Tricia Johnson
July 16, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Got your California vacation all mapped out? You’ll probably hit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, pop into Universal Studios, and of course, drop by the morgue. That’s right: The latest must-see stop on stargazers’ itineraries these days is the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department. Turns out people are flocking to the house of the dead just to catch a glimpse of the last stop for such celebs as Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, and River Phoenix. ”People think they’re going to see a knife from a famous crime and other evidence when they come here,” says the department’s assistant chief of investigations, Juan J. Jimenez. ”But all we have is a gift shop.” Yes, a gift shop. The morbidly curious can drop into the coroner’s store, Skeletons in the Closet, and buy such grim tchotchkes as body-bag garment bags ($18), beach towels with chalk outlines ($25), and toe-tag key rings ($5). Last year, Skeletons raked in more than $500,000 in sales. Its website — of course it has a website (www.lacoroner.com) — sums up the experience best: ”Part of you thinks it’s in poor taste. Part of you wants an XL.”

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