Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Along the Way: Nancy Kulp

Grave of Nancy Kulp
Westminster Cemetery, Mifflintown
On a hillside overlooking the Juniata River in Mifflintown, the county seat of Juniata County, among the quiet stones of Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery, is the resting place of Miss Jane Hathaway. Next to her parents among the rolling hills of the Juniata Valley is Nancy Kulp, a Pennsylvania native whose most noted role was Miss Jane Hathaway, the loyal, efficient secretary of Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Nancy Kulp was born in Harrisburg on August 28, 1921, the only child of a traveling salesman and his wife. Her family moved to Florida in the 1930 where, in 1943, she graduated from Florida State University with a degree in journalism. She attended the University of Miami, but dropped out in 1944 to join the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Lieutenant Junior Grade Kulp received various medals for her service, including the American Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.

Nancy left the service in 1946 and headed to Hollywood to become a publicist, but was soon convinced that she should be in front of the camera, not behind it. She started out by appearing in small roles in movies and television shows, but it wasn't until she landed a part in The Bob Cummings Show that she really became a household name. At the end of the shows run, she appeared in a number of shows, but when she landed the role of Miss Jane Hathaway, Nancy would forever be remembered.

After the end of The Beverly Hillbillies Nancy continued acting, appearing in a handful of shows and also on Broadway. In 1984, she ran on the Democratic ticket for the U.S. House of Representative, but lost to Bud Shuster. After her defeat, she took up working with Juniata College as an Artist in Residence. After retiring, she moved to a farm in Connecticut. In 1990 she was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and passed on February 3, 1991, at a friend's home in Palm Springs.

Through research had discovered that Kulp was buried in the Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery; however, I had not found where in the cemetery she was buried. As I was returning home from Harrisburg one day, I decided I’d make a side trip into Mifflintown to visit the cemetery. Having some time to search the grounds, I decidedto see if I could  find her resting place. Looking at pictures of the cemetery, I knew I had my work cut out and figured it would take a couple of trips to find it.

Grave of Nancy Kulp
Entering the cemetery from North Third Street, I drove slowly along the drive, scanning the names on the stones. I had only gone a short distance when I caught sight of the name Kulp on a stone. It was Nancy’s grave. Parking along the drive, I walked over to pay my respects to the talented actress who called Central Pennsylvania her home.

Growing up, The Beverly Hillbillies was often on television. Of course, I grew up on the reruns of the reruns of the reruns. I was familiar with the fictional characters, but I had never realized that one of their cast was from a neighboring county. By the time she was involved in state politics, I was still too young to have any interest in the politics of the state or nation for that matter, unless it was something that was affecting me directly. By the time she passed, I was in high school and if it was in the newspapers (which it probably was) I had no realization of who she was.

The sun was setting as I finished paying my respects and the sound of crickets filled the air as I left her resting on the hill overlooking the Juniata River.

Nancy’s grave is very easy to visit. From Route 322 take Route 35 into Mifflintown. Turn right  North Third Street (the road immediately behind the Juniata County Courthouse). Follow this street into the cemetery. Once through the gates, look to the left; her grave can be easily spotted from the roadway just a short distance inside.

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