I lived in Culver City at least six or seven years before venturing inside. I drove past the gates a gazillion times on my way to and from the freeway. I said to myself, I must look in there someday. But this day I had to get home. I had things to do. I didn’t have the time. And so the years passed—and I passed on by.
I don’t even remember the first time I decided to make the effort to visit, but it must have made an impression as I have been going back ever since, and for over fifteen years Holy Cross Cemetery has been one of my favorite Culver City walks. My suggestion to walk around the cemetery sometimes meets with strange reactions, but everybody who has walked with me has agreed that it is indeed a spectacular place to spend some time.
Although I do like to glance at the gravestones and read the inscriptions as I walk by (after all, that is why this beautiful park exists), because the stones lie flat in the ground, the ambience is more like a beautifully coiffed golf course than a typical graveyard.
The cemetery sits on gently rolling hills with vistas of the ocean and mountains. Although “gently rolling” can be a misnomer when you are on foot as some of the grades can be quite steep. Slowly trudging upwards on a hot day when I am gasping for air, I have had drivers stop to offer me a ride to the top, especially on the days when I need to use my cane. I always have to explain, thank you, but I’m doing this for fun!
The cemetery is landscaped with plenty of trees providing homes and snacks for the squirrels and birds. Often I have seen red-tailed hawks circling above. On one unfortunate day I saw a hawk dive into a tree followed by white feathers scattered into the air and a squawking bird being carried off in the hawk’s claws—the cycle of life and death.
White marble statues of saints or members of the holy family are placed at various intervals around the park, adding to the feeling of peace and harmony. Even when I’m having a particularly chaotic day, as soon as I enter the grounds, all my frustrations and anxieties are washed away. Sometimes I have to force myself to get in my car and make the three-mile drive, but in the end it is always worthwhile—a better choice than drugs or alcohol for a mood change!
My favorite time of year to visit Holy Cross is around the Christmas holidays. This is a Catholic cemetery and celebrating the birth of Christ is an important event. It seems that nearly every grave is decorated elaborately, as if the occupants are about to spring up and join in the festivities. Everything from fully-dressed Christmas trees to nativity scenes to tinsel and poinsettia plants embellish the grave sites.
At other times in the year, fresh flowers are abundant. I often see families with folding chairs and sun umbrellas sitting around the graves of their loved ones. In this cemetery, no-one is merely buried and forgotten but remains a functioning member of the family.
There are two special locations where I like to stop and contemplate. The first is the lily pond near the Slauson entrance. Turtles and Koi fish live in peace and harmony there. If you approach very, very, very silently some of the turtles will remain in their sun-worshipping positions on the rocks, but mostly they will slip into the security of the water and dog (turtle?) paddle until the intruder has passed.
The second special location is the grotto at the top of the hill, up the road from the pond. A small crucifix statue is usually surrounded by lit candles. I like to take a minute or two to be grateful for whatever comes into my mind to be grateful for at that moment.
Many years ago when I hit a particularly bad patch in my life and was in a lot of inner turmoil, I picked a gravestone at the top of a hill under a shady tree with a view of the Santa Monica Mountains and Pacific Ocean. For many months I talked to the occupant of the grave who was only in his mid-forties when he died in the mid-sixties, although I had no idea who he was, and told him my troubles. It was comforting to me to have somebody to talk to who was completely non-judgmental and did nothing but “listen.” I was able to work out a lot of issues with his assistance. Then my life moved on and I didn’t visit for several years. The next time I saw his grave he had been joined by his wife and I was happy for him.
It was only recently that I googled Holy Cross Cemetery and discovered a great secret. All these years I have been enjoying my walks without knowing that many of Hollywood’s most famous citizens are interred there. Apparently if you are a movie star and Catholic, that is the place to spend eternity—not a bad choice. I haven’t tracked down any of the plots or crypts yet, but some of the names you might recognize are Bing Crosby, Rita Hayworth, Charles Boyer, John Candy, and Bela Lugosi. (You can find other Hollywood luminaries buried at this cemetery by clicking here.)
So whether chasing down famous names or just out for a stroll on a sunny day, if you decide to visit Holy Cross Cemetery and you see a lady slogging up the hill leaning on her walking stick, feel free to wave, but please don’t offer me a ride!
Holy Cross Cemetery
5835 W. Slauson Ave.
Culver City, CA 90230