The vigil at Fairview Cemetery began at first light Sunday morning. There were no mourners, just reporters and photographers mingling congenially as they staked out a good spot for their reports back to the network morning shows or a position for the perfect photo of the funeral procession bringing Whitney Houston to the cemetery for her burial.
Police officers arrived before daylight, at 6 a.m., to secure every possible corner of the Fairview property, from the Cranford border along Union County College to the south and E. Broad Street to the north. At the western end of the cemetery, Gallows Hill Road was closed to prevent any neighborhood street from messing up any potential route in which the procession of hearses and limos that would come from the Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, where Whitney Houston's body has been stored since it was flown home after the 48-year-old pop icon died Feb. 11 in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
By noon, when the funeral procession — a gold hearse and three gold limos, followed by 10 cars, led by by a motorcycle police escort from the Westfield and Newark police departments — finally arrived at Fairview's front gate, the crowd had grown to about 100 fans, who shouted in unison, "We love you Whitney!" and began serenading the passing vehicles with a chorus of her popular song, "I Will Always Love You".
"It was the perfect send off for her," said DeShawn Westin, the Linden resident who began the singing. "We were all here with love to say goodbye to an icon, and we are truly blessed to have had her in our lives. There will only be one Whitney and we love her."
"Her burial is true Whitney fashion," said Cranford resident Allison Knops. "She was always classy and refined. We lost a huge part of culture and I came out to give her a proper send-off. I love her and her music and I know she will always be looking down on her fans from Heaven."
Houston was memorialized in a funeral service Saturday at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, where she grew up. Her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, brought Whitney on stage as a child. She eventually was discovered as an 11-year-old prodigy. The funeral drew more than 1,500 family members, including her daughter, Bobbi Christina, Newark friends and an all-star list of mourners, including Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Tyler Perry, Kevin Costner, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Houston's cousin, singer Dionne Warwick.
Before 8:30 Sunday morning, the streets of Westfield were quiet. The only people near the cemetery were journalists, members of the Westfield and Union County police departments and a few E. Broad Street residents trying to navigate the temporary one-way set-up to get to church or grab breakfast.
By 9:15, as rumors started to build about a posible 11 a.m. arrival for the funeral procession, more Westfield residents migrated toward the scene. Most said it was part of their Sunday-morning routine on a day that was anything but average.
"This is my normal Sunday jog," said Mary Cronin, 41. "It's weird to see it this way. I liked Whitney, but it's strange to think I'm going to jog past her grave every day."
"I'm not sure what people are waiting for," said Tony Romano. "The only thing they will see is a hearse," said the 42-year-old Westfield resident. "I'm trying to get to my house and the entire road is blocked off. But I am surprised there isn't a bigger crowd here."
Along Gallows Hill Road, near Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, six residents gathered to chat with an officer patrolling the area. They sheepishly said, "Wow, I thought there was going to be a big crowd today."
They all watched for the top of the hill in the cemetery, where three police officers in day-glo yellow jackets patrolled the area near the gravesite.
Theresa Paulen, 47, was emotional about the day's impending events.
"I'm here because Whitney was such a force in my life when I was growing up," the Westfield resident said. "I live in the area and I thought it was fitting that I say goodbye to her when her music has done so much for me."
Stay tuned to Patch for more news about the burial of Whitney Houston.