Holy Cross Cemetery – Culver City, California - Atlas Obscura
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Culver City, California

Holy Cross Cemetery

A bright California graveyard with a decidedly dark side. 

This large Catholic cemetery is the final resting place of movie stars including Sharon Tate, Rita Hayworth, Bing Crosby, Zasu Pitts, Rosalind Russell, and Dracula himself (aka Bela Lugosi). 

In 1939, the newly created Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego opened Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, on almost 200 acres of small rolling hills that had been part of the large land grant of Rancho La Ballona. The land was touted to have an “excellent drainage system … and supplied with abundant water,” and to have “been carried out in accordance with modern, approved trends in Memorial Park development.”  Monuments and vaults were not permitted, only flat grave markers. Burials began immediately.

In 1954, a Japanese-American artist named Ryozo F. Kado began work on the cemeteries impressive grotto. Dedicated to Saint Bernadette, grottos featuring artificial caves, waterfalls, statues of Mary, and often Bernadette herself, are important spots of veneration at many Catholic cemeteries.Once the elaborate grotto at Holy Cross was constructed, it became the most desirable real estate for departed SoCal Catholics. One of the first celebrities to be buried there was the original Dracula – Hungarian born Bela Lugosi. Attended by only 60 mourners, including the director Ed Wood, Lugosi was buried in his famed Dracula cape while a Hungarian dirge was played on the violin. Since his burial, his unassuming grave has become a mecca for macabre fans.

A true horror story reached its conclusion in August, 1969, at the funeral and burial of the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, victim of the Manson family. With the killers still unknown and on the loose, Tate’s funeral was held in the chapel on the top of the hill at Holy Cross, while her family and husband, the director Roman Polanski, looked on. The highly emotional funeral, attended by the likes of Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, Yul Brynner and Peter Sellers among others, concluded with Tate’s mother bursting into tears as the officiate intoned, “Goodbye Sharon, and may the angels welcome you to heaven, and the martyrs guide your way.”

Today, the sprawling cemetery is open to the public. There are many stories in these hills, diverse tales of people from many different continents, all united by a single religion and drawn to the city founded by their spiritual brethren many moons ago.