Elvis Presley. Marilyn Monroe. Jim Morrison.
Their graves are public shrines for fans and followers. Countless people from all over the world make pilgrimages to their burial sites, hoping to draw close to those they adored from afar. Now Michael Jackson’s gravesite will become the next holy grail. A private gathering for the pop icon was held Tuesday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California. Afterward, his casket was taken to the public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But it remains unclear whether his body has been interred — or where. Officials at Forest Lawn won’t disclose where Jackson’s body is being buried. If his final resting place is at Forest Lawn, fans who wish to visit will have to overcome the funeral company’s stringent security patrols. A Los Angeles Police Department official told CNN that the force hoped Jackson would be buried outside of its jurisdiction for fear officers might be assigned to protect the grave for months. There has been some speculation that Jackson’s body will eventually be moved to Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California. But that would require the family to obtain zoning exemptions and settle legal disputes, which could take years. Jackson retained only a small share of ownership in the ranch. If a public memorial were created at Neverland — or anywhere — it might easily surpass the tombs of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley as the most-visited gravesite. “If it gets moved somewhere more public, I think a lot of people will come visit,” said Steve Goldstein, author of L.A.’s Gravesite Companion: Where the VIP’s RIP. “He’ll probably take over as the most visited grave site over Marilyn.”
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Fame follows celebrities in life and in death. “There’s always a fascination with celebrities, but it’s rude to stalk people and sit outside their houses,” says Jim Tipton, founder of findagrave.com, a site that lists the grave records of more than 34 million celebrities and ordinary citizens. “But once they are interred into the ground, anyone who wants to go can go.” Tipton’s fascination with locating earthly remains began 15 years ago, when he saw mobster Al Capone’s grave in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois. He and many others who are avid about visiting celebrity and historical graves dub themselves “grave hunters.” They seek the dead for various reasons. Some go out of simple curiosity. Others are history lovers. Many are fans who deeply admired the stars. Some say they feel a connection to the celebrities by standing beside their graves. At Elivs Presley’s Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, guests visiting the grave can stay at the retro Heartbreak Hotel and visit the museum to learn more about the King of Rock and Roll. Westwood Memorial Park and Cemetery in Los Angeles houses Hollywood notables including sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and legendary entertainer Al Jolson. The most recent celebrity to be buried there is actress Farrah Fawcett, who died of cancer last month. Visitors can access the cemetery easily, and even tour buses drop by. “I’m a product of that era, of Charlie’s Angels,” said Jayne Osborne, a self-proclaimed grave hunter who visited Fawcett’s grave a week ago. The 48-year-old education administrator began searching for celebrity graves in the early 1970s. Since then, she’s visited hundreds of celebrity resting places in Southern California. “I wanted to pay my respect.” At Westwood, the most popular grave site remains Monroe’s. Fans often decorate her grave with flowers and cards. Her headstone is slightly darker than the others from so many fans touching it, grave hunters say. In Père-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris, France, American singer Jim Morrison’s grave is tattooed with graffiti and artwork. Morrison fans like to leave candles, poems and gifts as tokens of appreciation. At one point, fans were so rowdy that a stone block was put in place in an attempt to seal the grave from fans trying to unearth it. After unsuccessful attempts by French authorities to move the tomb to another site, security officers were place at the grave. Similar trouble plagued Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, where members of the Allman Brothers Band were buried in the early 1970s. Thousands of fans journeyed to visit the graves and party there, leaving behind cigarette butts and empty alcohol bottles. Relatives fought to have an iron fence erected around the graves. Some celebrity graves prove tempting to visitors, like that of heartthrob actor James Dean. His headstone in a public cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana, has been stolen twice. Forest Lawn Memorial Park remains one of the most exclusive Hollywood burial sites. The staff is tight lipped, refusing to release the whereabouts of anyone buried there, except to family members. Security cars constantly patrol the grounds. “We don’t advocate or promote any visitation out of respect for the privacy of the family,” said William Martin, a spokesman for company. Company officials wouldn’t say whether Jackson’s body was, or could be, tucked into one of the cemetery’s locked gardens where celebrities like Humphrey Bogart, Jean Harlow and Sammy Davis Jr. are laid to rest. If Jackson is buried in Forest Lawn, that won’t stop fans and grave hunters from trying to sneak in, says Karen Fogarty, a paralegal from the San Fernando Valley area in California and an occasional celebrity grave hunter. “It’s going to keep Forest Lawn on their toes,” she said.