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Buried in Valhalla: Performing Arts Figures at Kensico Cemetery

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Danny Kaye with ventriloquist doll - scene from "Knock on Wood." Dena Productions, 1953.
Danny Kaye with ventriloquist doll – scene from “Knock on Wood.” Dena Productions, 1953.

A guest blog post by retired cataloger Sharon McKinley.

While researching Geraldine Farrar a few years ago, I noticed that she is buried at Kensico Cemetery, located in Valhalla, New York. Coincidentally, my grandparents are there as well. Beyond the fact that having a cemetery in a place called Valhalla is a grand idea, Kensico is the final home of a number of  famous people, some of whose collections are housed in the Music Division.

The 460-acre cemetery was founded in Westchester County in 1889, as available burial plots in New York City were fast filling up. Conveniently located on a major rail line from the city (now Metro-North), it was intended to have a rural feel: green, expansive, and tranquil. The name Valhalla comes from its post office, named by the Wagner-loving wife of the postmaster. The resting place of the gods is a perfect location for a cemetery. Wagner would surely approve.

So, who are my grandparents rubbing elbows with? The Valhalla-worthy celebrities whose work lives on at the Library of Congress (click on the link for more information on holdings) include Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967), opera singer; Beverly Sills (1929-2007), operatic soprano; Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943), composer, pianist, and conductor; and Danny Kaye (1913-1987), multi-talented actor, singer, dancer, and comedian, and his wife, composer and songwriter Sylvia Fine (1913-1991). A bonus collection: Ayn Rand (1905-1982), located in the Manuscript Division.

Other performing arts figures buried at Kensico (a few of them opera singers, appropriately enough)  include Vivian Blaine (1921–1995), actress and singer;  Tommy Dorsey (1905–1956), swing-era trombonist; Dorothy Loudon (1933–2003), Tony Award winning actress; Robert Merrill (1917–2004), baritone, Metropolitan opera star; Anna Moffo (1932–2006), soprano; Charles Weidman (1901–1975), pioneer of American modern dance; and Florenz Ziegfeld (1869–1932), producer of the Ziegfeld Follies, and his wife, Billie Burke (1885–1970) an actress who played “Glinda the Good Witch” in The Wizard of Oz.

A host of other well-known people from various fields of endeavor are interred at Kensico. Baseball legend Lou Gehrig and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky share the beautiful grounds with railroad executives and congressmen, as well as poverty-stricken actors and entertainers provided for by the Actors’ Fund of America. The cemetery is open to the public, and there is an online map if you want to take a tour.

A cemetery isn’t what one usually thinks of in conjunction with Library of Congress collections and their creators, but Kensico is in a class by itself. It’s nice to know that my Grandma and Grandpa are in such good company.

Comments (2)

  1. The nearby Gate Of Heaven Cemetery (in Hawthorne, New York) likewise has its share of 20th Century celebrities interred: James Cagney, Babe Ruth, Fred Allen, Sal Mineo, Anna Held, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Mayor James J. Walker, and Tammany Young come to mind; there are many others. Definitely worth a visit.

  2. So nice to see the research you did here. Very much appreciated. So interesting! Thank you.

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