Douglas Adams: So Long and Thanks for Everything

HighgateCemeteryHighgate Cemetery is at the top of a ridiculously steep hill in the London borough of Islington. A red telephone box, one of only 2,000 traditional boxes left in the country, sits on a stretch of pavement that takes pedestrians up that hill, past pubs that offer a friendly door (I stopped at one on the way home; the inside was friendly, too), and into quiet Waterlow Park. Across the park, black metal gates mark the beginning of Highgate Cemetery, the resting place of physicist Michael Faraday, political philosopher Karl Marx, and many British artists, entertainers, architects, and military heroes. It’s also home to the legend of the Highgate Vampire.

I wasn’t there to see any of them, although I did, except for the vampire. Well, one guy was pretty pale, but I think he was just from Finland.

DouglasAdams2I was at the cemetery to get as close as I ever could to one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.

Adams, born in Cambridge in March 1952, wrote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” “Hitchhiker’s Guide” began as a BBC radio series, and became a TV series, computer game, and stage play, but I first came to know it as a novel that I picked up in college simply because the jacket cover looked silly. The book didn’t disappoint. The inside was silly as well, brilliantly so.

Adams sold more than 15 million books in the English-speaking world, and at least two or three everywhere else. Adams died of a heart attack while working out at the gym in 2001. He was only 49 years old. Lesson here? Never go to the gym.

KarlMarxAdams’ grave is unassuming (fitting for the atheist he was), not like that braggart Karl Marx. Marx’s tombstone is at least 12 feet tall, and topped with a head that looks like a really pissed off Santa Claus. Marx, the revolutionary socialist who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” lived 15 years longer than Adams, and his book wasn’t nearly as funny as Adams’ book. Nope. Not even close.

Adams’ stone, a slight piece of granite, simply says, “Douglas Adams, Writer, 1952-2001.” A vase rests at the foot of the headstone, and is filled with ballpoint pens. There’s a reason for that. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a student named Veet Voogajig, “became increasingly obsessed with what happened to all the ballpoint pens he’d bought over the years.” He claimed to find the planet at the end of a wormhole where all pens went to find “the good life.”

I took the best pen from my pocket (it wasn’t a great pen. I buy them in in big bags) and placed it in the vase. Thanks for all the laughs, Douglas.

Admission to the section of Highgate Cemetery where Adams is buried is £4; entrance to the entire cemetery is £12.


About sjasonoffutt

Jason Offutt is a syndicated columnist, author, and college journalism instructor. His books are available at Jason is available for interviews, speaking engagements and beer festivals. E-mail all serious inquiries to:
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3 Responses to Douglas Adams: So Long and Thanks for Everything

  1. artmoscow says:

    Oh. I didn’t know Adams and Marx shared a cemetery! And the old Carlo, whose books I was supposed to study at my Uni (while secretly reading the gospel of all space travellers under the desk) is not aware of the fact either – though he does look as if he want to say, “Hey, you! Yes, you, a visitor to that Dougas chap! I think I got stuck in that stone! Help!”… Thank you – next week I’ll have my pen ready ))

  2. sjasonoffutt says:

    Just a warning; cemetery admission is £4. I should probably put that in the article.

  3. To be fair to Marx, he only wanted a simple headstone. In the 1950s the grave was moved and the British Communist Party, commissioned an expensive and (as you note) a massive stone and bronze replacement stone. All part of the official Communist line of the Cult of Marx. It’s worth noting that Marx himself often downplayed himself, making the dialectical joke once that “all I know is that I am not a Marxist” after listening to some of those who declared themselves his followers.

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