One Life, One Funeral, Two Graves
Many years ago I took a journey that many of you have taken — or someday may take — to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home outside the small town of Spring Green, Wisconsin. During the course of my day there I wandered down to the family cemetery in what is referred to as The Valley. Not far from the chapel that 18-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright, then an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin, helped to design in 1885, nestled amid a dozen or so graves is the stone marking the gravesite of Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959.
Little did I know that day, as I stood silently before it, that his grave was empty.
Frank is gone.
He certainly had been buried in the family graveyard, although his journey after his death was an unusual one. At age 91 he had undergone surgery in Phoenix for an intestinal obstruction. Three days later, as his nurse stood watching, “He just sighed — and died.”
His son-in-law Wesley Peters arranged for a casket, which they then loaded into the back of Peters’ truck and headed for Wisconsin. “I was driving the pickup truck with the coffin in the back,” Peters recalled. “We drove continuously, 1800 miles, for twenty-eight hours.”
On the following Sunday, April 12, a funeral service was held in Taliesin, after which a pair of black Percheron horses borrowed from a neighbor pulled a simple, wooden wagon down to the family cemetery. Friends, former apprentices, family and Wright’s third wife, Olgivanna, followed on foot. His casket was lowered into the freshly dug grave as the minister read a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance.” Later the apprentices returned with a stone selected from the nearby quarry, mounting it upright to mark the site of the famed architect’s final resting place.
But it was not to be.
Twenty-six years later, on the first day of March, 1985, his widow Olgivanna died at Taliesin West (pictured), outside Scotsdale, Arizona, which had been her home since Wright’s death. The only person with her at the time was her physician, who informed the staff that Olgivann’a last request had been to have both her and Wright cremated, their ashes intermingled and spread at Taliesin West.
With no public announcement or discussion, Wright’s grave back at Spring Green was uncovered and his casket removed from its resting place of 26 years. The casket was secretly conveyed to a funeral home in Madison, where Wright was then cremated.
The children and grandchildren by Wright’s prior marriages were outraged, but powerless. The only explanation they were given was, “When Olgivanna told you to do something, you did it.” Apparently, even when she was dead.
The outrage extended far beyond the local residents, prompting the Wisconsin House of Representatives and the Senate to demand that his ashes be returned to Taliesin. The resolution was ignored.
Fitting a story of intrigue and controversy, the final resting place of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ashes remains a mystery to this day. After remaining in storage at Taliesin West for several months, the ashes reportedly were secretly scattered about the grounds and possibly interred into one of the walls being built.
No one at Taliesin West will say for sure — if they even know.
Frank Lloyd Wright lived a life of controversy, and so it should be no surprise that his death followed suit.
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
Photos courtesy of www.findagrave.com.
Quotes from Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest.