Los Angeles, Ca.- Hollywood Forever cemetery- Los Angeles’ oldest memorial park- once again hosted thousands of people during the annual Day of the Dead festivities meant to honor departed souls.
Crowds of Latinos and non-Latinos alike, many wearing skeletal costumes and eerie face paint in representation of death, walked among the burial grounds looking at photos of loved ones displayed on intricately decorated altars alongside skeleton figurines, candles, food and candy during the Oct. 22 event.
“The artwork was beautiful, it was neat to see everyone with their faces painted,” said Jessie Daily, a first-time attendant who was visiting from Naples, Florida. “What a wonderful tribute to those souls who have passed.”
Incense, marigold flowers, and colorful art centered on images of La Calavera Catrina — a skeleton of an upper-class woman whose image was made popular by the late-Mexican printmaker Jose Guadalupe Posada – were all characteristic of the haunting celebration now in its 12th year.
Founded in 1899, Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the final resting place to a number of Hollywood studio executives, producers, writers and performers including Johnny Ramone, Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolph Valentino, and Douglas Fairbanks.
The Cemetery, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, also draws crowds to its grounds with cultural events such as its summer film screenings, where people carrying picnic baskets and folding chairs gather on the cemetery lawn to watch classic mid-century films and cult favorites projected onto the white wall of Rudolph Valentino’s tomb.
Like the summer film screenings, the annual Day of the Dead event has been drawing increasingly larger crowds. For some, the cemetery event has become a tradition in and of itself.
Alex, a Los Angeles resident who did not want to disclose his last name, said he’s been attending the event with friends for six consecutive years now.
“It’s a great event that brings together a mix of people from different ages, races, cultures and socioeconomic status,” he said. It’s an event that’s been kept current, it’s been infused by a lot of newer traditions and its great to see that here, at this event, it’s not so much about the commercial – about the merchandise- but more about art, creativity and personal expression.”
Latinos like Sandra Morales, who honor the tradition of Day of the Dead at home, came to experience the event at the cemetery with their families for the first time.
“We had never been here before but we’d heard about it and we really wanted to come and learn what it was all about,” she said as she waited in line to get her face painted white, and then decorated in true skeletal fashion. “It’s amazing, we really like what we’ve seen so far, that altars are beautiful.”
Morales drove all the way from Long Beach with her seven relatives to be a part of the cemetery event, which also serves as a great platform for artists.
“We wait all year for this event to be able to display our art on people- some people think it’s weird and all because it’s at a cemetery- but I feel at home here,” said Paulina Herrera, one of many makeup artists who showcased their talent that day. “This is the biggest Day of the Dead event in the U.S. for us.”
Another artist, Carlos Nieto, greeted visitors while they admired his paintings of women with their faces painted in typical Day of the Dead Style. His paintings, along with other artists’ were displayed along the corridors of the Cathedral Mausoleum, where Rudolph Valentino is entombed.
Mayan dances and rituals were also part of the day, which started at 12p.m. and ended at 12 a.m.
One ceremony included “Transition of the Souls,” a ritual that welcomes the soul of Mayan God Chac Mool to enjoy the food, the music, and to simply reconcile with the living.
Musical performances included Ruben Albarra, lead singer of Café Tacuba, who was accompanied by a sitar and guitar player from Chile, and a violinist from New York. Together they performed contemporary pieces from Latin American composers, and a posthumous homage to legendary singer Rockdrigo Gonzalez, known as “The Nopal Prophet.”
Musical performer Astrid Hadad, best known as “La Tequilera”, also entertained audiences at the event from a large, colorful stage. Hadad is renowned for her eccentric shows and fuses ranchero, bolero, rumba and jazz.
The winner of the $3,000 prize for Best Altar was the Quintero family, who put together an altar honoring Jose H. Quintero, who died in the Vietnam War.
The altar featured half a dozen nine-foot-tall army clad skeletons and a large banner that read “The Fallen but Not Forgotten”. Pictures of other Latino soldiers who died during that war also dotted the altar.
“This is a great opportunity for families to honor ancestry and for families to unite and come together like mine did,” said Alicia Quintero.
“We live in El Paso now, but every year we come together with my brothers to put an altar together as a family, during this event.”