The Best Last Place Part 1 of 2

By Lynda Millner   |   February 22, 2022
The Cemetery Chapel
An upright stone when today most are flat

One of my favorite places to walk is the Santa Barbara Cemetery. It’s green with gorgeous views and lots of history. It’s the “The Best Last Place” according to David Petry, who wrote an everything you want to know book about the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Many prominent folks and movie stars think so too. Even President Reagan and Nancy. They bought the biggest and most expensive plot in 1982; 500 square feet in a prime location overlooking the ocean in the Sunset Section. The Cemetery board set a price of $250,000 plus a $50,000 endowment. Their attorney countered asking for a smaller lot at a lower cost. Manager Cavalier contacted other cemeteries with celebrities about what they needed to do.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park encouraged Santa Barbara to exclude press or cameramen at any state funeral and to rope off contiguous areas to protect current burials. Walt Disney was interred prior to notifying the press. Marty Feldman’s service ended at church instead of graveside. John Wayne’s interment happened at 6 am, but the gravesite was a secret. Five different graves were opened with ornate flowers for decoys and the cemetery was locked to all except employees during the service. Later the public was kept 100 yards away. Other cemeteries said to exclude busses and increase insurance for the ledger stones and bronze gates proposed for the actor.

Finally, five months later, the Reagans did sign a contract. They would pay $18,690 down. The ledger stones arrived without names and were placed in the cemetery maintenance building for storage. All this happened during Reagan’s presidency and the cemetery braced for the onslaught should Reagan actually be buried here. Four years later the manager read that Reagan had requested a Stanford burial site for himself and Nancy and that the burial crypt be located next to the Reagan Library. It was said that initially he wanted to be buried at the Ranch, but Nancy nixed that plan. Soon Reagan’s lawyer notified the Santa Barbara Cemetery that they wanted to sell the plot back. The board agreed and came out ahead with $11,945 in interest and the sale of the ledger stones plus no hassle over interring a revered president. As we know, they are buried in Simi Valley at the Presidential Library. 

The second date isn’t on there yet; instead, it says “Stay Tuned”

Prohibition was enacted two months after the WWI Armistice in 1919 and not repealed until 1933. Someone found a unique use for the Duryea Mausoleum. It was used as a signal house for the rum runners trying to land their stash on East Beach. A sentry put a signal lamp up inside and lit it if the coast was clear.

Here are some interesting stats and dates. The Santa Barbara Cemetery was opened in 1869 and has over 40,000 graves. In the olden days they used to face every grave to the east to await resurrection. In the 1800s people died in their homes but by mid-century more died in hospitals hence the funeral parlor and embalming. Cremation began in 1870 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. In 1909 cars finally won out over horses and were allowed in the cemetery. After every major windstorm, it costs $25,000 to clean up the debris. Forest Lawn was the first cemetery in the United States to build a church on the grounds.  


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