I have never visited the grave of a famous person. In fact, up to this point in my life I have never had a real desire to visit the grave of a famous person. While I have always thought the idea provided a unique way to respect an individual for their societal and personal contributions to our world, the idea of wondering into a graveyard to pay homage to a person I never really knew always seemed a bit odd to me. That perspective consistently resulted in me turning down the opportunity to visit a famous person’s grave in the rare instances my friends invited me to do so with them over the years. Although I understood the curiosity and desire that drove such visits, I just wasn’t comfortable with participating in the event. As a result, the experience was one I had never gained up to this point in my life, but I was fine with that being the case.
During the course of my “I have never...” research early in my year of new experiences, I found that perspective slowly changing as I sifted through the special locations in and around Madison. As I dug through the secret places of the city, I was reminded the grave of Chris Farley, the legendary comedian, lies in Madison, which was his hometown and the location he spent his early adulthood. At first, the fact did little to move my perspective on visiting the grave of a famous person, but a quick check of Farley’s birthday showed February 15 of this year would have been his 50th birthday. Realizing the coincidence of such an event occurring during my “I have never...” year, I figured the date was as good as any to gain my first experience visiting a famous person’s grave. In turn, I set aside time to make the trip this morning hoping I could take something away from the experience.
As I drove to the cemetery against the backdrop of a bright, sunny day, I thought about the forthcoming experience and what it would entail. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the gravesite, whether it would be busy with people paying respects or unlike any other day, but the closer I came to the location the heavier I seemed to feel. Regardless of how I thought of the coming experience, it pulled out a sense of sadness in me. Considering I didn’t know Chris on any sort of personal level, it was odd to encounter such a feeling for a complete stranger, but its presence was impossible to ignore. The idea of my new experience for the day being rooted in the passing of a celebrate man simply left me somber.
I did my best to shake off the sentiment as I pulled into Madison’s Resurrection Cemetery and climbed out of my car. Pausing briefly to take in a full, deep breath of the cold winter air, I looked over the mausoleum I knew contained Chris Farley’s grave and mulled over what I would take from the experience. In my hesitation I acknowledged the thought was simply a sort of delay rooted in my lingering discomfort at the idea of following through with my plan. As a result, I quickly kicked my feet into motion as to not let my underlying feelings deter me from my course. My path led me through the plain wooden doors of the mausoleum and into a small chapel that served as the face of the structure’s interior.
|The chapel interior|
The door swung closed behind me, letting off an echo that carried through the chamber left quiet by the absence of other people. I couldn't help but find the stillness of the chapel slightly eerie as I moved slowly to one of two hallways extending from the rear of the room. There I came upon a skylight illuminating walls lined with granite where the two hallways converged and stretched deep into the back of the building’s interior. The shine of the light pouring through the overhead windows was so powerful I initially failed to recognize the appearance of names marked on the long rectangular slabs of stone that made up the walls. Stepping forward, my eyes passed over the series of names climbing up the wall until they met a familiar line of lettering. “Christopher Crosby Farley,” I said out loud at the realization of the gravesite before me, “So, this is your resting place.”
To my surprise, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the grave on a day of such significance. There were no signs of other visitors; no flowers or other relics left commemorate what would have been a day of significance in Chris Farley’s life. It was just me staring at the writing on the stone surface that marked the end of a man’s legacy. I stood silent before the grave for some time, reading and rereading the name and dates it contained. Eventually lifting my hand to feel the embossed letters lining the stone, I spoke softly, “Well, happy 50th, Chris. It’s hard not to wonder what life would have been like for us if you stuck around. I hope you are resting easy.”
Stepping back from the grave to look at it once more my hand grazed the cool stone surface resting beneath the letters, which gave me pause. For whatever reason the feeling reinforced the absence of life in the quiet around me. It was a moment that was heavy, but in a way it helped me find some meaning in the experience. In visiting Chris Farley’s grave I had forced myself into an uncomfortable space reserved for remembrance of those that have past. Where I would have avoided stepping foot in such a place before, I was the only person paying respect to a person that had a huge impact on so many. To me, that reality was foreign, but I was glad I had decided to make it real.
My thoughts led me to other names on the walls around me and eventually guided me through the entirety of the mausoleum. Although no other names were familiar to me, the history and ages scrawled on the walls of each gravesite left me awe. There were reminders of hundreds of years of life all around me, and through the passing phrases and common names I began to piece together aspects of those lives and where they intertwined. Husbands, wives, and children gone too soon filled the walls and served as permanent reminders of past generations. In those moments the silence around me stopped looming and instead became an indicator of the peace and calm wished upon every person resting behind the granite walls. The feeling was strange and enlightening. It made every aspect of my time at the mausoleum more valuable than I ever would have expected.
|Happy 50th, Chris.|
I spent awhile longer moving through the mausoleum before turning back toward the entrance and heading for the door. Once outside I walked through a few rows of the graveyard around me, soaking in the sun among the cawing of crows and whistling of sparrows. It was a wonderful way to spend the tail end of a late winter morning, and it gave me time to settle on my thoughts about the day’s experience. By the time I made it back to my car I found myself with a slight curl to the corners of my mouth. “What a beautiful day,” I said as I opened the car door and climbed inside, “I’m sure you would have enjoyed it, Chris.”