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Jamestown Loves Lucy Even More
By Tom and Joanne O’Toole
We eased off the interstate at Jamestown, New York, pulled into the service station to gas up, walked in to pay our bill and sought directions.
“Is this the main road into town?” we asked. “We’re looking for. . . .”
As though by instinct the clerk didn’t wait for the question, and hardly looked up. He pointed out the front window at the cemetery that rolled up the nearby knoll, and told us, “She’s buried over there,” then quickly added, “You on pump six?”
With that introduction we drove along North Main Street to the heart of town — the place red-headed comedienne Lucille Ball always referred to as home. While her talents and fame took her far and wide, and then residing in California for many years, it is this Jamestown location that celebrates her life, and where her ashes are interred.
Centered in downtown are most of the main attractions in connection with Lucille Ball and her first husband and “I Love Lucy” co-star Desi Arnaz. They brought great delight and high hilarity on television into homes throughout North America, and ultimately around the world, during the 1950s and beyond.
The newer Lucy-Desi Museum, located at 10 West 3rd St., offers a collection of exhibits, wall panels and a selection of audio and video segments. On display are furniture and other items from the couple’s Beverly Hills, California, home, along with favorite photographs, items of clothing, Lucy’s first Hollywood contract, scripts, letters, awards, and other memorabilia. There are also pictures of the Arnazes’ homes in Chatsworth, Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, and their ski chalet in Snowmass, Colorado.
A short walk away is the Desilu Playhouse, named for the studio where “I Love Lucy” was filmed. The playhouse has exact replicas of the original television studio sets. There’s one of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s New York City apartment, the Hollywood hotel suite where Lucy pantomimed with Harpo Marx in one episode, and set her nose on fire with William Holden in another episode. A wall mural of a studio audience, replicas of sets where productions were made, and more are also included.
The “I Love Lucy” series, which aired on CBS from 1951 to 1957, was so popular, it was the No. 1 show on television for four out of its six seasons. As Lucy wrote in her memoirs, “Our show changed the Monday night habits in America. Between nine and nine-thirty, taxis disappeared from the streets of New York.” Marshall Fields department store in Chicago hung up a sign: “We love Lucy, too, so from now on we’ll be open Thursday nights instead of Monday.”
A tireless entertainer, in addition to the “I Love Lucy” show, she did vaudeville, radio, a number of other television series, and then headed the major Hollywood studio Desilu, which produced such major successes as Star Trek, Our Miss Brooks, Mission Impossible, The Untouchables, The Andy Griffith Show, My Favorite Martian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Make Room for Daddy, and others. Quite an impressive list.
In addition to television, Lucy appeared in 79 (other sources say 82) big screen movies. Lucy and Desi — individually and collectively — received so many awards and tributes it would take pages to list them all.
Across the intersection from the playhouse is the Lucy-Desi Center Gift Shop, which claims to be the most complete “I Love Lucy” store anywhere on Earth. For Lucy fans and collectors, it’s a shopping paradise. The gift catalog alone brings back a flood of memories, and can’t help but put a smile on your face.
Visitors are always on the lookout for the three popular painted outdoor murals along Third Street, all within easy walking distance. On the side of the former Jones Tasty Baking is the “Candy Factory Mural.” Down the street is the “Lucy-Desi Postage Stamp Mural” at (where else!) the post office. Also nearby is the 7-foot-tall bottle of “Vitameatavegamin” on the elevator tower of the parking ramp.
Serious Lucy fans can fine her birthplace home and childhood home. Lucy was born on August 6, 1911, at 69 Stewart Avenue in Jamestown, and her childhood home is a little further at 59 Lucy Lane (formerly 8th Street) in Celoron. While looking from the street is allowed, these are private residences.
The main attractions are complemented by a community theatre, a long list of locations that proudly display pictures, art, a replica of the key to the city they received, and much more. There are also motels, restaurants, and plenty of shopping nearby that offer a touch of Lucy to draw the fans.
Although the figures change, it is said the “I Love Lucy” re-runs are seen somewhere in the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 80 countries and in 22 languages.
The printed mission of the Center “is to preserve and celebrate the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and enrich the world through the healing powers of love and laughter.”
Lucy’s ashes are now interred in the Hunt-Ball family plot at Lake View Cemetery on the outskirts of town at 907 Lake View Avenue (716/665-3206). Lucille Desiree Ball died on April 26, 1989. In the fall of 2002, her two children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., transferred the cremated remains of their mother and grandmother, Desiree (DeDe) Eveline Hunt Ball (Lucy’s mother), from Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California, to Jamestown.
They indicated it “was more appropriate to have them with the rest of their family than by themselves in Los Angeles.”
They joined several generations of Lucy’s ancestors, including Henry Durrell Ball, her father and DeDe’s husband, who died of typhoid fever when Lucy was only three. Printed maps at the cemetery show the location, and the same maps are available at the museum.
Desi Arnaz, Sr., died on December 2, 1986. He was also cremated, but his remains were scattered at sea in front of his home in Baja, California.
LOTS AND LOTS OF MERCHANDISE…
Once inside the gift shop, Lucy fans can become mesmerized. There is memorabilia and merchandise to satisfy even the most avid collectors. You’ll find DVDs of much of her work, CDs, and dolls of all shapes and sizes. You can also buy “I Love Lucy” items to decorate your home in the way of soda glasses, blankets, jumbo pillows, pillow cases, towels, framed pictures, clocks, and chinaware, along with statues and jigsaw puzzles. If you feel like being bedecked in Lucy, you can pick up nightshirts, sweat shirts, lounging pants, watches, hand bags, and more. There are also such items as mouse pads, address books, writing paper, tote bags, and endless do-dads.
MORE ABOUT LUCY…
Jamestown is off I-86, just 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, anchoring the southern end of New York’s Chautauqua Lake. The Chautauqua County visitors guide is available by reaching out to their website at
A wealth of information and answers to questions about Lucy is free by contacting the Lucy-Desi Center, 300 North Main Street, Jamestown, New York 14701-5109. The local telephone is (716) 484-0800, and toll-free is (877) LUCYFAN (582-9326).
The Center provides literature and details on the other attractions in town, as well as information on accommodations, dining, and a
little shopping in addition to the gift shop.
The general hours at the three main attractions are mid-morning to late afternoon Monday through Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.
All three attractions are closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year’s Eve and Day.
Varying admissions are charged at the museum and the playhouse, but the gift shop is free.
Other attractions in the Jamestown area include the Fenton History Center housed in a Civil War Victorian mansion, the
Audubon Nature Center, an ice arena, the Justice Robert H.
Jackson Center, and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.