The New York Times has published a series of obituaries of black luminaries over the past year for whom they failed to publish an obituary when it would have been timely. A few days ago it was Robert Johnson’s turn, the black blues artist. It’s a good piece, and concludes with this oddity:
The location of Johnson’s grave has never been confirmed. Headstones at three different churches in the Greenwood area claim to mark his resting place — the final riddle of a man whose brief, turbulent life became a cipher nearly as sensational as his songs.
Yeah, I knew that.
I happened upon that curious fact about 20-years ago, and it got me thinking about a potential magazine feature: Would a history magazine or similar be interested in a feature that collected stories of prominent people whose final resting places were unknown? Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War’s great rabble-rouser, would be on the list, and the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s final resting place has been disputed for years. Maybe Parade magazine? I’d linger over a feature like that with my Sunday morning coffee.
I pitched the feature to every history magazine in Writer’s Market. I pitched it to Parade. I pitched it to Smithsonian. Every few years I drag it out, dust it off, and try again; I never have any luck. I know how to write a query letter, and probably hit around 85%. I also have worked as an editor, and know what makes an editor’s eyes light up.
But that feature just won’t sell. It’s the damndest thing.