Apr 1932 – My Strange Experiences at Valentino’s Grave

A movement is being launched in Hollywood to erect a new memorial to Rudolph Valentino. It will take the form of a sarcophagus mausoleum in which Valentino is to be entombed. According to current plans, the building will cost around $40,000. The chap who imparted this information to me did not know whether a fund existed to erect the mausoleum or whether the money would be obtained by popular subscription. A difference of opinion arose regarding the latter course of procedure. It was my contention that some difficulties would be encountered unless large individual amounts were subscribed. After all, Valentino has been dead 5 years and these are times of stringent financial difficulties. “Forty thousand is a mere drop in the bucket”, my friend informed me. “Four hundred thousand could be raised in a short time if necessary”. Quite apparently you haven’t followed the legend of Valentino. Even in death he remains the screen’s most popular male star. The idolatry accorded Garbo is the only approach to the tremendous tradition of Valentino. “Pilgrimages to his grave rival those of history. Five years? What are five years? It will take a generation to dim his shining star and at least another generation to eclipse it even partially. If the people behind the memorial ask the public to subscribe, they can have the money almost over-night. “Do you know that there are nearly a score of Valentino Associations whose memberships are pledged to keep his crypt ever beautiful with flowers? Do you know that no less than ten people daily appear at the offices of the Hollywood Cemetery to inquire specifically where they might find the Valentino burial place? These folks are the new pilgrims and their number multiplied many times by the regulars. Five years and don’t talk to me about five years. Go talk to Pete at the mausoleum. He will give you a story of the Valentino’s tradition that will, if I am not mistaken amaze you. It seemed like good advice. I found that Pete was the diminutive of Roger Peterson, a big blond Scandinavian from Minnesota. He is the attendant at the Hollywood Cemetery mausoleum where Valentino is buried. In many respects Pete belies the conception of what a cemetery attendant should be. He is not a taciturn unsmiling individual but rather a loquacious, pleasant chap as jovial as he is big. Very frankly, Pete was a revelation to me. The major part of his duties have to do with inquiries concerning Valentino. It is therefore, an authority on the film star. Visitors, genuinely interested in Valentino and they number thousands find Pete a sympathetic confidant. Unfortunately, he also has to deal with hysterical, sometimes unbalanced people who make a Roman holiday of their visits to Valentino’s crypt. His handling of each semi-psychopathic cases would do credit to a physician. Pete has kept a diary since he has been on the job at Hollywood Cemetery. Like all diary-keepers, he has not made entries every day. There are long stretches of blank pages when the diary was forgotten in the press of other duties or pleasures. Not all the dates are accurate to the exact day. Pete was careless about dates. The document, nonetheless, presents an intensely vivid picture which I have taken but few liberties in transcribing. There are several points of Pete’s story to which I have added facts. The reporting of contacts with individuals, however, is entirely his own. The first date that concerns us is;

7 Sep 1926 – Rudolph Valentino was laid to rest in the mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery today. Crowds estimated by the newspapers to number in excess of 20,000 lined the sidewalks as his funeral cortege passed from church to cemetery. Nearly 5000 people surrounded the church while last services were held. The scenes here must have duplicated the public demonstrations in NY where Valentino died on 23 August. His church services were attended by all the great of filmdom, but only his brother Alberto and Pola Negri came to the cemetery to witness the sealing of his crypt. Miss Negri later collapsed and had to be helped from the mausoleum to her car. The tremendous amount and great beauty of Valentino’s floral offerings defy description. The cards bear loving messages from Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Jack Dempsey, and Estelle Taylor, Bebe Daniels, Kathlyn Williams, Antonio Moreno, Buster Keaton, Reginald Denny, William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, James Rolph Jr, June Mathis, and others. Pola Negri’s blanket of flowers that read POLA, June Mathis had a wreath of roses on which was the name Julio. Julio was the name of the character in the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. It was in this role, written by June Mathis that Rudolph Valentino won undying fame. The crypt in which he now lies belonged to Miss Mathis. In the tier below lies her mother and step-father. The space next to Valentino lies Miss Mathis.

08 Sep 1926 – The public, denied admittance yesterday, are thronging in today to view Valentino’s burial place. Hundreds of people have passed down the corridors of the mausoleum to pay last respects to their screen idol. The crowd as an average had been well behaved, but a few hysterical women have prostrated themselves, crying aloud their love for “Rudy”. Such demonstrations are embarrassing to the cemetery authorities but it is difficult to know how to combat them.

09 Sep 1926 – More people and more demonstrations.

10 Sep 1926 – Still more people and a particularly violent fit of hysteria. It is a shame that sincere affection for a public figure such as Valentino must be besmirched by exhibitionists.

11 Sep 1926 – The souvenir hunters have been at work. They have torn buds and ribbons from the floral offerings until little remains of the magnificent wreaths. It will be well to keep constant watch for vandalism ghoulishness may be a better word.
Specific stories of certain of thousands of people who daily thronged the mausoleum are lacking in the early chapters of this account. Pete did not “take his pen in hand” to report contacts with individuals until a later date. Perhaps the more vastness of the multitudes who came to pay homage precluded “human interest” reporting. The daily total of thousands was reduced to hundreds as time wore on, but the hundreds remained faithful. Valentino Associations were formed in various sections of the country. The next item to beg inclusion here has to do with the auction sale of Valentino’s Estate. It began 14 Dec 1926, with the sale of some five thousand items of his personal possessions. These items ran from small trinkets to expensive pieces of furniture, paintings, and tapestry. The auctioneers valued his personal belongings at $25,000 they brought in $125,000. It was the trinkets and intrinsically valueless properties that sold for many times their worth. Single handkerchiefs brought bids of as much as $25.00. A pair of salt and pepper shakers were purchased by a man for $12.50. He was the manager of a hardware store that sold identical pepper and salt shakers for 75 cents. But the merchandise he sold so cheaply had not once belonged to Valentino. The auction sale of course, stimulated additional interest in Valentino’s burial place. The crowds that visited the mausoleum again increased, but in a few weeks they had returned to normal. The cemetery officials grew to expect hundred or more people daily. The number varied but little until the first anniversary of Valentino’s death. Then the crowds were swelled again. Joseph Scheneck, present of United Artists Studio was chairman of the first memorial committee. Rudolph Valentino had died at noon and exactly at noon, one year later, work ceased at all studios. The afternoon was devoted to memorial services at the Church of the Good Shepard, attended by everyone of consequence in Hollywood. That was 23 Aug 1927. A month later, came a weird occurrence.

30 Sep 1927 – A woman came to the mausoleum today with the wildest delusion yet. She claimed she was about to become a mother and Valentino was the father of her child. This thirteen months after his death. The woman asked for permission to have a cot placed before Rudy’s crypt where she might stay until her baby is born. She went up to the cemetery office, and somehow or the other they got rid of her.

10 Dec 1927 – Souvenir hunters are at work again. Noticed today they have been chipping away at the small statue on the pedestal in Valentino’s corridor. I don’t mind them taking flowers but why must they spoil a beautiful piece of statuary?
03 Feb 1928 – There is a whole hand gone from that statue now and a new other parts broken. I had better not catch anyone chipping it, but I can’t stay around all day. I have other work to do.

08 Mar 1928 – I heard a crash this morning. It was the marble statue. Someone must have knocked it down trying to chip off a souvenir. By the time I got there, not a soul was in sight, but the statue did not fall down by itself. I had put it away in the shed. It’s too bad, but I suppose I should be thankful that there is one less thing to watch.

01 Jun 1928 – The people you have to keep your eyes on are the ones that come in laughing and joking. I don’t believe this is the place for wise-cracking and I am beginning to be suspicious of those who do it. The ones who show proper respect for the dead are usually above suspicion. When they tiptoe quietly down the corridors, scarcely speaking above a whisper, I know they are all right. It’s the kidders that need watching. Probably one of them broke the marble statue.

03 Jun 1928 – I am sure I’m right about jokers. A fellow came in today and told me a joke. A few minutes later, I caught him trying to get away with a small potted plant. If people want souvenirs why don’t they ask me? I would be glad to let them have a flower when I know it means so much to them. Cut flowers have to be thrown away so soon anyway. There was a girl in yesterday who asked for a rose from Valentino’s crypt. She was from Chicago and was going back in a few days. She said her boss had visited the mausoleum last year and had brought back a rose. He gave a rose petal to every girl at the office the gift had been so greatly prized by the girls that this young lady had been made to promise she would attempt to get another rose. Of course, I have her several roses and a few beads from the wreaths a Valentino admirer had sent from the old country. When we found that people were destroying the wreaths Alberto Valentino gave them to me for safe keeping. He told me to give some of the beads to the folds that really loved Rodolph. There are thousands of small beads on each wreath, plenty to go around. If anyone is decent enough to ask for a souvenir, they are welcome. But I’m not going to have things stolen if I can help it.

23 Aug 1928 – It is the second anniversary of Valentino’s death. Memorial services are being held again and beautiful memorial services are being held again. You might believe that after two years the memory of this great star would have dimmed. I can’t see that it has. Of course, most of the curiosity seekers have forgotten, but his real admirers have remained faithful. There must have been between four and five hundred people here today.

24 Aug 1928 – I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these flowers. George Ullman, Valentino’s former manager sent over a lot more today. He gets letters and telegrams from all over the world containing remittances for floral tributes. His secretary sees that everyone is represented by some blossoms. This she does with great care, as she holds it a high honor to serve the ones who loved Valentino. She personally selects the floral arrangements and spends hours helping me arrange them. That is, she arranges them and I help if I can. We had our usual group of hysterical women yesterday and today. I am becoming accustomed to women screaming and crying for their “Rudy”. But when men do it sort of gets me. There was a little foreigner in today, a Frenchman. He burst into tears and kissed the cold marble of Valentino’s crypt then turning he practically ran from the building.

15 Oct 1928 – I met Mrs. Coppola today. She is the mother of the baby named for Rudolph Valentino. Of course, being Italian, the name is spelled Rodolfo. The baby died at birth, 29 Sep and is in a crypt on the top tier of the Valentino corridor. The mother came today and stayed several hours reading her bible and praying. I wish I could do something to comfort her in her grief.

21 Nov 1928 – Mrs. Coppola happier today than I have ever seen her. I asked her why and she told me a strange story of Valentino coming to her last night talking to her. She said his spirit came to her house and knocked on the door. When she let him in, he told her that her baby was happy and not to grieve so much.

16 Jan 1929 – I have not written anything in my diary for some time. Mrs. Coppola and I have become great friends. She calls me “Mr. Pete”. She comes regularly at least five times a week and always brings flowers from her own garden. These she divides equally between her baby and Valentino. I found out today that she never saw the Valentino crypt on the screen. When he died, she sold her home in San Diego, and moved to Hollywood, taking a house within walking distance of the cemetery. She used to come over often, even before her baby died, but she came over so early in the morning or late at night that I missed seeing her. She tells me that she seen Valentino’s spirit occasionally in her dreams and frequently hears him walking about the house at night. She has met Valentino’s brother and sister who come often and once in a while they all pray together.
There is another woman who comes regularly once a week. She is always dressed in black and always brings flowers. Valentino’s crypt will never lack floral tributes as long as his relatives and Mrs. Coppola, the lady in black and the various Valentino organizations keep his memory alive. There is a group in London that has the cemetery florist deliver a basket of flowers every Saturday.

07 Mar 1929 – The lady in black is no longer a person of mystery. She told me a lot about herself today. She is very poor, which explains why she always wears the same black dress every week. A black and white hat and a long cape, reaching to her ankles, complete her costume. Her husband left her several years ago with a small child to support. She earns all she can by doing housework of the hardest sort. Valentino represents the only romance in her life. She went to the studio once to see him work, but was too bashful to ask for an introduction. She says, however, that he glanced her way and smiled while looking directly into her eyes. That moment she will treasure forever. A few weeks later, he left for New York, where he died. She failed in her endeavor to meet him while he lived and now she spends what time she can by his side in death. The flowers she brings she feels are a pitiful offering as compared to the gorgeous wreaths she sees by his crypt. She seems furtively to slip her few blossoms among the others as though she is ashamed of the house-grown tribute. I know of none more sincere.
3 Apr 1929 – My lady in black came today. She kissed the marble in front of Rudy’s crypt, as she always does, and her face was still pressed to the cold surface when Valentino’s brother came in. She must have recognized Valentino’s brother from his pictures, for she seemed paralyzed by embarrassment. She simply cowed in a corner as if to hide from him. I know she would like to meet Alberto, so I made a point of introducing them. When I told him how she came regularly to bring flowers, he thanked her graciously. I have never seen anyone so pleased.

8 Jun 1929 – My lady in black did not come this week or last. I miss seeing her and hope she is not ill. She cannot afford to be sick form what she told me.

23 Aug 1929 – Third anniversary of Valentino’s death. Again, the flowers are being received in tremendous quantities. Perhaps a few less than last year. All the regulars came except the lady in black, I am worried about her. Wish I knew where she lives. (Note I never heard from her again).

4 Oct 1929 – There must be a convention of spiritualists around here some somewhere. I have met more people who have talked of having seen Valentino’s spirit recently than I have since I have been with the mausoleum. They tell very convincing stories. I wonder what it is like to have the power to peer into the mystic realm of the dead. On an average, I like these folks who talk of spirit form. They are generally very quiet and well-mannered. Some are rather weirdly dressed, but there’s probably for effect.
16 Dec 1929 – We had a real spiritualistic manifestation today. A woman came in and introduced herself as a medium. She said she had spoken with Valentino upon numerous occasions, but he always disappeared before she could ask him everything she wished answered. She had, therefore, travelled from somewhere in New England that she might hold a séance by his crypt. Perhaps she wasn’t asking my permission, but I told her to go ahead. I really don’t care what people do just so they aren’t noisy and don’t steal or break anything. This woman started to go into a trance when something happened. IA series of knocks were actually heard from above the crypt. The medium ran around in circles, crying “Hear Hear’ He knocks. Rudy knocks. She behaved like an insane person. Others, attracted by her cries came running down the corridor. Sure enough, there was a tap, tap, tap to be heard from above. We investigated and found a large yellow-hammer had gotten into the attic of the mausoleum. How that bird had been able to get in remains a mystery to this day. But he was flying around crazily and the beating of his wings caused the tapping noise. The bird and the spiritualist left the cemetery about the same time. I don’t know which was the most crest fallen but neither returned.

21 Jan 1930 – Some people don’t realize when they are well off. A young lady came in today, who had quarreled with her husband over some silly trifle. The argument started when she informed him that Rudy would not have treated her as he was treating her. He replied that, if she did not like it, she could go live with Rudy. So she took his advice and left home. She spent all day crying by the Valentino crypt.

22 Jan 1930 – The same girl has been around all day again. She says she is going to get a job in the movies.

23 Jan 1930 – The girl did not show up today.

24 Jan 1930 – She did this morning when I came in, I found her asleep on the cold marble alongside Valentino’s crypt. She came around last night and finding the mausoleum closed, she climbed through the window. Apparently, she was attempting to follow her husband’s advice about living with Rudy. She was warned that if she tried the stunt again she would be liable to legal prosecution for unlawful entry. This isn’t the first time somebody has tried to spend the night in the mausoleum and it won’t be the last. Before closing up, we always look for people who might be hiding.

31 Jan 1930 – Heard today, that the girl who climbed into the mausoleum window had returned to her husband. He came to get her and take her back to the mid-west.

2 May 1930 – For more than a week, a very pretty young lady has been manufacturing her own souvenirs. Like the other girl who collected rose petals, she is from Chicago. These people from Chicago, seem to do allot of travelling. This particular young lady, has been bringing a large bunch of yellow roses on her daily visits. She puts them in a receptacle by the crypt and clips off the dying buds from previous contributions. These flowers she intends to take home as souvenirs from Valentino’s crypt. She put them there who has a better right to take them away.

14 Jul 1930 – I heard one of the strangest stories of my experience today. A middle-aged woman came in with an enormous bunch of lowers and made her way directly to the Valentino corridor. She seemed to know where she was going and I followed to offer her what assistance I could with her flowers. As she neared Valentino’s crypt I heard her cry “At last, Rudy, at last I have come. Your spirit has led me on, ever on, to view your final resting place. Rest, dear heart, rest” there was a lot more in the same vein. While she rested, she told me her story of how Valentino’s spirit had come to her as she lay ill on her hospital bed in a Southern city. Valentino whispered that she would get well immediately, but the must make a pilgrimage to his tomb before she could find happiness. The vision disappeared and she fell into a deep restful sleep. When she awoke she felt strong enough to leave the hospital. They discharged her two days later. As she needed funds for the trip to California, she sought an office position and obtained one as a secretary to a business executive. It was practically a case of love at first sight, and when the executive was called to Europe on business he proposed they take a trip for a honeymoon. The only cause of a rift is their first months of happiness is the vision of Valentino. Her husband scoffed at the vision calling it a hallucination of the sick room. But she was unable to dismiss it so easily. When they returned from Europe, she insisted on following the advice of her vision. Her insistence forced a separation and in a small car she set out for California narrowly escaping death in three separate accidents. Arriving in Hollywood she drove straight to the cemetery. She summed up her story by saying “Here I am at the end of my pilgrimage, exhausted but happy in the of my success. My task is done, I have kept faith. My plans for the future are not made but if I can find work, I hope to remain in California.

21 Jul 1930 – It has been a week since the lady with the vision came. She appeared again this afternoon with more flowers. She told me that she had obtained work in a studio and planned to settle here. She was assured she would find happiness promised to her by Valentino’s spirit.

31 Jul 1930 – A man has been haunting the mausoleum for the last two days. I wonder who he is.

2 Aug 1930 – The mystery man has been identified. He met his wife this morning who was none other than the vision lady. They talked for some time in a secluded corner and apparently patched up all their differences. He waited for his wife outside while she knelt by Valentino’s crypt to say a last good-bye. She kissed the marble, whispering “Farewell Rudy, dear heart, farewell”. She did not stay long. Smiling she followed her husband into the sunlight.

23 Aug 1930 – Fourth anniversary of Valentino’s death and a repetition of all others. Flowers a little less profuse, but no other change.

3 Sep 1930 – Among today’s visitors was a delightful little lady who informed me proudly she was 80 years of age and a great-grandmother. She wanted to buy the crypt directly over Valentino but when I told her he might be moved later on, as he was merely occupying a section of the June Mathis groups she decided not to buy. “He was so sweet” she said. I loved him like one of my own children. If I cannot be near him always here I will wait awhile until they decide where he is to be moved. Then perhaps it can be arranged. This at 80 years of age. Peter’s diary ends here inasmuch as it concerns Valentino. But he informs me that the fifth anniversary in fact, was observed with greater interest than any since the first. I withdraw all my contentions regarding the advisability of launching a $40,000 Valentino Memorial at this time. The public, if invited, would undoubtedly subscribe $4,000.000, so dear is the memory of Valentino in their hearts.

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2 thoughts on “Apr 1932 – My Strange Experiences at Valentino’s Grave

  1. Tracy

    Great article – Roger Peterson sure saw it all. Valentino still is ‘the unforgotten’

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