Soquel, California (pronounced “so-kell”) is a quiet town off the Northern California coastline, rooted within Spanish land grants dating back to 1776. Located approximately 70 miles south of San Francisco, most beach tourists driving the winding Highway 1 route to Santa Cruz beach spots rarely give it a second thought. However, those opting for the quieter, redwood tree-lined back roads have an opportunity to see this town first hand.
To the left and on the hill from the main four corners is a beautiful New England-styled church. Straight down the street is the unique Porter Memorial Library built in 1912 while to the right, is the Ugly Mug coffee house. But it’s the spot just outside of town at 550 Old San Jose Road that draws the most interest from fans of Skip Spence and genealogists tracing family history.
Photo by Shelly Peters
Established in 1852, many of Soquel’s original families have now either died out or moved away. However, there are still local residents with direct ties to early pioneer days and Alice Daubenbis is one of them. She traces her roots to the town (and cemetery) founder, John Daubenbiss (her 3rd Gr.- uncle) and Sarah Lard Daubenbiss, the daughter of Fielding and Nancy Lard who traveled west with a 160 wagon train caravan to start their new life in California.
Photos by Shelly Peters
Fielding Lard worked as a guide for the 160-member wagon train coming from Missouri and along the way, he gained a son-in-law, Riley Septimus Moutrey, who played an integral part in the first team sent to rescue the infamous Donner Party.
Another descendant with several generations of family ties is Dick Nutter, currently president of the Soquel Pioneer and Historical Association.
Charles Ryder, (Dick’s Nutter’s 2nd Gr. –Grandfather) endured the harrowing ocean journey around Cape Horn before eventually settling in Soquel. He later married Harriet Kirby who had come west with her siblings to join her father, Gershom Kirby (Dick’s 3rd Gr. –Grandfather). Harriet’s marker can be seen below on the left, but unfortunately, it is uncertain exactly where the stone should be placed due to later years of cemetery neglect. Harriet’s brother, Silas Kirby, served during the Civil War and his stone can be seen on the right. While both markers have suffered the undignified fate of being forgotten, the irony is that the stones have been left remarkably well preserved.
However, it’s not just family history links that are seen here. There is also the lost language of flowers.
Below left, Louisa’s headstone is decorated with morning glories to symbolize the Resurrection and roses to also remind us of Paradise’s fragrance. In the middle is Mama’s stone (Elizabeth Conant, b. 1852, d.1901) engraved with calla lilies to signify beauty and marriage along with what appears to be bell flowers, symbols of constancy and gratitude. Below right, is Frank Noble (d. 1858 at 6 months). His stone shows a carved hand with three extended fingers representing the Trinity, reaching from heaven to pluck the rose of innocence.
As the visitor wanders into the newer section, a gradual progression away from floral imagery becomes more apparent. Take Olive Meachen’s memorial (d. 1881) as a starting example. The first carving is an open book signifying the deceased’s name’s registration in the Book of Life.
The front shows a dove for purity, holding a sign saying, “Father, I am coming.” The dove is surrounded by ferns for humility and sincerity, roses, evening primroses for eternal love and memory, plus morning glories for the Resurrection. Below these, is a now faded inscription. The left hand column is reserved for naming practicalities while its starkness is relieved by another small bouquet.
Now compare Olive’s stone against the simpler lines for Lola Abbott (b. 1924, d. 1935) and Caroline Lotman (b. 1834, d.1912), whose stones are seen below. As an interesting point for family genealogists, Caroline’s marker has her maiden name, “nee Leonhard,” inscribed, something not typically done on a pioneer wife’s marker.
As the stones become newer, more personalizing appears. A carved wooden Russian plaque with the words, “Oh Lord, Save” in Old Church Slavonic, a tiled patchwork quilt, a boulder marker for Adam Darling…
…until finally, a set of handprints, forever frozen in time, and a surfboard, complete the circle.
And perhaps this is the most commonly overlooked aspect of Soquel Cemetery – the creative evolution of cemetery metaphor from the early pioneers to modern times.
(c) 2009 by G.E. Anderson
– Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister
– Capitola, CA historical context overview
– Forest of Nisene Marks: Spanish & Mexican Heritage Sites
– The Donner Party Diaries, by Daniel M. Rosen
– Skip Spence Biography