Soquel Cemetery: Generations of Metaphors


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.

cemetery sign_SP

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.

Feilding Lard_SP            Sarah C Lard Daubenbiss (2)

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.

Harriet Ryder - plains traveler              Civil War 2 - brother

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.

Louisa     mama     close up

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.

Open book1

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.

Olive-front       Olive-inscription  side show

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.

Lola Abbot           nee tombstone

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

Russian Marker - 2    patchwork quilt   Adam Darlng

…until finally, a set of handprints, forever frozen in time, and a surfboard, complete the circle.

Photo 19     Photo 20

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

Additional Sources:

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister

Capitola Soquel Times

Capitola, CA historical context overview

– Forest of Nisene Marks: Spanish & Mexican Heritage Sites

The Donner Party Diaries, by Daniel M. Rosen

Skip Spence Biography


Filed under Commentary, Symbols, Travel

16 responses to “Soquel Cemetery: Generations of Metaphors

  1. Tom McCubbin

    My gr gr gr gr uncle, John Hames, was the founder of Soquel, having moved there in 1843. His wife, Drucilla, is buried in the IOOF Cemetery. Her father, Thomas Jefferson Shadden, is my gr gr gr gr grandfather. I have lived in Soquel since 1974, and my uncle John owned a wide swath of land from Soquel High School to the high-tide mark at Pleasure Point, where I rode waves for many years and my daughter continues to do so. I have a more formal write-up of the family history if you are interested in it…


    • Lisa

      Hi Tom,

      I was doing some research for my sister regarding a family book about the Oregon Trail and I have stumbled across tons of family history that you have done. First of all, Thank You!!!

      It was wonderful to see your website with all of the info and photos of some of the people my father, Roger, used to talk about.

      I have some old family photos, but am not sure who all of the people are in them. I know there is one of John and Rose. I have quite a few others too (Ted and Dora, Fay and Lola, and Roger, Dick and Marylou, etc).



    • Hey Tom;

      I am interested in doing a story on the Soquel Cemetery, I am with Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters (the name is a play on words) we research unusual historical facts, myth, legend, folklore and the paranormal of Santa Cruz County. I would love to hear any unusual stories or historical facts to add to a segment I am doing.

  2. Hi Tom:

    Thanks for taking the time to share some of your family history with me and the readers. It’s always nice knowing more of the local history and the Soquel/Capitola area is such a nice place to visit.

  3. John C. Halla

    Thanks for the info on Soquel.

    My grandmother was Sarah Cordelia Daubenbiss, a granddaughter of Sarah & John Daubenbiss. My father was only 4 years old when his mother, Sarah “Delia”, died.

    I am researching my family roots for a future publication. Thank you for your valuable information . . . nuggets for further inquiry while on my quest.

    • G.E. Anderson

      Hi John:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad the article was helpful. Best of luck on your book writing/publication.

  4. My name is Lesley and I am not related to anyone buried in the Soquel Cemetery. I am restoring the non-endowment side of the Soquel cemetery with the help of one other person, also not related. Non-endowment means it is a non-perpetual care cemetery so any care the cemetery gets is to be done by family members or the community (me). The unpaid caretaker of the Soquel cemetery has graceously given me access to all the original records, maps and other documents. Should anyone have a question about a particular person interred into this cemetery, or any other question, they can contact me. Due to SPAM I will list this email address (yes, my dog has his own email address) which will get you through to me: bob *AT* (remove the spaces and replace *AT* with @). Thank you, Lesley

    • G.E. Anderson

      Hi Lesley:

      Thanks for stopping by and posting. And thank you for all your work in restoring this side of Soquel cemetery. There are some beautiful carvings there.

    • paula west moore

      Lesley, I am researching my family, and was advised that my great-great grandfather, william henry Greene was buried in this cemetery in 1891, but I cant locate any information. It has been old family lore that he was the first u.s. marshall in San Juan Bautista…his wife was Marie…my great grandmother, Della was born there in 1867..and she married Ed West and both are buried in Santa Cruze at the family mausoleum..hopefully with you having the records, you would have the above information…I would appreciate if you could email anything you have to :…thank you so much..Paula West Moore 5-13-13

  5. I’m so happy to discover your lovely post — my father, a WWII vet, was buried in Old Soquel in 2003, and whenever I visit the cemetery I I’m both disturbed and touched by its wild, decayed state. You might relate to my poem about it, “Degeneration,” published in Porter Gulch Review. and on my website. ( Thank you again for personalizing this seemingly forgotten and overlooked place for us!
    Jenny Walicek

  6. Mike White

    Hello, I have relatives buried in the Old Soquel Cemetery. I am intertsted in finding out the condition of their site. Can anyone assist me? I would be interested in doing what I can to help with the restoration of the cemetery.

    • G.E. Anderson

      Hi Mike:

      My apologies for not responding sooner. For some reason, the email notification that I had a new comment was stuck in my spam filter. What a terrific offer about helping to with the restoration! I’m sure the historical association would be thrilled to hear from you. Here is a link to their main page–I suggest you reach out to Richard Nutter for starters.

      Best of luck to you.

    • Lesley

      Mike…..can you somehow get me your email address? I can look for your grandparents once we connect.

      I am a volunteer. I do not own the cemetery and have no relatives in the cemetery.


      • Mike White

        Hi Lesley, Thanks for the reply….The name is O’brien, William not sure who else is there but, others for sure. These are my great grand parents and family on my mothers side. I was there many years ago with my mother and remember the approximate location. It seems to me it is by the office? Thanks for all your help…….Mike



    My email address is above. Please email me privately regarding your grandparents names and I will be happy to look them up and let you know.


  8. Pingback: Snapshots: What’s in a name? | Beyond The Ghosts...

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