Auburn Pioneer Cemetery: A tiny cemetery with many stories

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. On the side closest to the boat seller’s shop are rows of seemingly identical, almost-homemade, Japanese markers…

Cement markers from the 1920s

…while located on the side closest to the highway, are the more haphazardly situated, pioneer headstones. It almost seems as if there’s a deliberate separation between the early Japanese and pioneering settlers. Further research in the White River Museum archives shows this to be the case.

While the actual cemetery was originally the burial plot for a local family (Rachel Ann and John Faucett) who established their homestead in 1864, the Japanese community was not granted the right to inter family remains here until 1917, when they were finally permitted a 25-foot strip of land. Following that, burial eligibility depended on whether one had an ancestor already buried in the cemetery.

The Faucett family markers

Local cemetery researcher and writer, Kristy Lommen, reminds us that, “Early Japanese burials were often marked with wooden stakes but in the fall of 1928, the Rev. Giryo Takemura of the Buddhist Church, with the assistance of his father-in-law Chiyokichi Natsuhara, created concrete markers to replace the early, perishable wooden markers. Most of these concrete markers—many in a deteriorated state—are still in place as the sole markers of their respective graves.”

Kanji-style writing closeup

A closer examination of the cement markers reveals the 1920’s kanji-styled calligraphy is still visible on many stones while others are quickly succumbing to the Pacific Northwest weather.

Pacific NW weathering effects

A boulder runs through it

Another peculiar sight is a massive rock situated almost smack in the middle of the cemetery itself.

A dedicated pioneer memorial

Carrying a plaque dedicated to the earliest pioneering families, the stone isn’t just one of those typically generic memorials. No, this boulder was a deliberate, in-your-face response to an argument between the City of Auburn and the descendants of those buried at the site.

According to records from the 1950s, the city proposed straightening out the main highway running past the site (Auburn Way North). This idea meant slicing off a large portion of the western side of Auburn Pioneer Cemetery and ultimately, exhuming a large number of burial plots. For a while, it looked as though the city would get its desired right-of-way until a re-discovery of additional pioneer burials came to light. As a means of putting a stop to the swarming tar trucks and construction equipment, the local pioneering heritage group decided to take matters into their own hands. “We put a big rock right in the middle of where they wanted to go.”

However, it wasn’t until 1965 when the commemorative plaque was formally affixed and dedicated during a special ceremony.

The case of mistaken identity

Angeline Seattle – courtesy White River Museum

One of the more surprising headstones in this cemetery is the one for Angeline Seattle, who died in 1907. Often confused with the famous Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle, Auburn Pioneer’s Angeline was Angeline Tumas. She and her husband were farmers and members of the local Muckleshoot Indian tribe. The more well-known Princess Angeline is buried in Lot 111 of Seattle’s Lakeview Cemetery and unlike the Auburn Angeline’s elaborate marker, Princess Angeline’s grave is marked by a rough cut stone and plaque.

A lingering sadness

The Kato family murder/suicide

Probably the most well-known story from Auburn Pioneer Cemetery involves the Kato family tragedy.

The 1930s were difficult times for most Americans but for the Kato family, financial difficulties and apparent ill-health eventually became insurmountable. By 1937, suicide seemed the only way out. On Valentine’s Day, the wife and four children ingested sleeping pills and after falling into a deep sleep, were killed by the husband, Enichi.

The original plan had Enichi following his loved ones into death but curiously, this never happened. Worrying that there would be no funeral markers for his family, he buried the bodies in the back yard and left for California. Presumably, he sought to earn enough to pay for individual headstones before taking his own life.

Law enforcement officials eventually caught up with Enichi and he was sentenced to life in prison.

The original stones – courtesy White River Museum

In time, local community collection efforts pooled enough money to pay for a family marker with four jizo statues signifying the children’s tragic death. Unfortunately, the statues’ mysterious smiles proved too irresistible and three jizos were stolen from the cemetery.

What now remains…

Eventually, one statue was returned after it was discovered masquerading as a local garden gnome. Visitors peeking around the northwestern foliage can still see the two remaining statues keeping their poignant guard over the Kato family plot.

Note: A special thanks to the White River Museum journal archives and to researcher/writer Kristy Lommen, Auburn Pioneer Cemetery webmaster. For those readers interested in learning more about the 1920s kanji stones, Ms. Lommen’s previous article posting can be found here.


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Mount Pleasant memories

Writers and artists have somehow always known cemeteries are a place of inspiration. Seattle-based writer Stacy Carlson, author of Among The Wonderful, shares her particular credo about Mount Pleasant.


There’s a blue-green house shaped like a barn on West Bothwell Street that’s half a block from a T-intersection.

It’s a T because instead of another block of tidy houses, the Mount Pleasant Cemetery breaks the grid with its amoeba-shaped expanse. I don’t know exactly how big, or how old the cemetery is. I don’t know anybody buried there. But if it weren’t for Mount Pleasant, half a block from the house where I grew up, I never would have started writing fiction.

My friend Shannon and I roller-skated all over our neighborhood. We started out in the alley behind Shannon’s house. We didn’t try to learn how to skate backwards or do any fancy twirls. We went for speed.

Starting at one end of the alley, we simply raced each other to the other end and most of the time, Shannon won. But the pavement in that alley was a rough grade, and we dodged jagged potholes, giant cracks and more than once ripped up our knees, elbows, and faces. After a while we moved to a patch of smooth cement on a quiet street a couple of blocks from my house.

It was a short-lived victory: one night coming home from work my dad spotted us skittering out of the way of his car. We were banished from the streets.

It was then that we zeroed in on the cemetery. Shannon crept through the laurel hedge for a look around and she reported that the cemetery had the smoothest pavement she had seen in her entire life!

Not only was the cemetery road smoother than any road we’d ever skated on, but the cemetery itself was on a slight hill, so we went faster than ever. Plus, if you went out of control, usually you could bail right onto the lawn, only occasionally knocking yourself against a headstone.

So one time, this was in the summer when it stayed light until ten at night, we were skating in the cemetery. We always stayed on the far side, away from the house where the groundskeeper lived. The cemetery officially closed at sundown, but in the summer that could mean anywhere between seven and ten, depending on the weather.

Often, the place closed with us in it.

This normally wouldn’t matter – we had our usual hole in the hedge – but, as we soon found out, Mount Pleasant employed an unusual nighttime security guard in the form of a sleek Doberman Pinscher.

We had just finished a downhill race (Shannon won) when the dog appeared in the distance, galloping towards us, barking hysterically. Of course we took off, back up the hill, doing the best we could on our skates.

We had no chance of outrunning this dog. Even I knew that.

As usual, Shannon skated faster than I did; I was the one who would be attacked and probably killed. So I remember this point, this crucial moment, when I made what seemed like the most important decision of my life: I decided to angle off the smooth road and go overland to try to reach a Maple tree with a low-hanging branch.

I would lose all my speed on the grass, but I figured I could get to the tree in about ten seconds, and in another ten I might be safe in its branches. I almost fell on my face because of the grass under my skates, but I made it. I swung onto the branch and managed to pull myself up in time.

The dog overtook Shannon and immediately bit her on the butt.

Luckily, the groundskeeper had heard the barking and managed to call off the dog before more harm was done. (In fact, due to a petition that soon went around our neighborhood, the dog was euthanized). Even though I felt bad for Shannon, I was proud of my escape and I trusted my instincts after that.

We played softball in Mount Pleasant too, on the one small field with vacant gravesites. Jesse, Ethan, Sam, Michael, my brother Gregory, and me. I guess we’d been playing for years before I noticed there was a name engraved on our home plate. It was mostly covered up with grass: Luella Hurley, 1899-1939.

Luella Hurley, the curliest name I ever heard. Instantly I could see her, in old-fashioned buttoned boots, sitting near us on a gravestone. She had wavy brown hair that swirled up in the wind and she carried a wicker basket with a cream cake inside. I don’t know where I came up with cream cake. I must have read about it somewhere, who knows. But there she was, clear as day in my mind, with some story to tell.

And finally, of course, Halloween: every year after we trick-or-treated we went home and changed out of our costumes. All the kids’ moms would call each other and they would agree that we could go into the cemetery for half an hour. It seems so weird, but they let us do it.

There were always a bunch of kids in there; I mostly remember being one of the younger ones. My brother and Jesse would run off, leaving Sam and me on our own. We’d be fine for the first five minutes, but dark shapes flitted behind every gravestone. We would clutch hands, then, squealing.

There were a few rituals we always had to do but there was one that was worse than the others. There was one crypt in this cemetery.

The Bauer family crypt.

It was a low cement room built into the side of the hill, and on Halloween you had to go up to the door and knock on it. You had to say something too, like “anybody home?” Maybe it doesn’t sound that scary, but when I got up there and found myself about to make contact with the Bauers, it nearly gave me a heart attack.

I must have done it five years in a row and my fear never subsided. But once it was done I ran away screaming in a delectable combination of terror and profound glee to still be among the living.

So I guess somehow the Mount Pleasant Cemetery gave me the three convictions that make fiction possible: 1. Trust your instincts. 2. Know that there are stories floating all around you, even under your feet, engraved in stone; see them, and give them the full range of your imagination. 3. Keep going, no matter how scared you are, until you’ve knocked on mystery’s door.

© 2008 by Stacy Carlson


For an anticipatory taste of Stacy’s book……:

“…In the autumn of 1840, PT Barnum purchased an outdated museum on the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in Manhattan. He was a newcomer to the city and still unknown to the world, but with uncanny confidence and impeccable timing he transformed the dusty natural history collection into a great ark for public imagination. Among the Wonderful is the story of this museum’s short, extraordinary reign as America’s most popular attraction.”


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The ghost town of Bodie, California

If you ever find yourself wandering the Eastern Sierras, this is one of the most spectacular places you can visit (besides Mono Lake where Clint Eastwood filmed Pale Rider). I love this area so much, I couldn’t resist re-posting this article.

The lonely road back to civilization

Hundreds of miles from civilization.

Gold is a funny thing.

It will drive a human being to live far out on a desolate, arid plateau baked by summer heat, frozen by zero degree winter temperatures and blown apart from vicious blizzards and 100+ mph winds. Keeping warm means lighting a fire with expensive, imported lumber and, due to the gold’s remote location, probably everything (food, liquor, clothing, wood) has to be brought in over a long, dusty trail, making the camp one of the most expensive and dreariest places to live.

All this for an opportunity to strike, gamble, or steal it rich.

Bodie, California started out pretty much like most mining towns. In 1859, a prospecting group that included former New York State resident, W.S. Bodey, found gold in the desolate California wastelands east of Tioga Pass.

By 1876, 30 miners were living in the Bodie mining camp. Four years later, there were 10,000.

Unfortunately, W.S. Bodey never realized the potential of his little mining site as in 1860, he was caught in a blizzard while getting supplies from Mono City, 26 miles away. However, from 1877 to the late 1880s, the town boomed and predictions of it being the next Comstock Lode ran rampant. Yet where Comstock produced almost $400 million in gold and silver ore, Bodie was only able to produce approximately 8% of that payload, or $34 million. Nonetheless, the town did its best to keep up other appearances where rowdy mining life was concerned.

The red light district, complete with brothels, opium and gambling dens, was found at the north end of town and at one time there were approximately 65 saloons to choose from. With nowhere else to go after a hard day’s work but the saloons and brothels, it’s little wonder at least one killing per day was estimated. As a result, the cemetery quickly became filled up with markers commemorating fatal gun, knife or fistfights.

Unfortunately, few of these wooden markers have survived over the decades and those that remain, are mostly stone memorials. Interestingly enough, while Bodie had its own Chinatown, few Chinese, were buried here. Instead, their remains were shipped back to China as soon as possible to be joined with family ancestors on native soil.

One marker seen near the cemetery is dedicated to Rosa May. Rosa May was a prostitute who allegedly helped nurse the sick miners during an epidemic but her line of work did not allow for a burial inside the cemetery gates.

Rosa May - nurse during an epidemic

Rosa May – nurse during an epidemic

Another sad story concerns Lottie and Eli Johl.

Lottie worked at one of the Bodie brothels and Eli was the town butcher. They fell in love and eventually married, much to proper society’s dismay. As a result, Lottie was never accepted into ‘normal’ social circles and the two lived a comfortable but lonely life without friends on the edge of town. After her death, she was allowed a burial just inside the cemetery gates and Eli built her a magnificent memorial which he decorated in her honor each Memorial Day.

Eventually, as the town slipped further into decline, Eli made the hard decision to move away, leaving his Lottie behind. By 1921, there were 31 people living in Bodie.

By 1940, only 20 remained.

In 1961, the town was designated a National Landmark and in 1962, it became Bodie Historic State Park. During the summer, thousands will make the difficult drive in to visit, making it one of the most well-known ghost towns in the country.

Below is a YouTube video clearly showing Bodie’s desolate environment.

Below is a YouTube video giving an overview of Bodie’s place in history.


Other resources:

• Find A Grave: Bodie Cemetery listings

The Bodie Photo Gallery

• Google Books: Bodie’s Gold: Tall Tales and True History from a California Mining Town

• Google Books: Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra, Lottie & Eli Johl


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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.



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It’s a long road to Cooperstown

Ok, I admit it. The hot oven-baking weather is really getting to me.

Maria Frances Cooper: b. 1819 – d. 1898 (daughter of James Fenimore Cooper)


Every summer, a small village in upstate New York swells to several times its size as thousands of visitors descend upon it, eager to pay respects to their baseball heroes. Located approximately an hour half from the state capitol in Albany or five + driving hours from New York City, most agree that for baseball players and visitors alike, it’s a long road to Cooperstown.

It’s an even longer road in winter but the payoff comes in having the town practically to one’s self. The Hall of Fame, shops, and readily available parking are all there for the leisurely traveler willing to put up with the occasional icy sidewalks and snow drifts.

For the more scholarly-inclined, winter is a great time to visit the Cooper family plot at Christ Church where literary genius and Victorian churchyard cemetery gazing can be had with few interruptions.

Cooper family plot – southern side


At this time of year, the Christ Church grounds are well insulated with snow, except for the path from the old-fashioned vicarage through the Cooper family plot and to the church itself.

Footpath to the vicarage


Founded by William Cooper in 1786, a mere 10 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Cooperstown was initially only a raw outpost on the colonial western frontier. Dense forests, pioneer struggles and the very real threat of politically aligned Tory/Indian massacres, belie the pleasant village setting seen today. According to church historical records:

William Cooper: died 1809


“In 1806, Judge Cooper set aside a tract of land..and construction of the Episcopalian church began in 1807. It was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Moore, Bishop of New York on July 8, 1810. On January 1, 1811, the Parish of Christ Church Cooperstown was legally organized, and the Rev. Daniel Nash was installed as its first rector.”

The Cooper plot, northern side


However, the village cemetery existed before the actual church.

The first known grave was for 4 year-old Sam Griffin who died in 1792. The cemetery also became a place for those people who couldn’t get into the other sites, namely, the African-American servants. These gravesites are mostly found along the River Street side of Christ Church.

However, the Cooper plot is not part of the regular cemetery even though the church maintains it. The family plot is privately owned and in fact, is still in use today.

18th century death’s head


But don’t let this one famous family distract from the other treasures here. Take some time to find the 18th century death heads, double weeping willows or a few of those old-styled carvings using the letter ‘f’ instead of ‘s’, scattered throughout the compact site.

A double weeping willow


As Ralph Birdsall tantalizingly explains in his book, Fenimore Cooper’s Grave and Christ Churchyard, there’s even something for the intrepid mystery hunter:

 “On the extreme southern border of the church-yard, about fifty feet from the street, there is a tombstone that seems to shudder away from human sight, shrinking behind the shelter of a tree, and clinging to the ragged skirts of the hedge. Whoever searches out this tomb cannot fail to be obsessed with the feeling that it is connected with some mystery, to which the inscription darkly alludes:

…In memory o’ Abraham Spafard who died at 8 o’clock P.M., 3d. Sep’ 1827 in the 49th year of his age. The trump shall sound and the dead shall be raised…

Why eight o’clock? What is the significance of this concern to perpetuate the memory of the exact hour of death? The truth is that at just eight o’clock in the evening of September the 3rd , in the year of Our Lord 1827, Abraham Spafard was brutally murdered. He was killed by Levi Kelly, a farmer of the town of Otsego, a man noted for his violent temper, from the effects of which Spafard was attempting to shield a boy when Kelly shot him dead. Kelly was executed at a public hanging on a lot not far from the site of the present High School, December 28, 1827.”

Note: We were not aware of this story before our visit, otherwise we would have planned to include a photo of this headstone in the article. Unfortunately, Google and Find-A-Grave searches came up empty. If readers have any other suggestions on how to find a photo of this particular headstone, would you please share them?

Other Resources:

Ralph Birdsall. Fenimore Cooper’s Grave and Christ Churchyard. New York © 1911

New York Times: Echoes of an Earlier Time on a Glimmering Lake

James Fenimore Cooper Society Website: Fenimore Cooper in Cooperstown and The Cooper Genealogy

Haunted History of Cooperstown, NY (includes a section on the Christ Church graveyard)

Alan Taylor’s William Cooper’s Town

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Crown Hill Cemetery, Part II

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.

In 1919, a fire broke out in the cemetery office that destroyed just about all of the records. Luckily, copies were at an offsite location, although many were incomplete. This necessitated a re-walk of the grounds in order to confirm the simple plat record information. Today, a library search is recommended for those searching out in-depth family information requests but for those genealogists armed with names and looking for a stone, the caretaker can help with dates and marker locations.


Japanese jizo marker


As with most local neighborhood cemeteries, time and real estate transfers make their marks. Walk westward away from the older Scandinavian section and other ethnicities begin to appear. Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and even a few quirky stones catch the eye.   Even the mysterious Mary Anderson, also known as The Cipher in Room 214, has become part of today’s Crown Hill Cemetery community.

And then there’s Lilly’s unsolved murder.

Lounging Lilly


Lilly was a 5-year old tabby cat that wandered into the cemetery offices in 1998.  Like most cats, she imperiously  decided this would be her new home and from that day on, all humans either working in, around, or even visiting a family memorial would bow down before her.

And so they did.

Lilly became known for her quiet devotion to the office staff, a friendly approach toward visitors, and her love of picnic table sun-bathing. Tragedy struck after a failed burglary attempt in which she was brutally stabbed to death. Attempts to find the responsible person came to nothing and today, she’s buried with her catnip and her favorite toy not too far from where she used to sun herself.

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Crown Hill Cemetery: Part I

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.

Acknowledged heritage


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


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