Post-Mortem Mirth.

Oak Grove Cemetery, Central Avenue, Pawtucket

You've probably never heard of Dr. William P. Rothwell. He wasn't a film or television star, he didn't win the Pulitzer Prize, and he didn't invent the little plastic doohickeys that keep your shoelaces from fraying. Still, if you're a lover of the unusual, it's worth the trip to Pawtucket to see his grave.

You see, Dr. Rothwell had a healthy sense of humor and the foresight to put it to good use. Several years prior to his death he wanted to make sure that his friends and family would remember him for the generous and genial man he was, rather than feel sad that he was gone. So in 1929 he arranged for a large boulder to be taken from his summer home to be used as his head stone. On it he had engraved the usual information that one would find on a gravestone, with one irreverent addition.

On one side of the boulder, down near the ground, is the sentence "This is on me."

The phrase has a triple meaning. The first, and most obvious, of course, is that the stone is on top of Dr. Rothwell. The second meaning refers to his generous nature, as described by his June 14, 1939 obit:

DR. WILLIAM P. ROTHWELL, who always paid the check at parties, died today and will be buried under the huge boulder bearing the inscription: "This is on me", which he had set up in a cemetery 10 years ago. No fumbler, Dr. Rothwell, who practiced medicine here for years, gained a reputation as a genial fellow to his friends by always paying the freight at social gatherings in an exclusive men's cub. His booming comment: "This is on me," became a byword. He swore that nobody would weep at his funeral and to make sure, back in 1929, he had the boulder from his summer farm inscribed: "Rothwell. William P. Bothwell, M.D., 1868—This is on me. Rx." The last symbol is the familiar prescription sign which Dr. Rothwell always marked on the dinner check.

The third meaning? Charitable even in death, he appears to have borne the expense of memorializing a relative he could never have met. Rothwell shares his headstone with James, who died at the age of ten, seventeen years before William was born.

The epitaph is unusual enough to have been noticed by none other than Robert Ripley, of Ripley's Believe It Or Not! A fabricated headstone bearing the inscription shares an exhibit with similarly humorous epitaphs from all over the country at Ripley's museum in San Francisco.

Dr. Rothwell's home (not the summer farm mentioned above) still stands at 50 Summit Street in Pawtucket. In 2002 it housed the St. George Catholic Pastoral Center, and in 2011 it was for sale. Its current (2015) use is unknown.

Rothwell's Grave Inscriptions


Stone

ROTHWELL

WILLIAM P. ROTHWELL M.D.
1865 - 1939

THIS IS ON ME
RX

JAMES ROTHWELL
1838-1848

Plaque

W.P. ROTHWELL, M.D.

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow 5 minutes

Hours: daily, 8am-4pm

Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful.

Finding it: from Route 95 north, take exit 29 and take a left onto Cottage Street; the main gates of the cemetery are on the right; enter and drive straight toward the flagpole; pass to the right of the flagpole and go to the end; Rothwell's stone is on your right.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to bridges or amorous waterfowl. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited May 31, 2015

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