On a hot summer afternoon in Los Angeles this past August — the kind of day where you can feel the crisp California sunshine searing right into your skin — I decided to make a detour. I was leaving Doheny Memorial Library at USC, where I had spent the morning and afternoon looking through clippings and photos of Anna May Wong from the Los Angeles Examiner archives, and I had a little bit of time to kill before a drinks date with a writer friend in East Hollywood. I got in my car and set the GPS on my phone to the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Anna May Wong’s final resting place.
I had often thought about going to pay my respects to the woman I have devoted so much time and psychic energy to. I’d heard stories about obsessed fans who arrived weekly to sweep and take care of her gravestone. I imagined, similarly, arriving with a bouquet of flowers, incense, and a platter of fruit as an offering to her honored spirit. But I hadn’t planned ahead and didn’t have time to stop and pick something up. Better to visit her than not at all, I reasoned, and swallowed the fact that I’d have to show up empty-handed.
When I pulled into the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, I was greeted by a hillside of parched, yellowed grass and a slew of dead palm trees, many with their tops cut off, their 25-foot tall trunks left to sway nakedly in the breeze. I knocked on the main office door and a woman kindly returned with a map and circled the location of AMW’s gravesite. Following her directions, I drove up one of the narrow roads that weaves through the plots. Some of the tombstones stuck out of the ground at odd angles and were visibly deteriorating with broken bits of stone laying on the grass nearby.
The cemetery had undoubtedly seen better days. Opened in 1884, Angelus Rosedale was one of the earliest cemeteries in Los Angeles and the final home for many of the city’s pioneers and elite families. Whatever its former glory, Rosedale today is a far cry from the carefully manicured lawns of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where stars like Rudolph Valentino, Judy Garland, and Douglas…