Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.
He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so — to save his skin, he would later say — he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.
But he didn’t anticipate the repercussions. After the war, the good-natured comic author was branded as a traitor and collaborator by most Britons. He was never actually tried for treason, but in effect he was “drummed out” of his native land.
He came to the U.S., eventually settling in Remsenburg, Long Island, where he resumed his interrupted literary output. He became a U.S. citizen in 1956 and was eventually forgiven and even knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He died in 1975 at the age of 94 and was buried in Remsenburg.
Why this history lesson? Well, my daughter and I were recently visiting the Hamptons, near Remsenburg, and decided we had to take time out to pay a respectful pilgrimage to P.G.’s gravesite.
Easier said than done. If you research it on the internet, you will learn that Wodehouse is buried in the “Historic Remsenburg Cemetery”, and you will even find a photograph of his gravestone. Remsenburg is a small (but very affluent) town near the Hamptons — we figured it would be a cinch to find the gravesite.
Three of us set out to do so — me, my wife and our daughter — one day this past July. Arriving in Remsenburg, we drove around the largely residential community for a short time, hoping to get lucky. We sighted no cemeteries and finally decided to ask directions at the Remsenburg Post Office. An elderly woman was just leaving the Post Office, carrying her mail — obviously a local resident — so we asked her for help (remember, Wodehouse was Remsenburg’s most famous resident for many years). She said, oh, sure, he’s buried in the “historic cemetery” and we could walk there from the Post Office. She gave us directions, we thanked her profusely and walked off, relieved that our quest would be over so easily.
In a few minutes we arrived at the cemetery, and, believe me, it was “historic”. First of all, it was tiny, about the size of my living room/dining room area. And second, every stone there looked like it was from the Revolutionary War era. With one glance, it was obvious that P.G.’s gravestone was not going to be found there.
Dejected, we searched around the immediate area carefully, walking a few blocks in each direction to make sure we weren’t missing anything. Then, back to the Post Office.
This time we went inside and spoke to the clerk (no other customers were around). She called her boss in from the back for additional help. They both agreed that Wodehouse HAD to be in the “historic cemetery”. We assured them that he was not there and wondered if there were other cemeteries in the area. They couldn’t think of any, but referred us to a community center across the street, where people might be able to help us. After more thank you’s, we went across the street where we were lucky enough to find five people of various ages who were planning an upcoming social event. After we explained our quest to them, they went through the “historic cemetery” routine with us. When we explained that we just came from there, they began to seriously try to locate other cemeteries in town, using ancient wall maps that were hanging in the room.
Gathering all the info we could from the maps, and with many thanks, we continued on our way. To make a long story just a little shorter, in the end we couldn’t locate any of the cemeteries that were indicated on those old wall maps — don’t know what happened to them, but they simply weren’t where they were supposed to be.
By this time, we were getting antsy — who needs this aggravation, it’s only a gravesite! But a quest is a quest.
What we decided to do was drive out of town slowly, keeping a sharp lookout for anything that might hide a cemetery. We were at the point of giving up in defeat, when we passed a church building we hadn’t seen before, the Remsenburg Community Church. With hope all but gone, we walked behind the building and saw gravestones! Not just a few, but many, and lots of new ones, at that. The graveyard extended in a thin line behind the church and went back a long way. What the heck, we all agreed, let’s give it a try. Slowly we made our way back, checking stone after stone. Toward the rear of the grounds, there it was — P.G.’s gravestone.
We spent about fifteen minutes at the site (big photo opportunity) and then happily returned to our car, our Wodehouse pilgrimage successfully completed.