Curious & Funny Epitaphs of Famous People & the Not-So-Famous

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents some of the hilarious or unusual—and, in some cases, quite touching—epitaphs she has discovered.

Are you an expert on some of the more famous epitaphs found on tombstones?

To see if you are, take this handy Famous People’s Tombstone Epitaphs quiz—which you are welcome to share with your genealogy-loving and cemetery-sleuthing friends—and then check your answers below.

a quiz of epitaphs found on famous people's tombstones

Authors of Their Own Epitaphs

If you want to be certain you’ll be remembered in a unique way, then write your own epitaph. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) did it, so why not you? Besides, it’s a great way to make sure you get in the last words you want!

Thomas Jefferson’s Epitaph

Of the two, Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph is the more serious. Prior to his death on 4 July 1826, he wrote:

“Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Statutes establishing religious toleration in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Thomas Jefferson's epitaph, Macon Weekly Telegraph newspaper article 2 January 1855

Macon Weekly Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 2 January 1855, page 2

Benjamin Franklin’s Epitaph

I prefer Dr. Franklin’s epitaph; he humorously described himself as “food for worms” prior to his passing on 17 April 1790.

Benjamin Franklin's epitaph, Massachusetts Centinel newspaper article 5 May 1790

Massachusetts Centinel (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 May 1790, page 58

William Shakespeare’s Epitaph

Another famous historical figure who wrote his own epitaph was William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Shakespeare’s tombstone inscription, which has been widely debated, suggests that a visitor might be cursed if he moved Shakespeare’s bones. One theory is that Shakespeare wished to scare away grave robbers; another is that as cemeteries filled, he wished to deter the custom of moving existing interments to make room for others. (See his grave from Holy Trinity Churchyard in Stratford-upon-Avon, England at www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1450.)

Shakespeare wrote:

“Good friends, for Jesus’ sake, forbear
To dig the dirt inclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
But curst be he that moves my bones.”

William Shakespeare's epitaph, Providence Gazette newspaper article 23-30 December 1769

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 23-30 December 1769, page 2

Sam Houston’s Epitaph

Then there is that famous Texan, Sam Houston (1793-1863). As a senator from Texas, he delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate defending the Compromise of 1850. Worried that slavery would split the Union, he declared: “I wish, if this Union must be dissolved, that its ruins may be the monuments of my grave, and the graves of my family. I wish no epitaph to be written to tell that I survived the ruin of this glorious Union.”

He died in the middle of the Civil War, and no epitaph was written for him. However, his gravesite memorial features a quote by Andrew Jackson: “The world will take care of Houston’s fame.”

a photo of Sam Houston’s gravesite memorial in Huntsville, Texas

Photo: Sam Houston’s gravesite memorial in Huntsville, Texas. Credit: Wikipedia.

Curious & Memorable Epitaphs of the Famous and Not-So-Famous

Some epitaphs are noteworthy because they were written for famous people—and others are memorable for their uniqueness. While researching this topic, I discovered that many epitaphs are simply urban legends and don’t exist in reality—but the epitaph examples below are real. Just follow the links to check the inscriptions with photographs of the tombstones at findagrave.com.

Lucille Ball’s Epitaph

“You’ve Come Home”

(Lake View Cemetery, Jamestown, New York:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7003071)

Deborah Marie Bennett’s Epitaph

“Life is short,
Eat dessert first”

(Mount Hope Cemetery, Pescadero, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=99693195)

Jonathan Blake’s Epitaph

“Here lies the body of
Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake”

(Uniontown Cemetery, Uniontown, Pennsylvania:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39158322)

Mel Blanc’s Epitaph

“That’s All Folks”

(Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=100)

Rodney Dangerfield’s Epitaph

“There Goes the Neighborhood”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9556754)

Marguerite Dewey Daniels’s Epitaph

“She always said her
Feet were killing her,
But no one believed her.”

(Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28457972)

Bette Davis’s Epitaph

“She Did It the Hard Way”

(Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=258)

Jack Dempsey’s Epitaph

“Heavyweight Champion of the World
A gentle man and a gentleman”

(Southampton Cemetery, Southampton, New York:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=275)

Murphy A. Dreher Jr.’s Epitaph

“This ain’t bad
Once you get used to it.”

(Star Hill Cemetery, Saint Francisville, Louisiana:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=95370531&PIpi=65389055)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Epitaph

“So we beat our boats against
The current, borne back
Ceaselessly into the past”
The Great Gatsby

(Old Saint Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=344)

Robert Frost’s Epitaph

“I Had a Lover’s Quarrel with the World”

(Old Bennington Cemetery, Bennington, Vermont:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=371)

Sal Giardino’s Epitaph

“World’s Greatest Electrician”

[This tombstone looks like a light bulb.]
(Laurel Grove Memorial Park, Totowa, New Jersey:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5103)

Merv Griffin’s Epitaph

“I will not be right back
After this message”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=20909851)

Joan Hackett’s Epitaph

“Go Away—I’m Asleep”

(Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1447)

William H. Hahn Jr.’s Epitaph

“I Told You I Was Sick”

(Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, New Jersey:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7968130)

Rita Hayworth’s Epitaph

“To yesterday’s companionship
And tomorrow’s reunion”

(Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1253)

Coretta Scott King’s Epitaph

“And now abide faith, hope,
Love, these three; but the
Greatest of these is love.”
I Cor. 13:13

(Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Atlanta, Georgia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=582)

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epitaph

“Free at last, free at last,
Thank God Almighty
I’m free at last.”

(Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, Atlanta, Georgia:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=582)

Harvey Korman’s Epitaph

“You’re Born, You Suffer, and You Die”

(Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27185449)

Jack Lemmon’s Epitaph

“Jack Lemmon in”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=22822)

Paul G. Lind’s Epitaph

“WEMISSU”

[This tombstone looks like a scrabble board.]
(Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27240724)

Sylvester B. McCracken’s Epitaph

“School is out
Teacher has gone home”

(Grace Lawn Cemetery, Elkhart, Indiana:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43210077)

Lester Moore’s Epitaph

“Here lies Lester Moore
Four slugs from a .44
No les [sic], no more”

(Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, Arizona:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=19899)

Leslie Nielsen’s Epitaph

“Let ’Er Rip”

[And on the bench:]
“Sit Down Whenever You Can”

(Evergreen Cemetery, Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=62278982)

Dr. William P. Rothwell’s Epitaph

“This Is on Me”
—Rx

(Oak Grove Cemetery, Pawtucket, Rhode Island:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11588247)

Billy Wilder’s Epitaph

“I’m a writer
But then
Nobody’s perfect”

(Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California:
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6295551)

Here is a collage of some more curious epitaphs, all found in historical newspapers.

a collage of epitaphs found in historical newspapers

If you know of some curious or funny epitaphs from cemeteries near you, please share them with us in the comments!

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 6: Search Cemeteries Online

A few weeks ago I wrote about online cemetery records (See: Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records). In that article I wrote about the U.S. Veterans Administration’s Nationwide Gravesite Locator, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves.

Now I want to show how you can help your family history research by using information from these three websites: Find-A-Grave, GenealogyBank and Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

As shown in my earlier blog article, I gave Find-A-Grave a try by registering and adding the tombstone photo of my great-grandfather John Henry Kemp (1866-1944).

Registering with Find-A-Grave triggered a mini-avalanche of requests by family members and genealogists from around the country asking if I could take photos of their relatives’ tombstones at cemeteries in my local area. In the past week I’ve received almost 20 requests so far and they are still coming in: requests for me to take photos of gravestones in cemeteries all around my county.

Find-A-Grave has a “Request A Photo” feature that lets you ask nearby genealogists to take a photo of your target ancestor’s tombstone and post it to Find-A-Grave.

screenshot of the "Request A Photo" page from the website Find-A-Grave

Credit: Find-A-Grave

So I decided to give it a try and volunteered to be a gravesite photographer.

I received a request to photograph the tombstone of Daniel J. Clifford. They said that he was buried at the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1997.

First, I did a quick search on GenealogyBank and immediately pulled up Clifford’s obituary, giving me more details about him. He was 86 years old when he died and yes, he was buried in the Connecticut State Veterans Cemetery.

obituary for Daniel Clifford, Hartford Courant newspaper article 25 October 1997

Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), 25 October 1997, page B3

Next, I searched Nationwide Gravesite Locator to get a quick summary of Clifford’s military service and burial site.

screenshot of record for Daniel Clifford from website Nationwide Gravesite Locator

Credit: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

It shows that he was a Tec 5 in the U.S. Army and served in WWII. It also tells us that he was buried in Section 81-G, Site 02 in the State Veterans Cemetery.

That is a great feature of the network of military cemeteries: service members are not buried randomly—they are buried in neat, orderly rows. With that section and site number it is easy to go directly to Daniel Clifford’s grave.

So—I headed out this morning to do just that. Armed with my iPad, I went to see if I could actually do this. As you drive into the cemetery you can see the small markers indicating the sections. There was Section 81-G.

Walking the rows I was able to quickly find tombstone 02 in Section 81-G. Notice that the stones have the location code engraved on the back of the tombstone.

photo of the rear of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Simple.

Here is his gravestone.

photo of the front of Daniel Clifford's tombstone

Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp

Sharp, clear and easy to read.

Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank are essential tools genealogists rely on to get details of the lives of every member of their family.

Now—another word. I took these tombstone photos for Find-A-Grave with my iPad.

Imagine that.

When I first looked at an iPad I could see no practical value in having one. I could do everything I needed with my laptop—why would I need this extra tool? I quickly found that its always-on Apple software lets me check e-mail anytime, without having to wait for the laptop to crank up.

Now I see that it can actually take photos. Good ones, too.

It was easy to work with. When using it at the cemetery I could easily see the tombstone in the full screen image. It was even easier to frame the photo and to take the picture.

Wow. That was simple.

I have been working on my family history for the past 50 years. There’s always something new to learn.

Last year I learned how to text, to keep in touch with the kids—and now I have an iPad.

Couple this technology with such core tools as Find-A-Grave, Nationwide Gravesite Locator and GenealogyBank, and it’s clearly “A Great Day for Genealogy!”

Read these other blog articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 4: BillionGraves Smartphone App for Finding Graves

I recently wrote the article Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records, which included a discussion of BillionGraves.com. This handy website provides an app that can be used to find the burial site of a relative.

Let’s look into this a little more.

BillionGraves is a free Internet site that encourages genealogists, Boy Scouts and local cemetery buffs to take photographs of the tombstones in their local cemetery and upload the pictures online using the free BillionGraves app.

This is really easy to do.

Remember—you’ll need a Smartphone to take these cemetery photos or find a gravesite already photographed.

Why? Because BillionGraves not only adds the photo of each tombstone, it includes the GPS coordinates to the spot where that person is buried. It has harnessed technology to make it easy to permanently record the photograph—linked to the GPS data used by Smartphones—so that anyone can quickly find the tombstone. This nifty app makes it so much easier to find what cemetery—or where in that cemetery—someone is buried.

How does this work?

Watch this short video clip of Tom Hester showing how easy it is to do this.

How do you find a grave using BillionGraves?

What if you’re looking for a particular grave and there is no cemetery office? No sexton available? No map to cemetery burials?

We’ve all walked cemeteries for hours searching for our deceased relatives’ graves.

BillionGraves is changing that.

With BillionGraves you can quickly find out if someone has uploaded a photo of your ancestor’s grave. With its GPS feature, your Smartphone can lead you right to it.

Watch how “Casey and Jake” found the grave of their 8th-great-grandmother using the Smartphone app.

Harness the information in both BillionGraves and GenealogyBank and you can fill in the details of your family tree.

collage of records about Lionel Starbird from GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

Credit: GenealogyBank and BillionGraves

For example, let’s say you are researching your ancestor Lionel Starbird.

On GenealogyBank you can quickly find the core genealogical information about Lionel Starbird—his name, date of birth and date/place of death—and by searching for him on BillionGraves you can see a photo of his grave. Notice that BillionGraves links all of the photos in a family plot to his record.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Read these other articles about top genealogy websites:

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 1: Google

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 2: Google Books & Internet Archive

Top Genealogy Websites Pt. 3: Burial & Cemetery Records

Effort to Mark 1,200 Unmarked Civil War Veterans’ Graves Hits Snag

American volunteers are out in cemeteries across the country, working to document the lives of bygone generations whose graves were not permanently marked with a tombstone. When these dedicated good Samaritans identify a veteran, the volunteers often request a headstone from the National Cemetery Administration which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Per the Department’s instructions: “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world.”

illustration of government headstones available for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

There are multiple styles of markers and tombstones that can be selected. These can be personalized with a symbol reflecting the veteran’s religious faith.

illustration of the religious symbols available for the government headstones furnished for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, has been using this VA program to place tombstones on the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans. As a team of volunteers documents each vet, they request a headstone to honor his service in the American Civil War.

Watch a New York Times video report about the volunteer effort to mark these Civil War graves:

This volunteer team estimates that there are over 8,000 Civil War graves in the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, many of them unmarked. The historic New York cemetery has gotten tombstones for over 3,000 formerly unmarked Civil War veterans’ graves, but they have had a problem getting the next 1,200 tombstones.

The Daily News reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has changed its policy and is now requiring that the tombstone application be filed by a relative and not by a group such as the volunteers working at the Green-Wood Cemetery. See the complete news article “Department of Veterans Affairs blocks historic Green-Wood cemetery from giving Civil War vets tombstones.” Daily News (New York City, New York,) 9 July 2013.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has gotten involved in this controversy, stating: “To require the permission of a direct descendant of men who died well over one hundred years ago is a nonsensical policy and it must be reversed.”

If the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t reverse this decision, then the volunteers and cemeteries will have to raise the funds to pay for these Civil War veterans’ grave markers.

Mystery of the Missing Wooden Tombstone in Colorado Solved

Bertha Welch (1883-1903) died 12 February 1903 from the complications of childbirth. A wooden tombstone for her was created and placed in historic Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge, Colorado.

photo of Bertha Welch's wooden tombstone in historic Valley View Cemetery in Breckenridge, Colorado

Credit: ©Jen Baldwin, Ancestral Journeys, 2011-2013

This was the last legible wooden tombstone still standing in the historic Colorado cemetery, where it had been placed over 110 years ago.

Then suddenly the wooden grave marker was missing, dismaying genealogists and historians. But there’s good news, and a happy ending to this tombstone mystery! It turns out that a great-granddaughter removed Welch’s wooden tombstone to have some repairs done to it. Read the full story about the recovery of the old wooden headstone on the CBSDenver.com website: http://cbsloc.al/1cHOhcO