Auburn Pioneer entry way
“One of these days, I’m going to check that place out.”
Everyone has an Auburn Pioneer Cemetery in their life. It’s that one place we see every day that piques our interest as we drive to and from work. Sometimes the traffic or red light gives us a chance to look more closely as we pass by. We take a moment to admire the archway’s elegant carving and idly survey the rows of moss-covered stones. Then we wonder how a cemetery ever got sandwiched between a boat seller and a major thoroughfare.
The boat seller's shop
But then traffic speeds up or the light turns green and suddenly, the day’s demands crowd everything else out. Work, grocery runs, children, or upcoming project presentations block out everything but the daily necessities. The idea of visiting a non-descript cemetery disappears until the next time we’re held up and need to kill two minutes worth of time before moving on.
And once again, the intriguing entry way beckons.
The demarcation line
For those who do manage to finally get to Auburn Pioneer, a number of intriguing perspectives compete for the visitor’s attention almost immediately upon entering the site. Continue reading
Part II: The travels of Nora Johns Hill
In The Pioneers of Lakeview, Robert Ferguson details one such cemetery relocation story, proving that just because you’re dead and buried, doesn’t mean you won’t be moving.
A Tree of Life carving
Nora Johns Hill may have been the first recorded death of a white American in Seattle, but her real notoriety began only after she passed away. For 31 years after her death, her body meandered from one cemetery site to another, until finally finding peace in Lakeview Cemetery.
A Woodworker's memorial
Nora was first laid to rest in 1855 on the east side of Maynard’s Point next to a tidal lagoon and now, present-day Occidental Avenue, South. Then a real estate boom happened and Nora’s grave was removed to The White Church on the corner of Second Ave and Columbia.
Up until that time, Nora had managed 10 years worth of peace and quiet.
Woodmen of the World
The Denny family plot
Scattered throughout the immaculate grounds of Lakeview Cemetery, classic Victorian sculptures pay homage to Seattle’s pioneer fortitude and frontier savvy. Most of Seattle’s founding families (Denny, Renton, Mercer, Boren, Yesler, and others) are buried in the western hill section, offering a ‘one-stop shopping’ approach for local history buffs.
Capt. William Renton
The stylish memorials act as a seemingly prim contradiction to neighboring Capitol Hill’s stated irreverence.
Austin Bell's mausoleum
However, the founding families’ elegance smoothly glosses over the scruffy reality of a frontier town’s robust approach to living. With few niceties available to soften the harsher edges, unconventional allowances were sometimes made in Seattle that might not have been tolerated in other, more established cities. Continue reading
The bow of the Titanic
Almost 100 years ago and in the early hours of April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank into the history books. Out of approximately 2,227 passengers plus crew, approximately 700 people survived. After the disaster, some 320 bodies were recovered for burial at Fairview Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, including a J. Dawson, the unanticipated hero of James Cameron’s movie, Titanic. The remaining 1,500 became an unwitting part of one of the most fascinating cemetery memorials of all time.
The story is well known.
A glorious passenger ship surpassing the scale of all those previously built. The RMS Titanic was a floating palace that included swimming pools, squash courts, elevators and steam baths. The First Class lounge was in the Louis XV style while the Smoking Room had mahogany paneling highlighted with mother-of-pearl. A verandah, complete with flower-packed trellises, allowed for post-prandial relaxation while the formal Reception Area anticipated the evening’s fine dining. However, the type of food served certainly differed according to class.
Life was very good. At least until the iceberg showed up.
Disease, fire, and unsolved mysteries…
(this is a continuation from Crown Hill Cemetery Part I)
The infant & children's section
Crown Hill denotes more than a risky sawmill legacy.
The community’s early years were also difficult times for infants and children. The cemetery has at least two sections filled with closely placed rows of markers that poignantly testify to childhood disease and infections during those pre-vaccination times. Typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and even the 1918 influenza epidemic. All of these left their mark.
Another view of the children's section
Fire also left its mark.
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.
A sawmill heritage
Crown Hill Cemetery, Seattle WA
It takes a little bit of effort to find Crown Hill Cemetery near Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Surrounded by hedgerows and with a sign half-swallowed by rhododendrons, the low profile is so effective, some local residents don’t even realize it’s there. And that’s how the old Scandinavians probably would have liked it.
“Ballard was a mill town in Seattle. It was made up of sawmills and ship chandleries and machine shops and fishing docks and dry docks. It was a place of working men, hardworking people, union men with big calloused hands, some of whom died young because they worked too hard. Ballard was not pretty…just a district of honest immigrant Swedes, Norwegians and Finns who sought to make their lives better, who sought dignity and decency without flair or fanfare.” *
Pine, cedar, and fir trees are scattered throughout the site, offering both shade and a reminder of the area’s logging roots. Another surprising aspect is the amount of seemingly open, park-like space in the oldest sections. The unexpected, in-ground headstones can claim this credit. Discreetly receding into the lined distance, the markers are simply inscribed with such old-fashioned names like Hedwig, Torbjorg, Inga, and Lars.
Hedwig Wicks: 1872-1943