DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let me just paint a scene here - an Elvis impersonator, a man dressed as a Coke bottle, a smattering of children in fright wigs. They were among the people gathered to wish Andy Warhol a happy birthday yesterday. They did it at his grave in a cemetery in Pittsburgh. The iconic artist with the shock of white hair would have turned 87. But he died in 1987, and his tomb, a modest headstone at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, has become an unlikely tourist attraction. There's even a webcam that films it 24-7. For the next few weeks, we'll be revisiting a few of our favorite stories from our summer series Dead Stop, a road trip to unusual graves and cemeteries. And today, our 2012 story from producer Travis Larchuk about the resting place of Andy Warhol.
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TRAVIS LARCHUK, BYLINE: Warhol once said he'd like his tombstone to be blank except for the word figment. That didn't happen. His tombstone reads, Andy Warhol, and is just a few feet tall, smaller than his parents', which is right behind it. There's absolutely nothing exceptional about the grave, except that on this day...
MADELYN ROEHRIG: It's decorated with striped green and blue and white wrapping paper.
LARCHUK: That's artist Madelyn Roehrig. She works at the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh. Her project for the past four years has been to visit Warhol's grave almost every day. She documents the people who come and the objects they leave behind. She didn't put the wrapping paper there, a local Andy Warhol impersonator did. Over the years, visitors have left objects evocative of Warhol's life and work, turning this simple grave into a shrine. Some of the items are subjects of his famous silkscreen prints - a bottle of Chanel perfume, Coca-Cola, and today, there are four cans of Campbell's Soup. It's the item most commonly left at the grave. Roehrig says she's seen more than a hundred in all sorts of flavors.
ROEHRIG: Mainly tomato and chicken noodle, and then some of the competition - Cup of Noodles show up every once in a while. And I tell you, sometimes there's so many soup cans up there, there's, like, two rows of them.
LARCHUK: Roehrig says she's met people from all over the world who make the pilgrimage to this tiny cemetery. And locally, she's inspired a number of offbeat types to drop by the grave from time to time and pay their respects. Dave Olson's a musician who knew one of Andy Warhol's brothers. He comes by to warm up his bagpipes.
DAVE OLSON: (Playing bagpipes).
LARCHUK: Olson read about Warhol's grave on Facebook. He says, on a lark, he decided to perform at the cemetery. Now he makes visiting the grave part of his routine.
OLSON: My band meets at Bethel Church up over the hill. So I would just come up here and I'd say my piece with Andy and then rush off to band practice.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Happy birthday, dear Andy.
LARCHUK: On Warhol's birthday, Madelyn Roehrig throws a party at the cemetery. There's cake, a belly dancer shows up, and she films it all. Donald Warhola is Andy Warhol's nephew.
DONALD WARHOLA: You know, I think that my uncle from up in heaven, he's probably looking down and probably saying, why didn't I think of that? You know, I could've been hanging out at Marilyn Monroe's tombstone with my camera or my tape recorder and getting people's thoughts.
LARCHUK: Now Madelyn Roehrig's putting together a photo book of the objects and messages left at Andy Warhol's grave. Travis Larchuk, NPR News.
GREENE: And that story originally aired as part of our series, Dead Stop, stories from notable gravesites around the country. To hear more, visit npr.org.
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