It’s Halloween and there’s no better story to tell than that of the Dearly Departed Tour – a tour experience so bad, you’ll wish you were dead, too!
Okay, that is a little harsh, especially considering this tour (and it’s variants) have a very solid 4.5 star rating on Yelp. What went wrong?
Things started off great. We got there early so we had plenty of time to check out the death museum attached to the tour office. There is some really interesting stuff here for those of us with morbid curiosity, and I would recommend visiting it even if you aren’t on a tour.
In the office, there is an impressive collection of funeral programs. These are mostly from burials from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery located just across the street from the tour office/museum.
If they were buried at Hollywood Forever, they probably have the program.
Heading to the large back room where most of the museum is located, there was this striking drawing by Jeffrey Dahmer.
What kind of sick person would display such a thing? If you’re asking yourself that question, go ahead and stop reading now! It gets worse (or better?) from here.
The room is a collection of display cabinets and other items a little too large for a cabinet, like the Jayne Mansfield Death Car.
Jayne, her attorney/companion Sam Brody, and their driver Ronnie Harrison were all in the front seat and died after colliding with the rear of that tractor-trailer at high speed. Jayne was not decapitated as the urban legend claimed. You may know that the bar under the back of a tractor-trailer is called “Mansfield bar” because the tragedy spurred its invention and widespread adoption.
Asleep in the backseat were her three children who survived the crash. Law and Order star Mariska Hargitay was one of the children in the backseat.
Back to the museum, those display cabinets are filled with odd but interesting stuff. Natalie Wood’s prescription bottle, a shotgun shell from the same box of shells Ernest Hemingway used to blow his brains out in an Idaho forest, a piece of the porch from the Lee Harvey Oswald house, Rock Hudson’s duvet cover that he died on, and John Dillinger’s Death Mask, just to name a few.
My grandfather on my father’s side apparently saw Dillinger shot dead in a Chicago street by federal agents. If that story is true, now we’ve both seen Dillinger’s dead face. Neat!
Let’s get to the tour. The museum and the tour are the brainchildren of Scott Michaels, the purveyor of the most excellent Find a Death blog. The information there is endlessly fascinating – the tour version is just plain endless.
Our tour was guided by Brian who was at first likably energetic, but as the tour went on he just grated on my nerves. It was like being trapped in a terrible 3-hour stand-up routine.
They gave us this binder with some light reading and photography.
We heard a recorded voice on the bus loudspeakers only a few times – these were the best parts of the tour. This was Scott the founder’s voice. I wish he played more of this informative stuff instead of the dumb stories Brian made us suffer through.
My favorite part was the free time we had to walk the Westwood Village Cemetery. I liked it so much, I thought it deserved its own post, so please click on to read more about the cemetery.
The cemetery was the mid-way point in the tour. It was a much-needed break because I was at this point where I was contemplating bailing on the tour. I couldn’t take another hour and a half of the tour guide. I sucked it up and stuck with it. Two people had to leave the tour due to an “emergency” – $100 says they’d heard enough and bailed.
A lot of the tour was spent waiting in traffic. That’s uncontrollable. But, we did get to see a few interesting spots for a fleeting few seconds. For instance, the Black Dahlia house:
Next is the apartment building where Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered. She was a young actress murdered by her stalker “fan.” It’s a terrible story that had wide ranging effects for California laws. The stalker found her information in public DMV records. Because of the attack, DMV records were protected from public view and strict anti-stalking laws were implemented.
Janis Joplin’s death site, the Landmark Motor Hotel (room #105) whizzed by as the light turned green. We in the bus got to hear another boring, unrelated story from Brian. Something related to he and his girlfriend’s adventures around Los Angeles, I’m sure.
Behind this black fabric is where John Belushi, died I think.
We were told this is the gate that goes to the home Michael Jackson died in.
The one interesting spot was outside the Viper Room, where River Phoenix overdosed.
His brother Joaquin used this payphone to call 911, where a surly operator delayed important resources by asking a bunch of stupid questions expecting calm answers from a scared kid. The call is pretty tragic.
The museum is a small additional charge on top of the cost of the tour. I found it well worth the cost.
If you do this tour, try and figure out who your tour guide will be. They may not tell you, but if it’s Brian, I suggest a hard pass. I went on and on in my Yelp review if you want to read more.
Many of these sites are easily visited on your own time, which I would recommend. No special access to anything was given to the tour.
Visit their website to book (you might also check Groupon!)