This grave has been a site of pilgrimage for decades. Mourners leave cigarettes and joints, as well as dollar shots with a sip inside, should Jack wake up thirsty. Poets impale poems on the pens that wrote them, which are planted in the dirt like a stockade fence to protect the flat, original plaque.
Jack Kerouac was one of the most consequential American writers of the 20th century. His novel On The Road is often described as the opening salvo of the Beat Generation, a youth counterculture movement in the wake of World War II. The Beats enjoyed jazz and experimenting with drugs. A number of the main Beat writers were friends long before publication, and caricatures of Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs appear in novels by all three of these writers.
Kerouac was adventurous and full of bravado—James Dean before James Dean. His novels described the beauty of the United States as Kerouac’s character, Sal Paradise, hitchhiked across the country. As tumultuous and momentous as his life was, though, his road ultimately led him back to the city of his birth.
Lowell, Massachusetts was a fading textile town when Kerouac grew up here in the early 1920s. He amused himself playing imaginary baseball games in his yard; his earliest writings, in fact, were the details of games he played in his mind. When Kerouac died, he was brought home to Lowell.
The paths in Edson Cemetery are laid out like streets. Kerouac is near the corner of Lincoln and 7th, six graves up and three graves in. For many years the location of Kerouac’s grave was such a common request that the county clerk printed these directions on a handout for visitors.
On the gravestone, the author’s name is listed as John Kerouac, with his childhood nickname— Ti Jean, for “Little John”—inscribed above it. The graves around Kerouac are in poor shape, bearing the scars of careless visitors. Headstones are knocked over, earth caves in on collapsing caskets. The grass is brown and yellow.
Late in life, Kerouac rejected his fame, and turned his back on his friends and followers. Kerouac married his first girlfriend, Stella Sampas, and lived out his days as a recluse. He drank himself to death in 1969. Despite objection from Kerouac’s family, his fans have come looking to find him ever since.
Know Before You Go
The grave received a new headstone in 2014 to commemorate the great man beneath it. A waist-high granite slab is inscribed with Jack’s signature, and his line, “The Road is Life.” This stone is easy to spot from the path. Kerouac's original flat headstone is just in front of the new one, six stones stones up and three stones deep.