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Experiencing the Jimi Hendrix Memorial
…‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.

So goes one of Jimi Hendrix's most famous lyrics, and kiss the sky he did, much too early by any standard. The Seattle-born rock musician, known for his overdriven guitar riffs and flamboyant attire, was only 26 when he died in a London hotel from vomit asphyxiation. September 18, 1970 marked the tragic end of a major talent who, in all likelihood, had not yet reached his full potential. Jimi reportedly told friends he wished to be buried in England. However, his father, James “Al” Hendrix, had him returned to the Seattle area.

Jimi was interred in a family plot at Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton. His grave was marked by a simple headstone with an etching of a Fender Stratocaster guitar, his instrument of choice (though the guitar pictured is right-handed, and Jimi adapted his to play left-handed). At the time, this basic grave was all Al Hendrix could afford.

Even in death, Jimi's popularity grew. In the 1990s, a generation of young Seattle grunge musicians was inspired by his musical technique. Jimi's legacy instilled local pride, and fans regularly made pilgrimages to his gravesite. The cemetery's management began worrying about damage to nearby graves from all the foot traffic.

To ease concerns and to vastly expand the family's burial space (since the extended Hendrix family had significantly grown beyond the original plot's five graves), in 1999 Al Hendrix announced plans for a new memorial to his son, bigger and more fitting to his iconic status. Al envisioned such a memorial for a long time, but only gained the financial means to build it in the mid-1990s after acquiring the rights to Jimi's music.

Designed by architect Mark Barthelemy, the memorial was constructed over the next few years by Cold Spring Granite of Minnesota. It was dedicated, still unfinished, in June 2002. Sadly, Al Hendrix had died 2 months earlier, having been in declining health.

The memorial consists of a circular plot of land with a granite dome supported by three columns. The structure is slightly raised, accessible by steps and a ramp. The outer base is circled with headstones for Hendrix family members; there's space for 54 graves, with Al Hendrix and a few other relatives currently occupying some.

Jimi is interred in the ground beneath the gazebo, his original gravestone embedded on a pedestal. It's intended to support a much-delayed brass statue, but fans use it as an altar for paying their respects: they tape guitar picks to it and drop offerings to Jimi's memory into a hole where a peg on the statue's base will one day be inserted.

The memorial also sports a granite-and-brass sundial alongside the main structure.

Disputes over the remainder of Jimi's multimillion-dollar estate have divided surviving members of the extended Hendrix family. It's speculated that this is why the statue, supposedly being sculpted in Italy as of the 2002 dedication, has not been mounted in the memorial. (Brass accents on the dome are also delayed.) Instead, fans can admire the statue of Jimi in Seattle's Capitol Hill, on Broadway just north of East Pine Street.

Hendrix biographers have noted an odd situation involving the family and Greenwood Memorial Park. Jimi's mother Lucille, who died in 1958 when he was just 15, lies elsewhere in an unmarked pauper's grave. Why was she buried this way? Why didn't Jimi buy her a gravestone after achieving rock stardom, especially given his well-known devotion to her? Why hasn't she been moved to one of the plots at the memorial? The answers may point to more family discord, but ultimately remain unclear.

Greenwood Memorial Park is located at 350 Monroe Ave NE in Renton. The Jimi Hendrix Memorial is easily visible on the west side of the cemetery.

Weird Washington

 

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