Monday, October 21, 2019

Tallulah Bankhead's Huntsville Roots: Maple Hill Cemetery

Tallulah Bankhead was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on January 31, 1902, and evidence of her Huntsville roots can still be seen around town, even though the infamous stage and screen star is long departed. There are numerous places and historical markers bearing witness to her family's impact on the city, but one of the more somber sites is the grave of Tallulah's mother, Adelaide Eugenia Bankhead, who died shortly after Tallulah's birth. Mrs. Bankhead is buried at Maple Hill Cemetery near Huntsville's historic district and downtown, not far from the house where Tallulah entered the world and her mother left it.

Perhaps Tallulah's life might have been different had her mother lived. Perhaps the early loss, which devastated her father, William, drove some of the darker elements of Tallulah's personality. It's impossible to say for sure, but knowing the dizzying heights and terrible lows of the actress' life one can't help but wonder when standing beside her mother's grave. In 1902 the infant Tallulah was baptized next to her mother's coffin, and she and her elder sister, Eugenia, were packed off to be raised by their paternal grandmother, their maternal grandmother having also died just after giving birth to their mother. Tallulah's mother was just 22 years old when she died; Tallulah died too soon at 66, but she packed a dozen lifetimes of success and suffering into those 44 years her mother never had.

Tallulah returns to Huntsville each year in spirit as one of the resident "ghosts" of the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll, though she herself is buried in Maryland, where her sister lived. You'll find a costumed performer inhabiting the role of the iconic star near her mother's grave, waving a long cigarette holder and holding forth about her family and her own legendary exploits. The event is well worth a visit if you're in the area.

For more posts about Tallulah, see "Southern Voices on the Silver Screen," "Classic Films in Focus: LIFEBOAT (1944)," and "Classic Films in Focus: 101 DALMATIANS (1961)."

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