Retro popularity

I was really surprised and pleased at how popular the August re-posts have been. But then again, BTG has grown significantly since last year, so I guess I didn’t take into account all the new fans discovering these old goodies.

To that end, there’ll be a few more “old” sharings for the newer members to enjoy. I hope those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning will bear with me for a little while longer.

Then again, a second time around reading could be worthwhile, too.



Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary

Overcrowded cemeteries


Highgate crowding

Highgate Cemetery

In London, gravesite sharing has become an uncomfortable-yet-necessary-to discuss option. The Guardian summed it up the best when it reported:

“So you think London, population 8 million, is crowded with the living? There are many millions more under the soil of a city that has been inhabited for 2,000 years. And London is rapidly running out of places to put them. Now the city’s largest cemetery is trying to persuade Londoners to share a grave with a stranger. “

Will it work?

Perhaps, but there are mixed feelings in addition to the illegality of grave re-use to overcome. However, re-use is legal if the grave is 75 years or older AND located in the City of London.

Read the full article here.

Some may just say this only bolsters the rationale for cremation but what if this is not an option?

In contrast to London, only one of the 71 cemeteries in Moscow remains open for burials. The Russian Orthodox Church does not allow for cremation, making the search for a plot space all the more challenging.

Lack of space has given rise to a funeral plot black market. Last month, the New York Times reported that:

“With the fall of the Soviet Union, the government deregulated and privatized much of the funeral business in Russia. This has led to an explosion of private funeral agencies. Funerary agents largely operate free of oversight, and can easily take advantage of grieving families desperately seeking a burial plot.

The number of agents, licensed and not, exceed the number of people who die daily in Moscow.

The agents are often in cahoots with the police and hospital staff members, who tip them off when someone dies — for a fee, of course. They have been known to show up at the deceased’s residence before the ambulance, pressing and cajoling grieving relatives.”

Read the full article here.


Filed under Commentary

The Titanic’s real J. Dawson


J. Dawson, Titanic victim

1997 marked the debut of Titanic, James Cameron’s $200 million dollar movie that profiled an early 20th century Romeo and Juliet attraction between an itinerant Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and high society girl, Rose DeWitt Bukater (played by Kate Winslet). It’s a fictionalized story set within an almost century-old tragedy.

Or so it seems. Did you know that there was an actual J. Dawson as a registered crew member on the doomed R.M.S. Titanic?

Who was this man? Was his story the impetus for Cameron’s blockbuster movie? Or is his life a simple footnote within the Titanic drama?

Unfortunately, J. Dawson didn’t survive the icy Arctic waters on that April night. His body was recovered from the sea one month after the tragedy and buried in a Nova Scotia cemetery. He now rests under the occasional layer of flowers, photographs and movie ticket stubs.

Senan Molony, a journalist and dedicated Titanic researcher, discovered that Joseph Dawson was the son of a failed Irish Catholic priest and worked on the ship as a trimmer. A trimmer is basically a stokehold slave designated to channel coal to the firemen at the furnaces. He was responsible for keeping the black mountains on a level plateau at all times so that no imbalances caused a threat to the trim, or even-keel, of the ship. Yet Joseph’s life leading up to that fateful night followed a series of ironic ups and down that are movie worthy in their own right.

Read the whole story here.

1 Comment

Filed under Snapshot Stories

Cemetery geocaching: Has treasure hunting gone too far?

Flickr photo by Bob-n-Renee


Geocaching has rapidly become the modern day version of treasure hunting. At this time, it’s estimated that over 1.1 million enthusiasts using a variety of GPS tracking devices are currently searching for treasure boxes located in over 100 countries.

Caching is a popular outdoor activity ranging from the tamer family outing on local trails to the higher risk rock climbing or even scuba diving expedition. It’s all in the name of locating a hidden container filled with various small items like toys, buttons, and Travel Bugs (items that move from cache to cache).

While most caches are located around trails and parks, a controversy has arisen over geocaching in cemeteries, prompting one county in Texas and some states (Tennessee and South Carolina) to ban them altogether. This has generated a wide response from geocachers eager to defend their activity while other enthusiasts admit that perhaps there should be a more subtle approach to cemetery caches.

According to one forum responder:

“Caches in cemeteries have been tricky things. Most folks are respectful and all that but, (there is always a but) others are not. There was a cache in Tennessee that required the cacher to move the burial stone somehow to retrieve the cache. This was a couple years ago. Poor taste, lots of upset people etc. In (I think Ohio) cachers were running a bit of a competition with caches in cemeteries. Very poorly done.”

Does this mean cemetery geocaching should be banned entirely? Well, it depends.

If it means hiding Tupperware containers (or surplus ammo boxes) in, around, under, or above a headstone and if finding said box requires any sort of digging or shifting or patting of the stone in order to find it, then yes, it should be banned. Family members (or conservationists) should be the only ones puttering around the site in this manner.

If you really must have an actual cache, place it outside the cemetery boundaries. It’s simply a matter of discretion and respect.

However, caches should not be banned if they are location-less:

(A description is given for something to find, such as a one-room schoolhouse, and the finder locates an example of this object. The finder records the location using their GPS hand-held receiver and often takes a picture at the location showing the named object and his or her GPS receiver).

…Or virtual sites:

(Caches of this nature are coordinates for a location that does not contain the traditional box, log book, or trade items. Instead, the location contains some other described object. Validation for finding a virtual cache generally requires you to email the cache hider with information such as a date or a name on a plaque, or to post a picture of yourself at the site with GPS receiver in hand).

Old cemeteries and ghost towns have enough problems with vandals as it is and if there is a way to generate interest in local history then by all means, let’s keep it. In fact, BTG posted an article last week about one teacher doing just that.

Cemetery geocaches are most likely here to stay and the only way to slow them down, or perhaps stop them altogether, would be to remove the GPS coordinates from online sites like, a valuable tool to both genealogists and cachers alike. Since this is highly unlikely, perhaps the best approach to cemetery caching is to simply apply some respect and a whole lot of common sense.

Other resources:


Filed under Commentary

The high altitude cemetery at Aconcagua

Flickr photo by photonooner

Aconcagua reaches upward to 22,841 feet and is located in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. It is the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside of Asia. While Aconcagua is one of the magnificent Seven Summits, no technical hiking skills are required to hike it. Instead, a very high level of physical fitness, stamina, and perhaps the ability to control one’s temper when navigating the endless slag fields is recommended. In 2009, it was estimated that over 8,000 permits were issued to hikers looking to add this peak to their ascent bag.

Flickr photo by Russ Osborne

Not everyone is successful.

Last year, the BBC interviewed the chief park-keeper, Daniel Cucciara who commented: “Most visitors to the park are from the United States or Europe. Forty percent of the tourists who come here do no preparation at all. If you come to Aconcagua you need to have a mountain culture, you need to have climbed other mountains…you need to have trained for two or three years in gymnasiums, done a lot of running, and even then this doesn’t mean you are going to make the summit. You never know how your body will respond to such high altitudes.”

That’s potentially 3,200 people who, for whatever reason, decide to risk altitude sickness, navigating with crampons in the dreaded White Wind of Aconcagua,or worse, pulmonary embolism, without first undergoing this strict training regimen. In 2009, 280 people were evacuated from the mountain. Some of those who didn’t make it are remembered with boots and gloves in a small cemetery not too far from the mountain’s brooding gaze.

More resources:

More cemetery photos via Flickr:

Still want to climb Aconcagua? Visit

Note: while this video offers stunning views, the music is a bit dramatic.


Filed under Travel

Comet Lodge Cemetery: Limbo Part II

Part II: From 1938 to present day

Woodmen of the World memorial

In 1938, Odd Fellow members still owning cemetery land parcels fell behind in property tax payments. The county foreclosed and became, whether through design or accident, the new owner of Comet Lodge Cemetery. For the next fifteen years, questions over what was purchased, restoration permissions, and street widening ordinances, drifted back and forth between the city treasurer, council, and local improvement societies.

Eventually, official non-action moved the questions to the back burner and the county seemingly forgot that it ever owned a cemetery. Comet Lodge Cemetery became both a home for transients and a byword for ‘eyesore’ for several more decades.

A circle of headstone bases

Almost 100 years after its official Odd Fellows designation, new attempts to build on cemetery grounds ignited a public fury. Preservation Seattle noted that in 1987, a local resident began clearing the site in what appeared to be a simple restoration effort. That illusion quickly vanished.

“When he began bulldozing the property, and the graves of the 200 or so individuals buried there, the real plans became vividly clear [and] quirkier than anyone realized. What initially looked like restoration activity was really part of the man’s life-long dream to live on a cemetery. He intended to build his house there.”

Another report offers more details.

A group called Elysian Fields claiming ownership of Comet Lodge Cemetery, decided to build a “caretakers cottage” on the site and plant foodstuffs for the local community. By the time the Washington State Cemetery Board brought in an order to cease and desist, the majority of headstones had been bulldozed to the south end of the property.

Since that time, twenty restoration attempts for Comet Lodge have been made. All have failed. Even HistoryLink’s 2009 work only managed to relocate twelve headstones while the remaining markers are little more than broken bits and pieces. Out of the hundreds of missing headstones, only six remain in their original plots.

A serene view

Today, King County and the Washington State Cemetery Association retain custodial responsibility of the site. Only a few aesthetically placed headstones remain to tell passers-by of its original purpose and Comet Lodge now seems more a park than a cemetery. However, for one resident living near the old Baby Land portion, the calm appearance will never deceive. The decades-old scandal, plus certain inexplicable activities within her house, have rendered the property un-saleable.

Online sources:

City and County records of Comet Lodge destruction

These are matters of grave importance. PDF, pp, 4, 16

No stone unturned: One man’s lonely battle to save the graveyard City Hall would rather forget

Washington State law concerning abandoned cemeteries Cemetery records for Comet Lodge


• Seattle Post Intelligencer: “A grave commentary on an old cemetery.” October 16, 1997.

• Seattle Times: “New life for an old cemetery: Project organizers want to turn it into an horticultural park.” September 25, 1985.

• Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Cemetery slated to make a resurrection: Comet Lodge site will be turned into a memorial park.” June 17, 1999.


Filed under Commentary, Travel

Comet Lodge Cemetery: A century in limbo

Part I: From the beginning to 1931

An inscrutable reminder

Maybe it was the greed or a need to sweep political embarrassment under the proverbial rug. Perhaps it’s simply an old Indian curse on those foolish enough to disturb a sacred burial site. Whatever the reason, this cemetery has suffered a century’s worth of indignities including abandonment, foreclosure, bulldozing, and housing development. And what began as a five acre cemetery plot, now remains a mere 2.3 acre knoll languishing between a multitude of single family homes.

It’s a story almost too strange to be true.

Comet Lodge Cemetery was a Duwamish Indian burial site long before actual land ownership passed to the International Order of Odd Fellows in 1895. Offering fine hilltop views of south Seattle, it seemed a pleasant resting place for those early settlers such as Emma Rigby, one of area’s first female doctors.

But peace reigned for only twelve years.

An early German settler

In 1905, a booming population, plus a need for more residential housing tract land, caused the City of Seattle to move 700+ bodies from the county pauper’s cemetery to an undisclosed location in south Seattle. No transfer records seem to exist but it’s generally assumed the new burial location was the Odd Fellows Cemetery as the site became known as the Georgetown Potters’ Field.

Over the next two decades, the Odd Fellows Council began selling off specific parcels to individual members who then re-sold the plots, regardless of whether they were occupied. One local enthusiast told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that his master’s thesis research had revealed the cemetery had even been split in half in 1908 to accommodate the building of eleven new homes.

In 1927, land records show the City of Seattle purchasing portions of “Baby Land”, a section of the cemetery devoted specifically to young children and infants. No records of disinterment can be found but this portion was later zoned and developed for residential housing.

The Odd Fellows Council finally dissolved in 1931, abandoning cemetery upkeep responsibilities to the families of those buried at the site. Initial attempts were made to keep the cemetery cleared but sheer size proved overwhelming. The cemetery fell into disrepair and headstones became trapped in a mass of blackberry bramble overgrowth.

Coming up next. Part II: 1938 to present day


Filed under Commentary, Travel

Teddy’s Story: Decoding the kanji stones

This week’s guest post comes from Kristy Lommen whose website serves as a tribute to the Auburn area’s Japanese communities, both past and present. Over the past year, Ms. Lommen worked with Yoshiko Kato to decode as many of kanji stones as possible before they faded away. Here is one of their discoveries:

Photo courtesy Kristy Lommen

When Yoshiko Kato visited the cemetery to translate the kanji stones, I was particularly excited when she reached the fourth marker in the first row. Although the family surnames had been previously translated from most of the stones, this particular stone was marked on our transcript with only a mysterious, black question mark. We had, at that time, not even the least idea who might be buried in that grave.

Yoshiko kneeled in front of the marker, leaning forward and backward alternately in order to make sense of the nearly illegible marks. She resorted to using a finger to attempt to trace the kanji, gleaning by feel information that proved to be too faint to read by eye.

At this fourth stone she almost immediately announced that “Sato” was the family name, but the given name seemed to puzzle her. She was expecting a traditional Japanese name, but after studying the writing for some time, she reached a different conclusion. “Teddy,” she said, rocking back on her heels. “You know, like a teddy bear? It says Teddy. Teddy Goro.”

Photo courtesy Kristy Lommen

The image that “Teddy” brought to mind was that of a child, perhaps even a baby, who tragically passed away early in life (as was too often the case for the children of Auburn’s Japanese families).

A few steps away from Teddy Goro’s grave was another Sato marker. From this gravestone Yoshiko was able to read “Junko” as the given name and October 9, 1931 as the date of death. Were Junko Sato and Teddy Goro Sato related? On that sunny afternoon when Yoshiko visited the cemetery, there was no way to know.

Photo courtesy Kristy Lommen

Subsequent research eventually answered our questions about the Sato Family. We discovered that Komakichi Sato arrived in the United States in about 1907. He first settled in Tacoma and established himself there as a businessman—he operated a laundry in the city’s downtown district. His early days were otherwise shrouded in mystery.

There is some indication that he may have had a family when he lived in Japan, and that some of his relatives may have come with him to the United States. He was perhaps even widowed by the time he came to Tacoma. Nevertheless, we do know that he married Sayo Naikaido sometime around 1921. Their first child together was a son named Buell Kazuro Sato. Just over a year after Buell’s birth, Sayo gave birth to a second son, Crayton Akira Sato.

Sometime after Crayton’s birth, Komakichi turned the laundry business over to a young relative, Tatsuo Sato. Komakichi and Sayo then moved on, eventually landing in Auburn, Washington, where the family made their living by farming. They can be found there in the 1930 Federal Census with their older boys and two younger children, daughter Lena and son Yoshi. Sayo must have been pregnant at the time the census-taker visited the family. She gave birth to a daughter, Junko, on June 4, 1930.

As we learned at the cemetery, Junko passed away on October 9, 1931. She would have been a 16-month-old toddler. She was probably walking by that age and learning to talk too. She was certainly developing her own personality and learning, as toddlers do, to charm both beloved adults and total strangers. Her loss at such a young, enchanting age must have been a tragic blow to the family. Unfortunately, losing children early in life wasn’t unusual in those years, and, no matter what, life went on for the surviving family.

Two years later Sayo gave birth to another son, James. Daughters Reiko and Mitsuko followed in 1935 and 1936 respectively. Finally, on March 20, 1938 Sayo gave birth to her last child: a little boy named Teddy Goro. This little brother was, tragically, almost exactly the same magic age as Junko had been when he too died of unknown causes and was buried in the Auburn Cemetery.

Like all of Auburn’s Japanese, the surviving Sato Family was sent to internment camps in 1942 after the outbreak of World War II just a few months earlier. The Satos were sent first to California’s Pinedale Assembly Center before being sent on to Tule Lake.

After the war, the family did not return to Washington; perhaps they didn’t have the means to re-establish themselves there. Instead they put down roots in Hayward, California. They were there in the 1950’s when, after more than 40 years in their adopted country, Komakichi and Sayo Sato were finally able to petition for U.S. citizenship.

Komakichi, regrettably, lived only a few years after this momentous event. He died in California in 1958; Sayo passed away there in 1974. Both are buried in Mt. Eden Cemetery in Hayward, California.

Although Junko and Teddy Goro’s family longer live in Washington State, it’s comforting to know that their family, including some of their siblings and many nieces and nephews, continues to live and thrive even today. I’m sure both Junko and Teddy hold special places in their memories.


A sincere thank you to Kristy and Yoshiko for their work in discovering this story behind one of earliest Japanese families in Auburn. For a more general overview, please see a previous Beyond The Ghost article, Auburn Pioneer Cemetery: a tiny cemetery with many stories.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary, Restoration, Symbols, Travel