Elegy for a “Spanish Dancer”

greenwoodYesterday, I went to visit the grave of Lola Montez. It was a spontaneous excursion. I met a friend in Brooklyn, and we stumbled into Green-wood Cemetery. There’s an app for that but we didn’t use it, just a little map given to us by the friendly volunteer at the main gate.

At Green-Wood, you won’t see as much statuary as you would at London’s Highgate. Even the upper-crust in the US weren’t quite as into the death cult as England’s Victorians. And there are no witches or voodoo priestesses there as in New Orleans – where above ground “burial” adds an extra touch of gothic charm.

330px-Myiopsitta_monachus_-Old_San_Juan_-Puerto_RicoGreen-wood, with it’s rolling hills, over four-hundred acres, eight thousand trees, fountains and ponds, is a true oasis. It was designated a national historic site in 2006. There are feral parrots – mostly in the trees just outside the main gate though how they manage to survive New York winters is a mystery. Visitors are welcome, and while locals use the grounds for quiet and contemplative relaxation, it’s not overrun with the living.

imgres-2Many once famous folk are buried there, but we headed specifically for Lola’s grave. She was, after all, a contemporary of Marie Duplessis on whom the vampire-heroine of my novel, Blood Diva is based.

The two shared some acquaintances and friends, including Franzimgres-1 Liszt who was (maybe) the great love of Marie’s life. Like Marie, Lola was a supported by a string of wealthy men though unlike Marie she had a nominal “profession” – “Spanish dancer.” She was not Spanish. She was Irish. Her life was at least as colorful as that of our lady of the Camellias and took her more places geographically. She was for a time the mistress of the King of Bavaria who made her the Countess of Landsfeld and settled on her a large annuity. She wound up in the United States. In California, she had a brief third marriage to a man who died under mysterious circumstances. In the end she wound up in New York. She wrote a couple of books that sold well, and allegedly worked to rescue fallen women.

Lola lived a longer than Marie, making it to the ripe old age of 39 according to Wikipedia though her tombstones says 42. While there have been films and novels about her, there was no opera. They say Conan Doyle may have used her as a model for Irene Adler.

imgres-3I’m not sure what we expected to find at her gravesite. The tombstone says on one side, Mrs. Eliza Gilbert with dates. On the other side, the writing is worn down and harder to read. There it says she was known as Lola Montez, Countess of Landsfeld.

Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.

LM stoneIt appeared that the front of the tombstone may have been restored, but there were no fresh flowers or other tributes aside from a single dancing shoe. Next time, I shall plan better and bring her something – perhaps a mantilla or a fan.

(You did realize this is the website for Blood Diva, the novel, right? Feel free to look around and learn more.)

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