He carried a dozen roses into Cave Hill Cemetery and headed for a patch of grass in the back corner that seemed too ordinary for the man buried beneath it.
Farzam Farrokhi had worried there would be a horde of people this morning elbowing for a place among the first to see Muhammad Ali’s grave.
Instead he found a quiet and reverent stream of visitors. There was not yet a headstone marking the spot. No rope cordoned off those wishing to kneel, pray or kiss the grave.
It would have looked like any unremarkable rectangle of fresh sod had people not been snapping photos. A few brought flowers, one left a tiny set of boxing gloves. A man unfurled an Islamic flag and laid it alongside the grave.
Farrokhi, a native of Iran, drove 12 hours from his home in Queens, New York, for Ali’s funeral. He was grateful for no massive crowds so he could sit and reflect on the life and the death of The Greatest, who suffered for years with Parkinson’s disease.
“I can’t imagine a heart like Ali’s being stuck in a body where he can’t do what he wants to do. Now he can be free,” he said. “Maybe he’s shaking up the next world already.”
Ali was buried yesterday in a corner of his hometown’s historic Cave Hill Cemetery, 300 acres famous for its beauty and wildlife.
Ali picked the site himself. He toured the cemetery’s twisting paths and towering trees and decided on this spot just across from a flower patch and a lake, with a fountain that babbles day and night. Four geese moseyed across the road nearby this morning.
His headstone will be simple when it’s installed, in keeping with Muslim tradition. It will be inscribed with just one word: Ali.
Jake and Janell Bessler drove from Evansville to see it today. On the way, they told their 4-week-old daughter, Violet, sleeping in her car seat, about the boxing great and what he meant to the world.
“We told her ‘this is history, you get to be a part of it,” Janell said. They sat her in front of the grave and snapped a photo, so she’ll be able to see it one day.
Visitors trickled in from near and far. James Terry, a Louisville native, carried a map of the cemetery, marking the family plot on the other side where he will one day be buried. He delighted at the idea he will share the same dirt as The Champ.