Columbia, Challenger, and Criswell in Valhalla
North Hollywood, California
The balmy air of southern California is an odd place to find a cemetery named for the Norse hall of slain heroes. Valhalla Memorial Park does have heroes, if appropriately unexpected ones, including the grave of perhaps the world's worst psychic, the Amazing Criswell, and a memorial to the doomed crews of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
Valhalla's celebrity roster includes Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy), Gorgeous George (the first superstar TV wrestler), Curly-Joe De Rita (the last of the Three Stooges), and Bea Benaderet (the voice of Betty Rubble of the TV cartoon The Flintstones). On the left side of its entrance stand several mausoleums, each with an aspirational name, such as "Devotion," which is where Criswell is entombed.
The decorative topiary at the front of his memorial walls includes square trees. We cast back through our long ago memorization of his prophecies, but can't be sure that he proclaimed, "I predict, in the future, trees will be square!"
Criswell died on October 4, 1982, before many of his visions -- homosexual-only cities, Florida becoming a nudist colony, etc. -- were supposed to come true. He lived just long enough to see the first space flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981, but failed to predict its 2003 destruction. In fact, Criswell failed to anticipate the Shuttle at all -- because he had earlier predicted that antigravity would be discovered in the late 1970s, making rocket-propelled spaceships unnecessary.
Unlike Criswell, the crews of the two doomed Space Shuttles aren't buried in Valhalla, but their memory is honored with matching plaques and an elaborate Space Shuttle replica, part of the even more elaborate Portal of the Folded Wings.
Criswell was confident that the world would end on his 92nd birthday, August 18, 1999. Late in life he favored the Mayan calendar (as did others) and backdated Doomsday to 2012. His endorsement should have instantly killed any support for that particular Apocalypse, but decades have passed since his death, and we miss his guidance. Without Criswell, how do we know what not to believe about the future?
A visit to Valhalla Memorial Park, then, is an exercise in healing. The Space Shuttle and Criswell, the tragic past and the unrealized future, can coexist in peace, even if it's postmortem. And, maybe, in some alternate universe, Criswell's predictions really did come true, and we did discover that a nearby planet was made of diamonds, and welcomed the first Interplanetary Convention -- with delegates from Neptune and Venus -- to Las Vegas on March 10, 1990.