anne mikolay 2012 120It's time once again for things that go bump in the night, for ghosts, goblins, rattling chains, vampires, and monsters. While some folks might include cemeteries in their list of all things spooky, I am not one of them. As a history buff and amateur genealogist, I view cemeteries as a tangible link to the past.

Tombstones reveal quite a bit about those who have gone before us. In addition to genealogical information, cemeteries reveal how attitudes toward death have changed through time. Puritans, believers in predestination, often carved skulls into tombstones; sentimental symbols like angels and flowers were common in the mid-19th century, while the 20th century saw a shift from large monuments to smaller headstones, sometimes highly personalized with laser etched photographs of the deceased or things the deceased enjoyed during his/her lifetime. Tombstones often reflect an individual's personality. For example, the final resting place of legendary ballplayer, Babe Ruth (1895-1948), a larger than life figure, is a sizable, grand monument at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. In contrast, the grave of iconic actor James Cagney (1899-1986), also at Gate of Heaven, is a simple, marble slab as unassuming as the man himself. Other celebrity tombstones reveal a lighthearted attitude toward death: actor Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010), famous for his “Airplane” and “Naked Gun”movies, had the words “Let `er rip” inscribed on his grave marker. Television personality Merv Griffin (1925-2007) is immortalized through humor; his tombstone says “I will not be right back after these messages.”

One need not leave the Garden State to find tombstones of the famous. While some well known New Jersey natives, like jazz musician “Count” Basie (born in Red Bank in 1904), and the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello (born in Asbury Park in 1895 and Patterson in 1906, respectively), are not buried in their home state, New Jersey is the final resting place for countless other noteworthy individuals. Here are just a few of New Jersey's “buried treasures”:

U.S. President Grover Cleveland, died 1908, buried in Princeton Cemetery, Princeton

U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, died 1836, buried in Princeton Cemetery, Princeton

Stephen Crane (writer), died 1900, buried Evergreen Cemetery, Hillsdale

Thomas Edison (inventor), died 1931, buried Glenmont, West Orange

Vince Lombardi (football coach), died 1970, buried Mount Olivet, Middletown

Union Civil War General George McClellan, died 1885, Riverview Cemetery, Trenton

Walt Whitman (poet), died 1892, Harleigh Cemetery, Camden

Todd Beamer (United Flight #93 hero), died 2001, buried Brainerd Cemetery, Cranbury

Maria Jeritza (opera singer), died 1982, buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington

Shirley Booth (actress), died 1992, buried in Mount Hebron, Upper Montclair

Elston Howard (ballplayer), died 1980, buried in George Washington Memorial, Paramus

Joyce Kilmer (writer), died 1918, buried in Elmwood Cemetery, New Brunswick

Estee Lauder (cosmetics), died 2004, buried in Beth-El, Washington Township, Bergen County

Dudley Moore (actor), died 2002, buried in Hillside, Scotch Plains

Whitney Houston (singer), died 2012, buried in Fairview Cemetery, Westfield


Lobelia, better known as Elsie, the Borden's cow, perhaps the most recognized advertising symbol of her time, died in 1941 and is is buried in Plainsboro, Mercer County. Long Hill Township in Morris county is the final resting place of Leo, the roaring M-G-M lion, who died in 1938.