Thence it reaches northward to a most curious desert land, where is a cemetery lovely beyond dreams.-Aleister Crowley, “Absinthe, The Green Goddess”
The legend, a synopsis: In the Salt Lake City Cemetery, there is a gravestone for a woman named Lilly E. Gray with an inscription that reads, “VICTIM OF THE BEAST 666.” Many people have attempted to research this stone and Lilly, but strangely always hit a brick wall, as there is no information aside from her obituary, which states only that she died in a local hospital from natural causes.
I have begun an investigation into the mystery of the strange inscription on this tombstone. There are few facts and clues to begin with. Lily Edith Gray’s infamous gravesite is in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. This is not a rumor, urban legend or hoax; the cemetery, gravesite, and inscription are real, and can be viewed by the public during cemetery hours. I have personally been to the gravesite many times.
Lily Edith Gray’s obituary is apparently easily found on microfiche, and the contents of which are reported by various easily accessible internet sources as containing information concerning her name, Lily Edith Gray, and her address at time of death, 1216 Pacific Ave, SLC. Survivors include a husband, Elmer Lewis Gray, and several unnamed nieces and nephews. Death is said to be from natural causes at a local hospital.
There are several discrepancies between the information on her grave maker and the information contained in records. The cemetery sexton’s records confirm the single L in her first name, and the birth date of June 4th, 1880, opposed to the stone’s version of June 6, 1881.
Lily’s husband, Elmer Lewis Gray, whom Edith married when she was 72 years old, may have been incarcerated before their marriage. I have found records for an Elmer L. Gray’s “Criminal Pardons Application” in 1947. I have put in a request for the records, and will post them as soon as I receive them. I have also found a 1901 Ogden Standard newspaper clipping in which a man named Elmer Gray was arrested and sentenced to “five days on the rockpile” for stealing an umbrella valued at $3.50, from the Paine and Hurst Company. I have no way of knowing if this is the same Elmer Gray, but the date & his age seems to fit.
1216 Pacific Ave. is still a legitimate address in Salt Lake City. The ‘grid’ address translates into 1216 West 440 South. I visited and photographed the building that currently occupies that address. Although only the 1 & the 6 of the complete address can be seen, this is due to disrepair. The building was clearly the correct address however. I will be attempting to locate the property records to find out what kind of building or home used to be at this location. It is a large lot in a residential area with single family houses surrounding it. The current building is an apartment building, but judging from the architecture, probably only dating from the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. From the size of the lot, it is feasible that it was once a nursing home or boarding house. I will have more details as they emerge.
Who is Anna Swenson? This person or her living descendants may be another possible source of information. An online registry of subscibers of the weekly newspaper “Finskan Amerikanaren” reveals that a subscriber resided at 1216 Pacific Ave. in Salt Lake, between 1954 & 1955, named Mrs. Anna Swenson. Could she have been living with Lily (and Elmer?) Gray? A caregiver, perhaps? A neighbor in an apartment? This assumes that Lily was living at this address during these years, which has not been confirmed. No further records have been found yet.
Another clue to the stone’s meaning may be found in is its chosen adornment. Douglas Keister’s wonderful book, “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography”contains a section on foliage and flowers, and the flower on Lily’s grave, as seen on the right, is clearly an evening primrose. According to Keisler, evening primrose is also known as “Devil’s Lantern”, and among its meanings on tombstones are eternal love, youth, memory, hope, and sadness.
On a return trip to Lily’s grave, I did note that many, many stones near hers also have the same or similar evening primrose image. This flower seems to have been quite popular, and may have been a standard decoration, rather than chosen for its meaning or symbolism. On the other hand, I have located Elmer’s gravestone, and adorning it is the daffodil, otherwise known as “Narcissus.” In browsing hundreds and hundreds of nearby stones, I found no other daffodils. Perhaps his was in fact, chosen for its meaning; vanity and self-love, or, conversely, triumph over these qualities.
The Devil’s Highway
I have considered that Route 666 which runs through Utah in the four corners area and is nicknamed “The Devil’s Highway” could have anything to do with this. I think it is a fair possibility. It is reasonable to assume that Lily traveled at least a bit; she was born in Canada, married in Elko, and lived in Salt Lake City. Perhaps she had some creepy incident or accident on the highway worthy enough to be noted on her tombstone. I have also found some sites that alluded to the highway as a ‘beast’. As expected, the highway has legends attached to it: skinwalkers, demons, accidents, etc. This is all pure speculation, of course, but somewhat intriguingly coincidental.
There is an obvious connection to the inscription’s 666 and her birth date. June is the 6th month; therefore her birth date would be 6-6-1881. Intriguing, especially when figuring this birth date is a contrivance, and her true birth date would read 6-4-1881. The number 1881 is interesting in that is a palindrome of a number equaling the magic 9, but it would be more compelling if it somehow added up numerologically to a 6. I feel the numbers are coincidental and accidental (the incorrect birth date a mistake, that is) and have little to do with the meaning of the inscription. If her birth date unquestionably added up to 6-6-6 somehow, then I think it would be plausible to conclude the inscription was a pun or reference to feeling a victim of being born in connection with that notorious number. As it stands, I don’t believe the numerology theory holds much weight. I am certainly no expert in this field, however, but I am working with a professional, and will soon have a complete analysis.
Initially, I dismissed the idea that the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley could have anything to do with Lily’s grave. As I continue to research, however, I am struck with the notion of true possibility. I knew he referred to himself, and was referred to both as “The Beast”, and “666”, I didn’t realize he was referred to literally and specifically as “The Beast 666.” Supposing that the stone does in fact refer to Crowley, it then “reads well.” By that, I mean that the seemingly obscure and puzzling phrase, “Victim of the Beast 666” plainly states a very simple message, in no need of supposition or decoding. “The Beast 666” was a ‘name’ of Crowley’s. In that sense, Lily’s stone states, “Victim of Aleister Crowley.” And, by not stating that exactly, but using the chosen moniker, it conveys the idea of his teachings, and his persona in that arena.
Every other conjecture I or others have proposed does not “read well.” For example, if the “Beast 666” refers to her husband, why would anyone specifically use that terminology? If it refers to Highway 666 in Southern Utah, why not use the true nickname of the highway, “The Devil’s Highway”? If it refers to the Devil, or Hitler, or some religious issue, why not just state that plainly? It doesn’t seem logical to be willing to use such inflammatory wording, yet so unwilling to convey the true message.
Perhaps the true message is simply conveyed. Much has written on Crowley’s notorious treatment of his many students and followers. He traveled and lived in The U.S. and Canada during the years 1915-1919. Apparently his presence in the States was profound; upon his death in 1947, his ashes were sent to followers in America. The timeframe fits; Crowley was born in 1875, and Lily in 1880. As far-fetched as it seems, I believe there is a good possibility that Lily could have known and been closely associated enough with Crowley to have had enough of an impact on her life, as to be immortalized on her tombstone. I am now focusing my attention on the Crowley theory in the investigation, and hope to uncover evidence of their affiliation soon.