Whilst most graves are just visited by family and friends, many last resting places of the famous rack up thousands of visits in any one year. Visiting famous graves is now big business with many people finding it a great way to learn about history or pay respects to an idol. There is even a website – www.findagrave.com – dedicated to helping you find a grave of a particular person or search for graves in an area you might be visiting.
There are also a couple of ‘must visit’ locations in the world that have more than their fair share of headline graves. Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a particular hot spot with graves of Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Edith Piaf, and Jim Morrison among many. In the USA, entertainers such as Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, Dean Martin and Frank Zappa are buried in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles. You can even visit one of the dedicated funeral museums around the world.
In the UK, Westminster Abbey is a hot spot for famous graves, traditionally housing the UK’s most prominent figures including over 20 monarchs and their consorts. Scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking are buried in the Nave, whilst literary figures such as Charles Darwin, Robert Browning and Rudyard Kipling can be found in Poets’ Corner. Here’s our top picks of graves or tombs you can visit in other parts of the UK:
Winston Churchill is buried near to his birthplace on the Blenheim Palace Estate, Oxfordshire. His grave can be found in the churchyard of St Martin’s Bladon, where you can also see a memorial stained glass window installed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death.
The political philosopher, Karl Marx, is one of the most famous residents of East Highgate Cemetery, London. Other famous graves here include those of the novelists George Eliot and Douglas Adams, poet Christina Rossetti and music impresario Malcolm McLaren.
Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister, also declined the offer of recognition in Westminster Cathedral and is buried at his country home, Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire. Now a National Trust property, a gentle walk through its parklands will take you to St Michael and All Angels church, where he is buried next to his wife.
Unlike most monarchs, Queen Victoria also chose not to be buried in Westminster but to be forever next to her beloved Albert in an elaborate mausoleum in the grounds of Frogmore House, Windsor. The mausoleum, grounds and house are usually opened to the public for around six days per year.
William Shakespeare paid to be buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon and famously requested that the following be written on the side of his tomb: “Blessed the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His grave is one of the most visited in the UK with the church estimating that over 200,000 people visit each year.
Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire. Having lived most of her short life in the county, she took up lodgings near the Cathedral with her sister shortly before her death, in the hope of getting help from the newly established Winchester Hospital, but sadly died shortly after aged 41.
Thomas Hardy is mostly buried in Westminster Cathedral in Poet’s Corner, but in his typical romanticised style, chose to have his heart buried in Stinsford, Dorset in his local church, where both his wives are buried. (The burial of famous explorer David Livingstone follows a similar tale, with the majority of his body buried in the Cathedral but his heart buried in Zambia by his attendants, who removed it and buried it under a tree near to the spot where he died.)
It’s worth remembering that not all famous characters chose, or had the opportunity to choose, a marked grave. Famously, Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave in St Marx’s Cemetery, Vienna, with more recent memorials placed in the nearby Zentralfriedhof Cemetery in Vienna next to the graves of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sir Francis Drake was buried at sea in full armour, having succumbed to dysentery during his last expedition off the coast of Panama. John Wayne decided to have an unmarked grave to stop the hoards visiting and more recently the families of the famous such as Steve Jobs, Roy Orbison and John Belushi have chosen to either use unmarked graves or keep the location of their loved ones a secret. A reminder that it is our achievements in our lifetime, rather than any elaborate epitaph, that keep our memories alive in the world we have left.