Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Cemetery ... Coloring Book?

Your favorite Cemetery Traveler does not have to visit actual cemeteries to get his jollies. Oftentimes adventures can be had in other places, like a used book store, for example. Phoenix Book Store in Lambertville, New Jersey, has been something I’ve wanted to check out for months. In mid-June, I had the opportunity to do just that.

Let me start by saying that they are going out of business in August 2013, so time’s a wastin’ if this article excites you and you want to partake of their wares. Phoenix Books specializes in used, rare, and out-of-print books. Antiquarian booksellers are not businesses I frequent, but I do read a lot so it seemed worth checking out. When I got there, I was surprised to see a sign on the door saying everything was half price! So that made the not terribly high prices even more palatable.

I looked around a bit and noticed a large rack of photography books, art books, architecture books, but nothing having to do with cemeteries. After picking up a monograph of Brett Weston’s photography (Voyage of the Eye), it occurred to me to ask the shopkeeper, “Do you have any books on cemeteries?” He thought a moment then shook his head, saying, “No, we don’t … don’t think so …” And then he brightened up and said, “Oh wait! We do!” And he went darting off between the stacks (that’s librarian-speak for the shelves full of books). The kind gentleman returned with the coloring book you see pictured here.

I was astounded. Shocked, tickled even, by my good fortune. Ask and you shall receive. Who would have thought such a thing existed? Not I, said the Cemetery Photographer. The 8.5 x 11 inch sized, thirty-page paperback was published by California’s “Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association” in 1962 (what were they thinking?!). While I paid four dollars for it, there is no actual price on the cover. This led me to believe that it was given to children (with a pack of crayons?) by the funeral director while the parents were …making final arrangements? But I was wrong (as I so often am). I found this tidbit on the Internet, written in 2009, recalling the author's memories from 1969:

"What I do remember very well is the Forest Lawn coloring book I bought in the gift shop. In it, one could lay crayons to the sculpture and buildings peppering the deep green landscape. (Green was a dominant color in this book.) The cover foretold the fun inside: two children, hand in hand, walk through Forest Lawn's open gate. Ah, family values. Four decades later, who knows if any of the Forest Lawns even have a gift shop."

I’m not certain the writer (Steve Crum) realized the oddness of his experience. Does anyone reading this blog know of any other cemeteries that have published coloring books? To a child, I suppose coloring a scene from the Crucifixion or angels serenading a deceased baby might not raise eyebrows. I know my own three-year-old daughter is undiscerning about what she colors. Granted, the Last Supper and the Pieta are relatively innocuous and safe, but wouldn’t you think coloring an outline of the Administration Building and the Flower Shop to be rather boring? And what about that front cover? A little boy and girl walking hand-in-hand through the cemetery gates? What’s up with that? Why the amber vortex beneath their feet? Are they entering a Disneylandia-type entertainment complex or did they just die and are entering Heaven? And why SIX scenes from the crucifixion?!

At the time of Steve Crum’s colorful experience (1969), I don’t expect Forest Lawn was the huge entity it is now, owning ten Forrest Lawn memorial parks around southern California. I’ve been to two – the one in the Hollywood Hills and the one in Glendale. Back in 1993, I visited the Glendale memorial park in search of movie stars’ graves. I found none, while I expected to see many. I guess I thought the place would look like the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Hollywood, CA), where massive monuments to silver screen titans cover the grounds – even if you weren’t totally up on your silent movie star catalog, at this place ALL the surnames sound familiar! Not so at Forest Lawn. Forest Lawn is, as its architect might have said, more ‘dignified.’

According to the “Seeing Stars” website, “There are more major Hollywood stars buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park than at any other spot in the world.” Now realize, there were no such websites in 1993. All I had to go on were some stupid “Hollywood Stars” maps that people sell on the street corners on Sunset Boulevard (which is where I bought mine). The Glendale Forest Lawn, I have since discovered, is the original and largest (300 acres) of the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks. That coupled with the fact that all the grave markers were flat-to-the-ground and very spread out, I found no movie stars.

Forest Lawn is a memorial park. At the time, I did not distinguish between this and a typical cemetery with upright headstones, statues, and monuments. At the time, I also did not realize the historical importance of Forest Lawn being the nation’s FIRST memorial park. For the uninitiated, a memorial park is a cemetery without upright gravestones or family monuments. They are characterized by flat meadow-like grassy fields with flush-to-the ground grave markers.
Back in 1912, a fellow by the name of Dr. Hubert Eaton purchased Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California (it was established in 1906). His innovative plan for the cemetery was to turn it into "a great park devoid of misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and ... memorial architecture." (Wikipedia ref.)

For the most part, Dr. Eaton succeeded. His idea caught on and spread throughout America. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the concept, much preferring the art and architecture of an old Victorian cemetery. The major attraction of the memorial park to the owner, I am sure, is the relative ease with which the grounds can be maintained. Run that riding mower right over the flat grave markers – no bothersome statues and monuments to dodge, no meticulous weed-whacking necessary.

But according to the coloring book, Forest Lawn has many other attractions including the Finding of Moses Fountain, Wee Kirk o’ the Heather Chapel, and the Last Supper stained glass window in the Memorial Center of Honor. For a more updated list, you can check out Forest Lawn’s website.

So while Phoenix Books did not provide me with any other cemetery books, the Forest Lawn coloring Book is a substantial piece to add to my collection. I did find some other choice pieces,  including a copy of The Devils’Race Track – Mark Twain’s Great Dark Writings. I’m sure there are other treasures awaiting you in these last couple weeks before they close, so run! Perhaps like the phoenix of Greek mythology, it will go down in a blaze of fire and at some point be reborn, rising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Further Reading and Reference:

Yelp Review of Phoenix Books in Lambertville, New Jersey (with map):
Forest Lawn Memorial Parks website

Visit Phoenix Books before they close their doors forever in August, 2013!
49 N. Union Street
Lambertville, New Jersey 08530