent Price and whispered, “Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?”

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Bess Lovejoy used to write news and arts journalism in the Pacific Northwest, then spent five years writing almanacs with the British author Ben Schott, and is now working on a book about the afterlives of famous people. She lives in Seattle.

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