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.

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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:


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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.


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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.


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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


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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.

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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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