93 years ago — Aug. 23, 1926 — silent-screen star Rudolph Valentino died at the age of 31.
Each year on the anniversary of his death, a mysterious “Lady in Black” appears at his tomb and leaves a single red rose. Over the years, she was joined by other “Ladies in Black.” The identity of the original Lady in Black is disputed — but the tradition continues today.
The Friday memorial service will include speakers and audio material and it starts at 12:10 p.m. — the time of his death in 1926. The annual event is at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood), where Valentino is laid to rest.
As The Grunion’s “On The Water” columnist, my interest has been focused on Valentino’s connections to our local waters, and more specifically, where his former yacht is today.
Catalina Island Yacht Club member Rudolph Valentino commissioned the building of a Fellows & Stewart yacht, “Charade,” that was also called “Phoenix,” in 1926. The wooden boat was 32 feet outfitted with rose-shaped lamps, mohair-velvet cushions with teak-and-holly floors, sleeping eight persons.
It was built in Wilmington, alongside another boat, Ida May, whose owners over the years included the John Deere co-founder Willard Van Brunt, Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame and Long Beach YC staff commodore Jonah Jones.
Valentino died the same year he took delivery of the boat and only used it three times. The yacht’s whereabouts remained a mystery — until this month.
Tracing the vessel using varies internet searches yielded limited information.
In December 1926, Harvey Priester a well-known millionaire purchased the yacht for $2,300. At that time, the initial sale was revoked because 25 percent of the bid was not deposited. In 1930, his boat sold for $3,000 cash in San Pedro Harbor.
As of April 1970, the boat was owned by Valentino’s former stand-in and docked in Marina Del Rey. In 1975, the boat was renamed Madeline O with San Diego as her home port. It was advertised for $28,000, with no record of a buyer and in 1976, she was advertised again for $20,000. In 1977, Valentino’s yacht was bought by banker Tom Gray and in 1981 he was selling for $47,000.
From there the records go cold, but somehow this famous yacht ended up in a barn in Idaho.
According to one of her current owners. Neil Burcroff, “The boat was transported to Idaho where a large barn was built around the boat to protect her and make it easier to work on her.” He continued, “We were in the market for a free or almost free boat that we could restore ourselves.”
As Burcroff tells the story, he and Nick Richardson met as they studied the Bible together. The two of them would meet at a coffee shop. As others joined each week, the table size kept growing and soon they had their own meeting room.
Richardson s a senior in high school and hopes to continue his biblical studies in Chicago. The plan was to restore a boat that he could live aboard on Lake Michigan during the warm months and go on various church missions in the cold months. The two prayed that the right boat would come along.
The pair was searching places like the now defunct Boneyard Boats website when they met a retired runabout boat restorer, who had grand intentions of restoring Valentino’s yacht. The small boat expert had been tracking the vessel for many years and it was gifted to him with the understanding he would pay the costs of the move. He hired a huge crane and oversized trailer to move the 10-foot beamed vessel.
Over the years, other projects took precedence, and time marched on. Rudy’s yacht sat, with original light fixtures and all untouched. The large custom barn protected her — and shielded her owner from constantly seeing her and being reminded of his intentions. But when he learned of the Lake Michigan plan he knew it was time to let the boat go and help answer the prayers.
This month, Richardson and Burcroff purchased and moved “Phoenix/ Charade” from Idaho to Owosso, Mich., where they are starting the restoration process.
I’m looking forward to visiting the restored yacht one day soon — and yes I’ll bring a single red rose.