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The Grave of Knute Rockne

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In the world of college football, there is no greater coaching legend than Knute Rockne of Notre Dame. Born in Voss, Norway on March 4, 1888, Rockne immigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of five. He played football for Notre Dame while he was a student at the school and then went on to coach there as well. In his 13 seasons as head football coach at Notre Dame (1918-1930), Rockne guided the Fighting Irish to 105 victories, 12 losses, five ties and five national championships. He died tragically at the age of 43 in a plane crash near Bazaar, Kansas on March 31, 1931.

I have wanted to visit the final resting place of the legendary coach for sometime and recently decided to try and find his grave for myself. A quick search of the Internet revealed that Rockne is buried in the Highland Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame University is located. South Bend is about an hour and a half drive southwest from where I live in Michigan.

Now, some people might think that it’s a little strange or morbid to want to visit a cemetery, (and my wife can be counted among them) but to me, it is perfectly natural. You see, when I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, my father, who worked in a factory, had a second job as a cemetery monument salesman. Ironically, we lived next door to the town cemetery and we even had headstone samples on display in our backyard for all to see. I used to play on the stone displays all the time. I also remember going with my father on many occasions to various cemeteries all over the county when he went to follow up on each monument’s delivery. Cemeteries have never bothered me. In fact, they can be quite fascinating if you take the time to look around.

After calling the Highland Cemetery office and getting directions (since the cemetery is quite large), my two oldest sons and I drove to South Bend one recent Saturday morning and we located a monument to Rockne in no time. It is a six-foot tall stone wall with a plaque honoring the former coach. It lists his coaching record at Notre Dame and also indicates that the plaque is a replica of a similar one that is on display in Oslo, Norway. We took a few pictures of the monument to prove that we had been there and then turned our attention to the next part of our search, finding the grave itself.

The cemetery office had told me that the grave was located across the road from the monument, but that was all I knew. I wasn’t exactly sure where to find it, so I began walking around reading all the headstones in the area across from the monument.

The headstones were all pretty much identical and I soon realized that it might take a while to locate it. Then I noticed one headstone in the distance that featured something out of the ordinary. A t-shirt with a picture of the Four Horsemen on it. The Four Horsemen was the nickname of four players that made up the backfield of the 1924 Notre Dame football team. Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice came up with the nickname in an article he wrote after the Notre Dame-Army game that season. There is a very famous picture of the Four Horsemen in their football uniforms sitting on horseback and that was the picture on the t-shirt. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had located his grave.

The t-shirt had many hand written messages on it to the former coach. There was even a hat with the word “Coach” embroidered on it that was also on display at the grave.

I was surprised to find such a simple headstone for someone as famous as Knute Rockne. It simply had his name under the word “Father,” his birth year and year of death. It looked just like any other headstone in that part of the cemetery. It was very simple and unassuming. We took a few more pictures for posterity and our search was now complete.

The legend of Knute Rockne has grown even bigger since his death over 75 years ago, but standing in the presence of his final resting place made me realize that it is not the size of the monument that makes a man great, it’s what he does in life that matters.

Besides Rockne and the Four Horsemen, another equally legendary figure to come out of Notre Dame was George Gipp, a.k.a., “The Gipper.” Gipp died of pneumonia on December 14, 1920 at the age of 25 following his senior football season. He was portrayed in the 1940 movie “Knute Rockne, All-American” by future President of the United States, Ronald Regan.

Gipp is buried in the town of Calumet, which is located in Michigan’s upper peninsula. That, however, is a road trip for another day.

If You Go

The Highland Cemetery is located at 2257 Portage Road in South Bend. As you enter the cemetery, the main drive splits off in three directions. Take the road to the right and then take the first left that you come to. Shortly after making the left turn, you will see a large stone monument with a bronze plaque on it honoring Rockne. The actual grave is located across the road. Rockne is buried next to his wife, Bonnie, and son, William.

For more information on locating the graves of celebrities, sports figures and maybe even some of your own relatives, go to www.findagrave.com.

Incidentally, South Bend is also the home of the College Football Hall of Fame, which is located in the heart of the downtown area. The address is 111 South St. Joseph Street. You can visit their web site at www.collegefootball.org.


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