MOLINE, Ill. — Minda Powers-Douglas has a hobby to die for: cemeteries.
The enthusiastic 43-year-old Moliner (a prolific writer, editor and speaker) is working on a special cemetery book — “Forever Silent: Silent Film Actresses and Their Graves.” Ms. Powers-Douglas has a GoFundMe account to raise $2,000, to offset travel expenses in her extensive research.
“Our cemeteries have so much to offer us besides being places for us to put our dead,” she said this week. “They are filled with history, art and representations of our communities. They’re just fantastic. The cemeteries in the Quad-Cities, as well as most places, are natural respites from the craziness of the world.”
She’s author of the books “Images of America: Chippiannock Cemetery,” ”Translating Tombstones,” ”Cemetery Walk” and others. Ms. Powers-Douglas is also the founder and editor of www.TheCemeteryClub.com (its Facebook group has 6,600 members), and Epitaphs magazine (now an online publication). She has interviewed people across the U.S. as well as other countries for her projects.
Her current project — to give voice to female silent-film stars — combines her lifelong love for Hollywood and passion for cemeteries and history.
“When I first had the idea to write this new book on Hollywood graves, I hadn’t realized how much the movies and moviemakers of the time had in common with old cemeteries,” Ms. Powers-Douglas wrote on her site, gofundme.com/foreversilentbook. “Unless the movie is well-known and understood to be important, it can slide back into obscurity.
“Just like a historical cemetery can disappear from neglect, a film can be ‘lost.’ In 2013, a study by the Library of Congress reported that 75 percent of silent-era films are lost,” she noted. As well as the silent-film actors who have graves and markers, “Forever Silent” will discover those whose graves remain unmarked and those who have no graves at all.
“And there are far too many,” the author wrote. “Everyone deserves to be remembered.”
Ms. Powers-Douglas has visited Los Angeles three times in the past two years, to see where actors are buried, do research and find necessary photos (including for a video project on cemeteries). For the first time, she will attend the five-day Cinecon in L.A., starting Sept. 1. About half the conference covers the silent-film era.
Money she’s raising will help with travel and hotel expenses, conference costs, photos and other necessary purchases.
“I’ll be meeting with people I’ve been networking with online. A number of them are contributing to the book in some way (writing the introduction, foreword, about silent films, or about a star who is important to them),” Ms. Powers-Douglas said by email. “My goal is for this to not only be an informational book, but for it to be a personal one, too.
“I can tell people how great and important the silent film era is, but to really connect with people, they want to know why. And who better to tell them than fans?” she said. “We’re all fellow nerds.”
She also hopes to go to New York City for the book. A number of stars, including Gloria Swanson, are interred in the area, and there’s a cemetery with an Actors Fund section, she said.
Ms. Powers-Douglas is so into silent-film actresses that she has the likeness of one tattooed on her right shoulder blade — Marie Prevost (1898-1937). “She inspired me in the beginning,” she said. “She’s beautiful. She had that glamour, but also this innocence you just don’t see anymore.”
The writer’s husband — caricature artist and musician Bill Douglas — bought her a sepia-toned, autographed and framed photo of Mary Pickford (1892-1979) last Christmas. Known as “America’s Sweetheart,” Pickford appeared in more than 250 films by 1933.
The communications coordinator for Palmer College of Chiropractic, Ms. Powers-Douglas teaches workshops on topics such as cemetery symbolism, art and history; proper gravestone rubbing techniques; memoir writing; creative writing; self-publishing; urban legends and ghost stories.
She has given presentations throughout the U.S., and for five years has taught cemetery- and death-related classes through CommUniversity at St. Ambrose.
Ms. Powers-Douglas operated Epitaphs magazine from 2005-08, and had contributors from around the world who wrote and took photos for it. Most of the issues still are available through Lulu.com.
CemeteryClub.com is an astoundingly comprehensive information hub, whose links page alone includes links to U.S. and international cemeteries; cemetery tours, research, blogs, restoration and preservation resources, genealogy, history, cemetery associations, and funeral and grief assistance.
In the Q-C, Ms. Powers-Douglas loves Oakdale Memorial Gardens in Davenport and Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island. “The statuary, the stories and just the feel of them are why I love them,” she said. Since Riverside Cemetery in Moline “has been close to me growing up and even now, it means a lot to me, too,” she said. “The tiers are fascinating.”
She admires Chippiannock because of the copious, unique statuary. “I love the symbolism the most,” Ms. Powers-Douglas said. “From the Victorian era, when everything had a meaning, to contemporary symbols which show the person’s interests. Symbolism is an important part of the memorialization of a person. It’s the main thing that tells us what to remember about the person.”
When she visited Mary Pickford’s private gravesite at Forest Lawn in Glendale, Calif., she was stunned. Pickford herself “was very tiny,” she said, but her memorial (enclosed with walls) features a towering sculpture of several figures.
Through her work, Ms. Powers-Douglas hopes more people visit cemeteries, too, so “they can appreciate their beauty and historical significance,” she said.
Once she finishes the book, she has a couple publishers in mind “but nothing is, pardon the pun, set in stone,” Ms. Powers-Douglas said.
Source: The (Moline) Dispatch, http://bit.ly/2bYroLi
Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.qconline.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Moline) Dispatch.