Ivana Trump, former president Donald Trump’s first wife, died on July 14 at the age of 73, owing to injuries she suffered in an accidental fall on the “grand curving staircase” at her Upper East Side townhouse. Her funeral drew about 400 people and featured a gold-hued coffin, Secret Service agents, and loving remembrances from her three adult children as well as several friends. Then this icon of ’80s glamour and New York tabloid drama was laid to rest … at a New Jersey golf course?
Many found the decision to bury Ivana at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster puzzling. She is the first person to be buried at the former president’s New Jersey property, and the ground had to be consecrated so she could have a traditional Catholic burial. A New York Post photographer scoped out the site and found that while Ivana’s grave isn’t literally on the golf course, the whole vibe is surprisingly understated:
Photos taken by The Post Thursday show Trump’s grave alone against a bucolic scenery of trees and shrubbery. The grave looks upon a sprawling green space upon the country club’s vast estate.
The plot where Ivana was buried has a bouquet of more than two dozen white flowers and a plaque that reads in all capital letters Ivana Trump with the dates she was born and died.
The grave is in a place where golfers would not see it as they tee off for a round of golf. The small section of the club is below the backside of the first tee.
So what exactly is going on here? I have a few theories.
Theory 1: Trump really loves northern New Jersey.
If Trump National Golf Club Bedminster held a special place in Ivana’s heart, there’s no record of it. Donald bought the property in 2002, a full decade after their divorce was finalized. While Ivana maintained a friendship with her ex-husband through her final days, and her daughter, Ivanka, was married at the club, it does not appear that Ivana ever publicly praised the property.
There is, however, ample evidence that Donald Trump thinks Bedminster is a phenomenal place to be laid to rest. “Wouldn’t you want to be buried here?” he mused to The Wall Street Journal in 2015. The idea has been on his mind for at least 15 years. Back in 2007, Trump filed paperwork to build a windowless wedding chapel at Bedminster that would later be converted into a mausoleum for himself and his family.
Drawings filed with the Somerset County township called for what NJ.com described as a “19-foot-high, classical-style stone structure” with “four imposing obelisks surrounding its exterior and a small altar and six vaults inside. Locals balked at the proposal, which they deemed gaudy, and Trump withdrew the plan. Five years later, he came back with a new idea: Instead of a mausoleum, he would be buried at a large cemetery with more than 1,000 graves. “The idea, apparently, was that Trump’s golf-club members would buy the other plots, seizing the chance at eternal membership,” the Washington Post reported.
Facing continued opposition to his ghoulish ambitions, Trump revised his plans once again. In 2014, the Trump Organization filed paperwork to build two graveyards at Bedminster. One would have 284 lots for sale to the public, while the other would consist of just ten plots for Trump and his family near the first tee. The company’s filing with the state said Trump “specifically chose this property for his final resting place as it is his favorite property.”
Theory 2: Trump is running an elaborate tax scheme.
Some remain skeptical that Trump actually considers this the most fabulous piece of property he owns:
The average person might say Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s seaside Florida resort, is more spectacular, but they’re not looking at Bedminister through the eyes of a person with an alleged passion for tax avoidance. Over the weekend, this tweet from Brooke Harrington, a professor of sociology at Dartmouth, sparked speculation that Bedminster’s real appeal as a graveyard lies in New Jersey tax law.
Indeed, as Insider reported, there are some surprising perks to being the proprietor of a New Jersey graveyard:
Under New Jersey state tax code, any land that is dedicated to cemetery purposes is exempt from all taxes, rates, and assessments. Cemetery companies are also specifically exempt from paying any real estate taxes, rates, and assessments or personal property taxes on their lands, as well as business taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, and inheritance taxes.
And the Trump family has definitely been pursuing the tax advantages of cemetery ownership. A document published by ProPublica shows that the Trump Family Trust sought to designate a property in Hackettstown, New Jersey, about 20 miles from Bedminster, as a nonprofit cemetery company back in 2016.
But there is reason to question this too-Trumpy-to-be-true allegation. First, all this cemetery business is unnecessary because he has already found a way to drastically reduce his Bedminster tax burden. When the Post’s David Farenthold looked into Trump’s cemetery obsession in 2017, he concluded it wouldn’t be very profitable as a business venture or a tax-avoidance scheme:
… the savings would hardly be worth the trouble. That’s because Trump had already found a way to lower his taxes on that wooded, largely unused parcel. He had persuaded the township to declare it a farm, because some trees on the site are turned into mulch. Because of pro-farmer tax policies, Trump’s company pays just $16.31 per year in taxes on the parcel, which he bought for $461,000.
According to a 2019 HuffPost analysis, Trump slashed his Bedminster tax bill by about $88,000 a year by keeping eight goats and farming 113 acres of hay on the property.
Is is possible that the cemetery business is some kind of backup tax- avoidance scheme? I suppose, but it doesn’t make a ton of sense to this humble TurboTax user.
Theory 3: Trump is just keeping it weird.
“It’s always been my suspicion that there’s something we don’t know” about Trump’s cemetery plan, Bedminster land-use board member Nick Strakhov told Farenthold in 2017.
It does seem we’re missing a key piece of the boneyard puzzle. But there is one thing we know about Trump now that wasn’t quite as apparent back then: He is a super-weird guy. He has managed to be weird with various kinds of paper, toilet bowls, aircraft carriers, and “dangerous fruit,” to name just a few of his proclivities. The thought of our inevitable demise brings out strange feelings and behavior in most people. Some of the rich plan to freeze themselves or shoot their remains into space; is it any surprise that Trump has some grandiose idea about how he and his family should be laid to rest?
“It’s never something you like to think about, but it makes sense,” Trump told the New York Post during his first attempt to make Bedminster a cemetery in 2007. “This is such beautiful land, and Bedminster is one of the richest places in the country.”
Trumpy commentary on the wealth of northern New Jersey aside, that sounds astonishingly well adjusted.
More on Ivana Trump
- The Last, Lonely Days of Ivana Trump
- Ivana Trump Is Dead at 73
- A History of the Trumps on New York’s Cover