Photo: A 1957 side-loading Cadillac hearse listed on EBay, with bids starting at $15,900 (there is a reserve).
Queen of the Dead – dateline March 12, 2012
• Photographer Stan Stearns (who died on March 2, age 76) will always be known for one shot: little John-John saluting his father’s coffin at his November 25, 1963, funeral. Stearns was a UPI photog during the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon years, also making a good living doing weddings, portraits, ads and (according to his website) “glamour and boudoir” photos. After snapping his shot of a lifetime, wrote Matt Flegenheimer in the New York Times, “he ignored orders to go to Arlington National Cemetery and instead walked the film to the UPI bureau himself, convinced he had secured the day’s indelible image.” Which leads me to one of my more startling tattoo sightings in New York, in the 1980s: a young man at an ATM, with a photorealistic tattoo on his arm of little John-John saluting the coffin. Mind you, this was New York, in the ’80s, so there is every chance that at some point, John F. Kennedy Jr., ran into this human canvas and saw himself, as a child, at his father’s funeral, on a total stranger’s arm.
• Just everyone has been e’ing me the odd story of Patricia and Joan Miller, the identical twins who were found dead in their South Lake Tahoe home on February 26, aged 73. They had been dead for some time, and no one knows yet how—one sister was in bed, the other in a hallway. The Millers had the briefest of show-biz careers, as singers in the 1950s. They appeared on a local L.A. TV show, The Hoffman Hayride, and can be seen in a 1956 country-music film, Rockin’ the Blues. In later years they worked as a payroll clerk for the school district (Joan) and in social services (Patricia)—and became the kind of creepy Grey Gardens recluses that we love so much. “I never heard of anyone else being in either of their lives,” said a neighbor. “They were inseparable and really identical . . . They kept things to themselves. I don’t even know if they had siblings.”
• There is nothing I love more than wandering around old cemeteries (well, maybe wandering around the Liz Claiborne section at Lord & Taylor). So I tip my hat to “The Dragon of Highgate Cemetery,” Jean Pateman, who died on February 11, aged 90. Pateman was the leading force behind resurrecting Highgate, the gorgeous old graveyard just outside London (the northern suburbs). Opened in 1839, when London churchyards were getting a bit crowded and whiffy, it was one of the first “destination graveyards,” a park-like setting chock full of breathtaking monuments. It had fallen into disrepair by the 1960s, but the Friends of Highgate Cemetery came to the rescue in the 1970s, with Pateman as its eventual chairman. She was famed (or notorious) for keeping out filmmakers, photographers and even writers: “She often referred to herself as ‘the dragon at the gate,’” said author Audrey Niffenegger, “the person who protected Highgate Cemetery from the inappropriate, the disrespectful and the frivolous.” Pateman now joins her husband and such Highgate neighbors as Douglas Adams, George Eliot, cinema pioneer William Friese-Greene, Karl Marx, Ralph Richardson, John Galsworthy, Radclyffe Hall, Christina Rossetti, Jean Simmons, and Mrs. Henry Wood, author of the great potboiler East Lynne.
• William Heirens, who may or may not have been the notorious Lipstick Killer of the 1940s, died in prison on March 5, age 83. He had been in jail for 65 years, reportedly longer than anyone else in the US. In 1946, the teenaged Heirens was arrested for attempted burglary and confessed to three Chicago-area murders: Josephine Ross and Frances Brown (stabbed in their homes in 1945) and Suzanne Degnan (kidnapped and dismembered in 1946). A lipstick-scrawled “For heavens sake catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself” on Brown’s wall made the case a media phenomenon, later turned into a novel (The Bloody Spur) and a movie (While the City Sleeps). Heirens claimed his confession was coerced, and for decades his champions pointed out numerous flaws in the case and alternate suspects. The Lipstick Killer still ranks high with Sam Sheppard and Lizzie Borden in the “did he or didn’t he?” files.