Tag Archives: Commentary

Soquel Cemetery: Generations of Metaphors

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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

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Overcrowded cemeteries

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Highgate crowding

Highgate Cemetery

In London, gravesite sharing has become an uncomfortable-yet-necessary-to discuss option. The Guardian summed it up the best when it reported:

“So you think London, population 8 million, is crowded with the living? There are many millions more under the soil of a city that has been inhabited for 2,000 years. And London is rapidly running out of places to put them. Now the city’s largest cemetery is trying to persuade Londoners to share a grave with a stranger. “

Will it work?

Perhaps, but there are mixed feelings in addition to the illegality of grave re-use to overcome. However, re-use is legal if the grave is 75 years or older AND located in the City of London.

Read the full article here.

Some may just say this only bolsters the rationale for cremation but what if this is not an option?

In contrast to London, only one of the 71 cemeteries in Moscow remains open for burials. The Russian Orthodox Church does not allow for cremation, making the search for a plot space all the more challenging.

Lack of space has given rise to a funeral plot black market. Last month, the New York Times reported that:

“With the fall of the Soviet Union, the government deregulated and privatized much of the funeral business in Russia. This has led to an explosion of private funeral agencies. Funerary agents largely operate free of oversight, and can easily take advantage of grieving families desperately seeking a burial plot.

The number of agents, licensed and not, exceed the number of people who die daily in Moscow.

The agents are often in cahoots with the police and hospital staff members, who tip them off when someone dies — for a fee, of course. They have been known to show up at the deceased’s residence before the ambulance, pressing and cajoling grieving relatives.”

Read the full article 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 FindAGrave.com, 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:

http://www.geocaching.com/

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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

Interment.net: Cemetery records for Comet Lodge

Newspapers:

• 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.

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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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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.

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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

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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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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.

Today

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.” *

Overview

 

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

 

Continue reading

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Soapy Smith: Con Artist Extraordinaire

For anyone heading out to Vegas…

Soapy Smith

Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

Soapy Smith is one of the most well-known and amoral criminal masterminds of 19th century America. An accomplished con artist from the age of 19, he eventually rose to command a gang network of criminal activity through a combination of wit, charm, and weapons.

Jefferson Randall Smith II was born November 2, 1860 into a wealthy, educated Southern family. His grandfather was a plantation owner and his father was a lawyer. However, the after-effects of the Civil War broke the family financially, causing them to move to Texas for a fresh start.

At the age of 19, Smith got his own fresh start in Forth Worth when he began his career as a con man known for his soap shell game and the 3-card monte (which is simply another version of the shell game).

Shell games can be traced back to the Middle Ages where it was often played with thimbles. In the 19th century, it was a popular county fair distraction played with either peas and three shells or balls and cups. The object of the game was to bet where the pea had been hidden. If the guess was correct, the person would win double the money initially put down.

However, due to the expert sleight of hand ability of most shell game players, the bet placer would never win.

Note: Keep in mind that sleight of hand ability shouldn’t always be considered bad. In 2006, David Copperfield confused a would-be thief by claiming he had no wallet on him at the time he was being mugged. Sleight of hand allowed Copperfield to hide his wallet elsewhere.

The same scenario plays out with 3-card monte.

Three cards are placed face-down and the person placing the bet is asked to find the winning card after they’ve been shuffled. In the rare event that a bet placer actually chooses correctly, quick sleight of hand allows the dealer to slide another, losing card under the winner by using a “throw” technique or a Mexican turnover trick.

Smith took the shell game a few steps further by wrapping $1 to $100 bills around several bars of soap and placing them alongside of regular soap bars. The customer put down $1 for a chance to guess where the currency- wrapped soap was located. However, Smith kept track of which bars were wrapped and ensured his accompanying gang members always “won” these, thus encouraging more people to play.

Hence the nickname, Soapy Smith.

But while con games kept food on the table, Soapy was always attuned to new opportunities that might make him some quick money. The instability found throughout many 19th century frontier towns certainly assisted him in this goal.

In Denver, Colorado one business venture included a ‘discount’ train ticket sales office. The money would be taken but strangely enough, the ticketmaster was never around to dispense the purchased tickets. Another scam included his acting as sheriff to help ‘close down’ local gambling joints and brothels. Patrons who had lost large sums of money in his businesses were ‘arrested’ and then released if they went quietly home without attempting to reclaim their losses. Unfortunately, this easy way of money didn’t last too long after it was discovered Smith was rigging elections. He was asked to leave town sooner rather than later.

Smith’s final hurrah was in Skagway, Alaska from 1897-1898 .

At this time, the Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing and seeing boundless opportunities for easy money in another frontier town, Smith moved north and began relieving miners of their heavy gold-carrying burdens.

A telegraph office (with wires extending only to the wall) was built. Miners stood in line waiting their turn to send a message home about their earnings while members of Smith’s gang worked their shell games and 3-card monte cons.

When one vigilante crew was finally established with the goal of cleaning up crime (and ideally, getting rid of Soapy), Smith simply formed his own gang to go after the vigilante crew.

During the Spanish-American war, Smith organized his own Skagway Military Company as potential fighters, even obtaining President McKinley’s recognition of his organizational efforts. Never one to leave a potential income stone unturned. Smith turned this presidential recognition to his advantage by using it to shore up his political control over Skagway.

But all good things must come to an end.

On July 8, 1898, the day after Soapy’s crew swindled $2,700 from a Klondike Miner, vigilantes met with him to discuss repayment terms. An argument broke out and led to a gunfight and Smith was shot and killed.

His grave remains a highlight for Skagway tourists

Other Resources:

• YouTube Video: How to perform a Mexican Turnover

• YouTube Video: How to perform a card throw

• HistoryNet.com: Soapy Smith, Con Man’s Empire

• Legends of America: Soapy Smith, Bunko Man of America

Google Timeline of Soapy Smith’s life

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Illegible headstones? There’s an app for that

For those of you heading out on vacation this month, don’t forget that cellphones aren’t just for taking pictures.

Popular consensus seems to be that cell phones are far too prevalent in daily life. Tweeting, texting, music, surfing, games – the list is endless. Some might even say phones have become more toy than tool.

Aside from basic functions and some photo capabilities, it’s certainly not much help in old graveyards, right? Well, if John Bottorff has anything to do about it, cell phones might become a genealogist’s best friend.

Bottorff, the owner of Objecs, LLC, has developed three, cell-phone readable tablets suitable for both the new and old, illegible gravestones. Called the Personal Rosetta Stone, these tablets store selected personal data via RFID technology and are mounted on the gravestone. By touching the stone with an NFC-RFID enabled cell phone, genealogical information is then uploaded to the viewer screen.

What is RFID technology?

According to Technovelgy.com:

“RFID (or Radio-Frequency Identification) refers to a small electronic device consisting of a micro chip (carrying up to 2,000 bytes of data) and an antenna.

The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.”

Earlier this week, I caught up with John to find out more.

RFID in tombstones? How did this get started?

Well, like many new business ideas, it branched off from something else. A Portuguese client thought our object hyperlink products might be useful for identifying the crumbling, 600-year old tombstones on his property. Ultimately, he wanted to share this information via cell phone. This was easy enough to do since European mobile devices are automatically configured to access information via hardlinks.

However, it’s a different story here in the U.S.

Why? Are American cell phones different?

American cell phones are typically locked and providers don’t offer NFC-RFID enabling at this time. At least not yet. Eventually, the technology will be incorporated and there are some who do have it now, but these are the geeks who bought the equipment overseas and brought it home. However, our tablets do work with all Internet enabled phones, but only NFC enabled phones can use our wireless touch technology.

Keep in mind, that the information can also be pulled manually.We know a third-party vendor that developed an app for iPhone users – yes, there’s an app for that. But it’s not ours.

When do you see our phones handling this technology?

I anticipate this happening around 2010.

How does the RFID chip get into the tablet/headstone?

There’s a way to embed the electronics but it’s a trade secret on how the stone mason carves it all in. I can’t elaborate any further.

The tablets have some kind of engraved symbols. Can you explain these?

We designed the Rosetta Stone to be an artifact, meaning the customer can choose symbols that best defined a person’s life. For example, we offer the scales of justice describe a judge, a badge to signify a policeman, or a sailboat to describe someone who liked sailing. At this time, we have a library of about 800 symbols, many of them developed through customer feedback.

What’s the most unique symbol?

The jail cell symbol (Check out #70 on the symbols list).

So, the customer picks a tablet, chooses the symbols, and then what?

The tablet and chip tag are then set into the headstone. Later on, a genealogist with an enabled cell phone camera and internet connection, could take a picture of the barcode (in this case, the tablet). This action triggers a link and redirection of the phone’s web browser to the desired URL target and related database information. (Here’s a more detailed explanation)

Your website mentions three types of tablets. What are they?

The three types are Millennium, Century, and Decade.

The Millennium class is the longest wearing because it’s made out of granite and the Century class is made from travertine stone. While the Century type is specifically designed as an indoor family heirloom, it can be used outdoors. The third is the Decade, a metal, polypropelyne (thermoplastic molding) marker. These were what we originally mailed to our Portuguese client.

What unexpected surprises have you encountered?

Actually, it’s the market. We initially approached this product assuming that our customers were the 55- and older, genealogy-oriented market. We’re now finding out that the age bracket is actually lower, ranging from 40-year olds, down to even 20-somethings.

What’s been the reaction from genealogy societies?

There’s been little to no reaction from genealogy societies. This has been surprising considering the amount of data out there that could be put to wider access. Perhaps there is a lack of knowledge about the product or skepticism about whether the particularly small, local info would even be worthwhile entering in this database? I don’t know.

What message are you hoping to send with this product?

It’s important to identify your place in time, regardless of who you are or your life’s story. Future generations are going to want to learn about the past and this is one way of helping them out. Today’s barber might not think his work is important but three generations from now, another barber might disagree.

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Tales From The Crypts

appian-way3

Resharing this post from March, 2009. If you ever get a chance to visit Rome, do be sure to check out the catacombs a few miles outside the city.

Spanning over 350 miles in length and still possessing original sections of bone-rattling cobbles, the Appian Way was once famous for displaying the crucified remains of Spartacus’ army. While still popular, visitors instead choose to see another type of remains called the catacombs.

catacomb-of-vigna-cassia

Catacomb of Vigna Cassia, courtesy of PCAS

Under Roman rule, it was illegal to bury the dead inside city walls. But while the Romans cremated their dead, early Christians did not have this option and faced the problem of finding land for burials. This problem was solved by digging deep within the soft tufa rock prevalent around Rome, allowing tunneled layers of rectangular niches to be easily carved out. Experts have estimated that at one time, there were approximately thirty-six active catacomb sites up to 90 miles in length and holding between 500,000 and 750,000 remains.(1)

After Christianity became the official state religion in 394 A.D., the need for catacomb burials  slowly declined (2) and site locations were forgotten until rediscovery in the 16th century. Today, there is a continual swarm of tourists visiting any one of the three major catacombs on Via Appia: St. Callixtus, San Sebastiano and Santa Domatilla. Continue reading

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Replacing Damaged Civil War Headstones

Allan Day

Note: This is the second half of Tuesday’s post, Tracking Down Civil War Veterans.

Congratulations! You finally figured out the veteran’s name on that severely damaged headstone way over in the far ends of the old cemetery.  Now it’s time to finish the job by replacing the marker. It should be a piece of cake, right? After all, the Veterans’ Administration has that nice web page about how to go about obtaining a replacement stone.

How hard could it be?

Well, if you’re a family member of the deceased (and this includes both immediate and extended), all that’s needed is completion and submission of VA Form 40-1330. As long as the stone is damaged and unreadable, the VA will pretty much warrant its replacement.

The challenge comes when the family is no longer around to submit the replacement application, a situation David Waggoner and his wife, Barbara, know all too well. They’ve been working with Linda Hjelm to re-discover all the Civil War veterans buried in Hillside Cemetery up in Issaquah, Washington.

So far, they’ve found approximately 17 veterans, and David believes there are still several more out there.

However, “If there are no family members in the area, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” says David. In cases like this, he recommends checking local historical society records as a way to track them down, noting that this method paid off for 9 of the damaged stones.

Currently, David’s only received one replacement stone (see the photo at the beginning of the article). It’s a small victory, but David’s determined to obtain as many as he can. To that end, there are a few tricks he’s willing to share with those of us who might feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of taking on the VA behemoth.

Tips for completing the VA Form 40-1330

  1. When signing the form, attest that it was completed to the best of your ability.
  2. If no immediate or extended family members are around to submit the application, include a statement to that fact.
  3. Include a photo of the marker that clearly shows the damage and illegibility of the headstone inscription. Keep in mind that the VA does not consider a stone illegible if there is any lichen or moss on it. If this is the case, consider using a good cleaner or two, and move on to the next headstone.
  4. Send in the request, and keep your fingers crossed.

Tricks for adding ‘oomph’ to the request

Want to make a bigger impact? David suggests getting someone who’s directly connected with the VFW, American Legion, or Disabled Servicemen of America, etc., involved in the request because it tells the VA your group is taking the replacement seriously.

“Because I’m associated with a local VFW post and am a veteran service person, this designation’s been very helpful in expediting matters,” he says.

Another suggestion is to add a letter of support from local elected officials. For example, David writes a cover letter from himself (as a VFW member), and obtains a second cover letter from the mayor to attach to the application.

Right away, the VA is put on notice that this request should be taken seriously.

One final trick is to have a local funeral home attest the document and request that the replacement stone be sent there, and not to the researcher’s (or family’s) private residence, for proper storage and preservation until the actual replacement ceremony can occur.

Why?

Because it shows your desire to respect the stone through proper handling versus simply storing it out in the dusty corners of a garage or tool shed.

Appeal the initial rejection

Unfortunately, the VA often rejects the original request.  When this happens, don’t give up. Instead, consider sending an appeal that includes a statement regarding the amount of due diligence completed on the family, and why you had no luck finding them.

Next, get someone who’s connected with the VFW (or who is a local elected official) who can attest to your appeal if you didn’t do this with the first submission.

Ultimately, if you…

  • Do your due diligence,
  • Are persistent,
  • Use the local historical society and mortuary funeral home to find family members,
  • Clearly communicate the purpose of behind the application and why it’s being done, and
  • Don’t take the first rejection as gospel,

…There’s a decent chance of getting a spiffy replacement headstone.

Nevertheless

Still, more times than not, the VA will say no to your request/appeal. What then?

Well, just because you can’t get a new stone doesn’t mean the original can’t look as good as possible. In Hillside’s case, Eagle Scouts come in to clean and straighten stones under the supervision of cemetery restoration experts.

And lest the Girl Scouts feel like they’re missing out on all the fun, David adds that, “We’d also love to work with the Girl Scouts. The research, tracking, maintenance, restoration–it’s a wonderful learning experience.”

Success!

You did it! You successfully negotiated with the VA and now there’s this beautiful replacement headstone just waiting to be set into the ground. So what do you do with the old one?

Destroy it, of course. A good sledgehammer should do the trick nicely. And since many cemetery headstone re-setting projects have teenaged Eagle Scouts helping out, I’m sure they’re more than thrilled about this part of the task.

But I digress.

Burying the old headstone in the veteran’s grave is a big NO. Instead, the VA directs that the original must be completely destroyed, down to the pebble level.  Why? Well, what happens if someone digs up the grave and finds the second stone or if flooding causes the second stone to re-surface?

There’d be a lot of interesting questions swirling around if that happens.

Of course, the best thing about the reduction-to-gravel process is that when it’s complete, you can either toss the remains onto the grave or instead of concrete, use it as fill to help support the new stone when it’s placed.

It’s certainly a nice way of honoring the original stone.

If you do use the gravel, keep in mind that 1/3 of the stone goes into the ground while 2/3 remains above ground. Use a level to keep the stone straight throughout the process of putting into the dirt, pebbles, and water. Tamp it all down, rinse and repeat.

Then take a moment to admire your work.

P.S. #1. Many thanks to David and Linda for taking the time to share their hard-won expertise with the BTG readers. If any one else has some good hints that we missed here, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

P.S. #2. Ever wonder where the veteran headstone marble is quarried? Check out the profile on the Granite Industries of Vermont.

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Tracking Down Civil War Veterans

Hillside cemetery

Now that the snow and ice are finally beating a retreat, it’s time to start thinking about how to handle all those cemetery clean-up chores. Whether it’s hiring a herd of goats to clear out the underbrush, washing the stones clean, or calling in an expert for a day (or two) of hands-on restoration, I think everyone will agree that there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done where historical cemeteries  are concerned.

And if there’s ever been one on-going restoration/genealogical task, it’s the deciphering of all those illegible headstones to discover who’s really hanging out under there.

Several weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to speak with Linda Hjelm and David Waggoner who are hard at work locating the Civil War veterans buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Issaquah, Washington. Linda figures out the names and hunts down the history while David and his wife Barbara, help with obtaining replacement markers.

Despite the worn out stones, transposed date of birth/death dates, and misspelled names, they’ve tracked down over 17 Civil War veterans at Hillside, and believe there are still more out there. In this post, Linda generously shares with BTG readers some of her hard-won detective wisdom.

Step 1: So who’s on the stone?

This is just common sense, yet before a search can get underway, you have to know who’s out there. Sometimes the headstone’s tipped so badly, the only way to get an idea of the name is to take as many pictures of it from as many angles as possible, and then use the zoom feature (either on the camera or through your computer’s photo program) to figure out the letters.

If the letters prove to be almost illegible, Linda suggests making a rubbing (using tissue paper and some sidewalk chalk) to make the letters ‘pop’ more.

Step 2: Prepping for the Plunge

Here’s Linda’s primary secret to researching that too many people (including yours truly) fail to keep in mind: There is NO replacement for looking at actual records, especially when you’re searching online indexes. Why? Because the quality of an online index is based on someone else’s typing skills.

Specifically, you might have the right person, but whoever entered the information into the index may have transposed death dates with birth dates. Be prepared to step away from the computer, roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dusty.

Step 3: The Deep End of The Pool

Now comes the fun part. You’ve got the veteran’s name and the burial site, so what’s the first step toward finding out more about your man? One or more of these hints should help you strike gold.

  1. Got a nice chunk of information on your veteran? Try using the paid military records search feature on Ancestry.com.
  2. Want to dig a little deeper? Search the 1890 Veterans Census site on Ancestry.com that shows both Union and Confederate soldiers and their widows.
  3. Don’t want to pay the Ancestry.com fee? Complete a family search on the Latter Day Saints (LDS) website. It’s got probably the biggest number of genealogical records out there, and it’s free.  Note: LDS also has family history centers scattered around the world which can come in handy if the information you need is on their microfilm. Right now, they’re in the process of digitizing it all, but if you have to go to the centers, you can rent the film at a low cost for a specific period of time.
  4. Check the May 31 issue or prior, for local Memorial Day newspapers that run the names of all the vets both living and dead. Many times, the papers even run photos of the veterans.
  5. If the Memorial Day papers don’t pan out, make a note of the death date and then pore through the local papers’ obituaries. Linda says she checks each year’s issue to see what came out prior to Memorial Day because many times, the families come back to put flowers on the graves and the newspapers mention those who came to visit.
  6. Check the state census records because some states take a census more than once a decade. Note: Just because a state says they don’t have a particular year’s census doesn’t mean you should stop looking. It just might be mis-filed. Linda remembers discovering an original census in a library.
  7. If the veteran comes from a small town, check with the local historical society. Perhaps there are some old letters or photos that could shed some light on the person and his family.
  8. Finally, if you discover that the veteran was born and raised in a particular town, see if there are any churches that date back to his time. There may be a chance that the vestry has family baptismal, marriage, and/or death records you can search.
  9. Last but not least, Google the name when all else fails. You’ll be surprised what comes up.

So now that we’ve gotten some new hints on how to search out veterans, let’s ask the most interesting question of all. Just what was it that got Linda started down this path in the first place?

The answer: A mystery.

The Hillside Cemetery Board was already researching faded headstones when a member decided to add in the overlooked Civil War veterans. The spark that hooked Linda was the enigmatic Charles Swartwood. “I couldn’t figure him out,” she said. “All the military records I’d seen for that time are on 5×7 cards that are pre-printed and done by hand, except for Charles’, and his records are typed. Perhaps he was a member of what passed for the CIA in those days.”

She’s still determined to find out.

P.S. Don’t’ forget to check back on Thursday when BTG readers can read some of David Waggoner’s tips on how non-families can get a veteran’s replacement headstone from the Veterans’ Administration.  Hint: It’s difficult, but not impossible.

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No peeing (or pooping) in the graveyard.

Dogs

A while back I visited an abandoned pioneer cemetery located smack dab in the heart of relatively wealthy, San Francisco Bay Area town.

It’s a typical old cemetery fallen on hard times. Lots of broken branches scattered all over, several inches of dried leaves blanketing tipped headstones, plus a number of torn up spots where a backhoe (possibly a developer’s) had scraped into sunken markers.

There were also three dogs, one the size of a pony, galloping over, under, and throughout the place for almost twenty minutes, doing their business while the owners casually stood off to one side chatting. (As a point of interest, there’s a large, off-leash dog park not more than 3/4 of a mile away).

When they noticed me photographing the site (and probably thinking I was photographing them), they quickly called the dogs back and skedaddled, leaving the dogs’ residual bodily offerings behind.

I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to old historic cemeteries. I don’t have a problem with joggers or picnickers (just pack out what you packed in), nor do I have a problem with geocaching. I don’t even have a problem with modeling shoots, provided the proper permissions were obtained and there are no funeral services going on at the same time as the shooting. The way I see it, the more people know and understand the stories and carvings and symbols on these unique stones, the more likely they’re going to want to preserve them.

And up until that day, I really didn’t fall pro or con on the dogs-in-the-cemetery issue. However, after this experience I decided that they should be kept out of cemeteries not only out of respect, but also because of public health and personal safety reasons.*

*Note. I’m referring here to cemeteries that have a decent amount of foot traffic and/or are located in relatively busy areas. Anyone who’s ever bushwhacked to a truly abandoned cemetery out in the woods should seriously consider bringing a dog (or two) for personal safety reasons.  

Public health. How would you like it if your Eagle Scout wanna-be or your team of cleaning volunteers had to slog through scads of scat in order to complete their clean up projects? Or if you’d finally hunted down your great-great pioneer grandparents and went to visit their graves, only to find them decorated with loops of poop?

Personal safety. I don’t care how much of a lovey-dovey, slobbering pumpkin muffin your Great Dane/pit bull/German Shepherd may be, but when he’s  racing toward me at top speed, panting, growling, and slavering away, my first thought’s most certainly not, “Oh, what a cutie pie.” It’s, “Holy moly, where did I put that pepper spray??”

Now I understand there are any number of discussions (both polite and not-so polite) out there on this topic. On a funnier note, the Washington Post ran the Rest in Pees article about how the Congressional Cemetery finally gave in and decided that if it couldn’t beat ’em, it was better to just join ’em.

“…All around us dogs ran free — dozens of slap-happy animals, joyfully relieving themselves on the thousands of hydrant-like objects that have been placed all over, as far as they can tell, for their convenience. It’s all approved and sanctioned, part of an only-in-Washington accommodation reached some years ago between a private graveyard strapped for grounds keeping cash and urban pet owners happy to pay a user’s fee in return for about 35 acres of fenced greenery.”

And yes, I know there are any number of responsible dog owners who do clean up after their pets but the key word here is responsible. The people I saw that day were clearly being irresponsible, ruining it  everyone else because they don’t give a crap. Then again, why should they when their dogs have already done it for them?

So there you have it. Cemetery modeling; ok.  Cemetery picnics; ok.  Dogs running loose in the cemetery so they can do their thing; not ok.

 

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The daily news feed on the BTG Facebook

BTG

Those of you on Facebook, come check out the BTG page because that’s where I run all the news articles about successful cemetery renovations, scandals (sorry to say), or interesting discoveries. Some of the previous articles posted include:

Why not just list those here, you ask?

The answer’s simple. There are so many great articles that I’d end up  spamming your email boxes with excess posts. I don’t like when I’m on the receiving end of these things, and in fact, I just finished a massive ‘unsubscribe’ campaign earlier this week to a couple of particularly annoying websites.

In short, it ticks me off when I get spammed so why should I do it to you?

So right now, this site is for interesting photos, occasional commentary, and sharing the work of other cemetery/genealogy bloggers out there who I think are marvelous. And by using Facebook as the news article medium, you get the option of stopping to look or scrolling past if it doesn’t poke your fancy.

No spam.

Although I will secretly admit to eating a fried egg and spam sandwich now and then. But that’s all I’m saying.

Spam

 

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Barcelona’s Roman past

At the height of its power, the Roman Empire ringed the Mediterranean, influencing any number of conquered peoples with its judicial, political and artistic achievements. Remnants of these influences, such as aqueducts, mosaics or protective walls, can still be seen throughout Europe and the U.K.

While the Romans may not have considered Barcelona, Spain, as important a site as say, Tarragon (a well-preserved portside city to the southeast), visitors can still see the interesting bits and pieces the empire left behind.

More specifically, are the tombs located in the city’s Barri Gotic section. Romans typically buried their dead in mausoleums or in a necropolis outside city walls, but as modern-day Barcelona expanded beyond its ancient boundaries, these relics of a distant past unexpectedly became an integral part of a contemporary neighborhood.

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Denys Finch-Hatton: Last of the Edwardians

Obelisk

(For those of you who are big into the Edwardian drama, Downton Abbey, here’s one of BTG’s most popular posts I think you’ll really like. P.S., January 4th is when the next season begins).

Aviation pioneer and big game safari leader, Denys Finch Hatton was the quintessential Edwardian gentleman living in the romanticized era of large hats, garden parties and African safaris that occurred between Queen Victoria’s death and World War I.

Finch-Hatton is best remembered by his portrayal in Isak Dinesen’s book, Out of Africa, and by his connection with Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly east to west across the Atlantic Ocean. An aristocrat (his father was the 13th earl of Winchilsea) and educated at all the right schools (Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford) Finch-Hatton moved to British East Africa at the age of 24 and began indulging his love of big game hunting.

Later on, he would parley this experience into acting as a professional guide for wealthy big game hunters.

Yet safaris weren’t the only notable adventures to be had. Aviation was finally starting to come into its own after WWI and by 1929, it was estimated that out of every 100 airplanes owned in Great Britain, the majority of them were DeHavilland Gypsy Moths.

Finch-Hatton’s Gypsy Moth came in handy not only for scouting out potential trips for his clients but for also seeing the African landscape in a completely new way.

And then tragedy struck.

On May 14, 1931, Finch Hatton took off from Voi airport (outside of Nairobi) but never made it to his destination. The plane unexpectedly stalled, plunged to the ground and burst into flames. His body was later recovered for burial in his beloved Ngong Hills at a site marked with an obelisk and a simple brass plaque marker.

In April, 2009, Sabine Ludwig journeyed to visit both his grave and Karen Blixen’s house in Nairobi, Kenya

After traveling fourteen hours on the night train from Mombasa, we arrived in Nairobi the next morning at a beautiful train station that seemed as though it had been frozen in time since the early 1900s.

Nairobi is supposed to be the most dangerous city in Africa since the fighting  started in January, and houses are now equipped with at least two dogs, a security service and high electrical fences. However, Nairobi city center was a pleasant place to visit and the local people all very helpful. Of course we visited the house where Karen Blixen lived from 1914 to 1931. It’s a beautiful museum located in the Nairobi suburbs.

Blixen house 2

During our visit, we decided to take a taxi up into the Ngong Hills to look for the grave of Denys George Finch-Hatton. Unfortunately, the Ngong Hills become dangerous after night fall and we left the Karen Blixen museum later than planned.

The poor taxi driver.

Six miles of badly rutted dirt roads and one sunset later, we arrived at the obelisk where we managed to shoot a few photos before turning around for our long bone-rattling drive back to our guesthouse home, content with having seen this special part of Kenyan history.”

More Resources:

New York Times: In Search of Karen Blixen’s Kenya

New York Times Book Review: Too Close to the Sun: The Life of Denys Finch Hatton

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Countering those funny looks

Use this the next time you run into someone who gives you a funny look when you mention you like cemeteries.

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A Satisfied Woman

Um_ok_Abney Park

Or why writers should hang out more often in cemeteries.

Not only are cemeteries a great place to find awesome character names, they’re also unrivaled for providing plot twists. Take the above inscription, for example. So many questions immediately jump into focus when an inscription like this comes along, it’s almost like someone’s giving away a full-fledged novel plot, complete with outline and character backgrounds.

So when I put on my eccentric writer’s cap, here are the reasons I think Ms. Morley died ‘satisfied’.

  1. She offed her husband and died knowing she got away with it. (Can you tell what kind of book I’m writing?)
  2. She finally got two years of peace and quiet after her husband died. No extra cooking, cleaning, or laundry.
  3. She finally got to gad about with her girlfriends without running the risk of social ostracism. Although at that age, who cares anymore?
  4. She died last, ergo, she won the argument over which headstone to install.

What do you think?

Oh, and if you think I’m kidding about the passive aggressive part, check out this post from Thanksgiving week.

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Updated: Wow, I leave for a bit and look what happens…

Update as of 9/12/2014

After seeing too many interesting articles about restoration and historical cemeteries pass me by, I’ve decided to start posting again,.

This time, though, I’m going to take a slightly different route. Instead posting all original content (which ran me ragged), I will do a combination of the following:

1. The occasional original post.

2. Pass on interesting articles and/or those I think need more publicity.

3. Do more fun Snapshot postings (like this one about a sergeant in the WWI tank corps).

As always, keep the comments coming, and if you have some restoration news you’d like to share, let me know!

——–

I can’t believe it’s only been a year since I decided to stop posting. There  have been some great questions and helpful comments–keep ’em coming!

I’m so glad I decided to keep the blog live because I had no idea how useful it was. Many thanks to all my 16,000 + visitors in 2011 and yes, I will be around to answer questions if you have them.

And who knows? I might even get inspired to start posting again.

Happy New Year!

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Now about that cemetery in the backyard…

Idyllic pastures

 

Homeowners wanting to purchase that historic 18th or 19th century farmhouse would do well to think it through before handing over the escrow down payment. Many of these lovely old places come with an unexpected little extra located in the far corners of the property—the family cemetery.     

Finding out about these potential new neighbors generates mixed reactions. For some, it only enhances the overall attraction and connection to local history while for others it’s an immediate deal breaker – especially if it’s a cultural no-no.     

Revolutionary War veteran, died 1850

 

This past April, the New York Times reported on one potential buyer who refused to even look at a $3 million dollar property because it was next to a cemetery while another discovered an 1812 marker in the front lawn after escrow closed. Figuring it was just part of owning a house constructed in the late 1600s, the owner shrugged and added the upkeep into his regular lawn maintenance duties.     

Then there are those who feel they’ve hit the jackpot.     

One Maine family was ecstatic to discover a late 18th century cemetery lurking in their backyard. After clearing out numerous piles of brush and tree branches, the cemetery was re-dedicated with a pretty little memorial plaque and even got its own website.     

Abigail Wellman: died April 12, 1817, 50 years old

 

Old family cemeteries are a lot more common than most people realize and they’re not just found in the New England or mid-Atlantic areas. There are just as many private cemeteries located in the South. But let’s not forget the nation’s longest rural graveyard either; the Oregon Trail. A leisurely drive along the pastoral byways in all of these states will reveal any number of weathered headstones standing guard on a lonely hill.     

Old cemeteries encountered rough times during the recent housing boom when developers pushed further out into previously rural areas. A 2006 Washington Post article highlighted the challenges some of these forgotten sites faced in Tennessee.     

“State archaeologist Nick Fielder estimates that there are 20,000 family cemeteries in Tennessee, but there’s no way to know for sure. There’s no central inventory, and most documentation is done by historians and volunteers who scour records and trudge through meadows in search of graves.     

Fielder says about 100 family cemeteries fall in the path of development in Tennessee each year, about two times as many as a decade ago. Under state law, he said, there’s nothing sacred about sites. Relatives of the deceased have no legal leverage over family plots they don’t own, and landowners who can pay to move a cemetery need only a judge’s approval.”     

Thankfully, the lucky ones are removed to a new location while others, like Comet Lodge Cemetery in Seattle, get stuck in a very odd kind of limbo. Interestingly enough, this particular area is now home to many Asians who would consider it very unlucky to live near a cemetery.     

So what happens if you buy that gorgeous fixer-upper and (gulp) find out there are a few more residents on the place than originally thought?     

Family cemetery, upstate New York

 

Well, the first thing to understand is that most states do not consider the abandoned family cemetery on your property to be yours, regardless of whether you hold the title. You cannot just simply up and move the bodies on your own. However, since rules governing this process vary around the country, it’s best to review cemetery laws at the state level. For example, here is commentary on Florida’s regulations, a link to New York State’s cemetery law manual, the friendly, Q&A styled version for Virginia, and an artistically presented handbook from South Carolina.     

Barring that, there’s always the option of simply leaving the new neighbors alone. After all, it’s not very likely they’ll be throwing loud parties anytime soon.

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Fishing for younger genealogists

Flickr photo by kretyn

 

How can genealogy attract more Millennials and Gen X and Yers?

Is it even possible?

Yes, but properly snaring them seems to require the right fishing technique. Depending on who you ask, the traditionalist says it’s all in the lure while another claims it’s the casting technique that really matters. Then there are the shoulder-shrugging types who say, “A day off, my lucky hat, and a cooler full of beer—who cares whether I catch any fish?”

In the past few weeks, more than a few articles have wondered whether the genealogy field might be labeled the laissez-faire fisherman type than the industrious lure and casting trawler.

High Definition Genealogy goes straight for the jugular by stating several reasons just why people younger than 45 might think this field yanks the welcome carpet out from under their feet. A recent post on Roots and Rambles goes further, observing that conference dates and times often conflict with school and work day commitments while the cost of the conference itself can be prohibitive for families on a budget. One younger enthusiast commented that at a conference, ‘The woman behind me said “Aren’t you too young to be doing genealogy?”

Welcome, indeed.

Thankfully, technology is helping to tear all of this down. Between Roots Television, genealogy Twitter lists, genealogy blogs, and countless articles now popping up online, the perceived age gap is finally narrowing.

However, we believe the best Catch-And-Don’t-Release award goes to John Harris.

Mr. Harris, a teacher in Somerset, Pennsylvania, came up with an innovative way to snare Millennials through their own tools. His “Hunting History: Discovering Your Hometown” high school class has students using GPS devices to track down old churches and specific cemetery headstone markers from coordinates given out in class.

Harris says: “When you can offer something that kids can get their hands on – in their backyard – when they go through town, they see historical sites. When you can turn them on to that, word gets out that that’s pretty fun. They discover the history all on their own.”

He’s on to something because not only did he win a $5,000 award from the History Channel but more importantly, this elective, twice a year class maxing out 30 students per semester, is always full. That’s sixty new history and genealogy enthusiasts caught each year.

Now that’s a winning fishing technique that gets ’em while their young.

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What was once a tremendous carving…

   

The San Francisco National Cemetery is located in the northern end of The Presidio and holds a large number of interesting headstones scattered in between the usual military-issue markers. Earlier this year, BTG profiled an immense Book of Life located near one of the roadways and almost impossible to miss.   

Dr. Clarence A. Treuholtz: 1876 - 1913

 

One marker that’s not quite so prominent but offers a poignancy all its own, is the half-destroyed memorial to 37-year old Dr. Clarence A. Treuholtz, a captain in the Army Medical Corp, who served at various Army posts in Alaska, New Mexico, and Arizona – specifically, Fort Apache, a post that later became the home of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1923.   

There are two particularly sad items of note about this headstone. The first is that while Dr. Treuholtz is buried here, his wife Elizabeth, is not. The second sad note is the blatant vandalism marking the spot.   

   

Once upon a time, this must have been a magnificent carving of an eagle perched on a rocky outcrop. Now, only a broken set of clawed stumps remain.   

 

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And we’re back…

It’s great to be back!

What with all the little things going on in the past few weeks, it was really nice to concentrate on getting them all done and out of the way. Now it’s time to resume some regular posting but we won’t get too staid just yet. Since most of us are still enjoying a long weekend, let’s keep the celebratory spirit going with some fun cemetery articles from around the world.

1. Whimsical, patriotic, serious…here is a terrific post, A Lovely Day for a Trip to the Graveyard, by Dina Fainberg who writes (and photographs) the fabulous carvings found in Russian cemeteries. Sights like these are what inspired me to begin writing this blog because I felt like I was visiting an open-air sculpture park and not a graveyard.

2. A timely followup to the previous post, Redefining the Cemetery Concept, discusses how cemeteries can still remain relevent in today’s society (photography, symbolism discovery, art festivals, even weddings) and points out several unique sites for future visits.

3. If all this cemetery talk is stirring up the ambition to find out more of your family history, check out, Take a Trip to Trace Your Roots. Detailing some of the more well-known sites from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the Allen County Library of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the article is a help to those of us who could use a little more direction in our genealogical searches.

4. One caveat to keep in mind is that many online genealogical searches are not cheap and many can snare first-time seekers into paying more than they had originally anticipated. One solution for those living in larger metropolitan areas is to check out their local libraries. Quite often, full-time genealogists are on hand to help out and if they’re not, the libraries will have readily available and free databases.

5. And speaking of searching, Josh Perry still believes in good old-fashioned, gumshoe work. Combining an interest in cemeteries with organized crime, he hunts down gravesites of notorious Chicago gangsters. Check out his Grave Hunting Primer to see how he does it and what he recommends.

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Stones & Bones Stories pdf

For those readers who thought it might be neat to check out the Stones & Bones slide show, I’ve finally created a pdf for you.

It can be found here: Stones and Bones Slide Show.

If you’re interested in hearing the Seattle Public Library presentation mp3 podcast, here it is: 

http://www.spl.org/Audio/stones_and_bones2009.mp3

Enjoy!

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Remembering our veterans…

…and the history they’ve made. 

Private Koester: Born 1833 - Died 1918

 

May is a great month for remembering our veterans and our sometimes forgotten history. Over the next few weeks, Beyond The Ghosts… will be posting a variety of interesting memorial headstone snapshots and stories from the photo archives. In the meantime, here are four links to some previous military postings to get us started. 

And lest we forget…To those who have served, or who are currently serving, thank you! 

World War 1 Tank Corps 

Marching with General Sherman down through Atlanta 

The Siberian Front – World War I 

Before the Air Force, the Army had things well in hand…

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Lakeview Cemetery Part II: Elegant memorials to an eccentric past

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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

 

  Continue reading

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Lakeview Cemetery Part I: Elegant memorials to an eccentric past

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The treats     

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

 

The tricks     

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

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April 15: The Titanic’s night to remember

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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.    

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Woodinville Mead: A ‘proper’ cemetery with a touch of mystery

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Entrance to Woodinville Memorial Mead

 

“First used for burials in the late 1870s, it was officially deeded to the citizens of Woodinville on April 4, 1898 by Ira and Susan Woodin.” 

While some historical cemeteries might have a tumultuous history, many are still fortunate to play a quiet, yet well-loved part in their local communities. Woodinville Mead is one such place (or so it might seem). Loggers were the first to call this spot home but it was the farmers who helped turn a meandering bog into today’s award-winning wineries and microbreweries

At one time, this area of King County (approximately 20 miles northeast of Seattle) was so heavily forested that tree stumps were used as shelters and even temporary housing. Sawmills sprouted at various sites throughout what was to become Washington Territory so that by 1889, the year of statehood, 310 mills from the Columbia to the Canadian line, were cutting 1.06 million board feet of lumber. * 

However, loggers had little use for the cleared land and as they moved deeper into the vast forests, farmers discovered the rich soil, spreading the news to family and friends seeking a respite from the urban rush of late 19th century Seattle. Soon, farmers quickly outstripped the number of remaining loggers. 

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Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery, Part II

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Part II: Stories, Stones, and Symbols
 
Note: This article is the second half of Newcastle Coal Miner’s Cemetery.

William T. Scott, coal miner

 

Newcastle Cemetery headstones bluntly attest to the difficult mining life and temporary respite offered by various brotherhood communities. Thanks to the ring of trees protecting the site, most of the carvings have escaped the inevitable Pacific Northwest erosion. 

William T. Scott’s stone is one such survivor. 

“Death to me short warning give, Therefore, be carefull how you live. Prepare in time and do not delay, For I was quickly called away…” 

Scott’s membership in both the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) and the Knights of Pythias, is also clearly marked. The Odd Fellows are denoted by the three chain links signifying friendship, love, and truth… 

I.O.O.F. chainlink emblem

 

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Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery

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Part I: The Hidden History

Photo courtesy Bob Cerelli

The next time you fly into Seattle at night, look east beyond the twinkling street lamps and Interstate 405’s golden traffic ribbon. Smack in the middle of evening suburbia is a vast, ragged expanse of pitch black.

There are no lights here and if local legislators keep getting their way, there will never be lights.

This emptiness is a silent reminder that for 100 years – from 1863 to 1963 – over 11 million tons of coal were excavated from these hills, earning Newcastle, Washington the nickname, “The Pennsylvania of the Pacific Coast.”

It’s a practical matter, really.

A mere twenty years ago, “The Office of Surface Mining was still sealing off dangerous openings – a total of 166 mine subsidences. One opening  required fifty yards of concrete to create a plug over the top. Some sink holes were as large as 100 feet in diameter. At the other extreme, many holes were so obscured, an inclined tree might be the only clue to the hidden danger. Due to all these underground cavities, the county does not issue new building permits in the vicinity of the mines.*

Old coal tunnels, odorless swamp gas, and the occasional cave-in simply make it too dangerous, although up until the 2008 market crash, some real estate developers thought otherwise.

Today, the area is thickly crisscrossed with trees, vines, birdsong, and hiking trails wandering past the now, very securely sealed mine entrances…

Sealed mine entrance

…and the occasional swamp gas vent.

Swamp gas vent

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Repairing the stones

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For those unable to attend any of the Stones & Bones presentations, a pdf link to the damage/repairs section of the talk is below. Anecdotal notes are in the tiny, comic-strip conversation balloons on the upper left hand corner of the slides. Move the mouse over the balloon to make them appear.

Stones & Bones pdf…Damage and repairs

 

And don’t forget to check back this coming weekend when the King County public works efforts for cemetery repair will be posted.

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Decoding the kanji stones

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Japanese kanji-style stones

Japanese kanji inscriptions

 

In the September 24th posting on Weathering, vandalism & maintenance, I wrote about some cleaning options that could be useful for most cemeteries, with the exception of Auburn Pioneer. In this particular site, the lichen and moss add a unique Buddhist zen aesthetic to the delicate cement markers. Rather than destroy both the marker and the writings, the caretakers would prefer finding someone to copy the old kanji inscriptions for translation before it disappears forever. 

Kristy Lommen, one of the webmasters for the Auburn Pioneer cemetery website, is working with a Japanese translator on doing just that. She discusses the challenges and progress further in her guest post below. Continue reading

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Weathering, vandalism & maintenance: Part V

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Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Weather, vandalism and maintenance are the three biggest challenges facing old Pacific Northwest cemeteries. Unlike the granite headstones that are seemingly impervious to practically anything except an earthquake, sandstone carvings do not endure rainy winter seasons very well. In many cases, intricate carvings are melting away while marble is only slightly better at handling industrious molds and lichens.

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Fall City Cemetery

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Black Diamond Coal Miners' Cemetery

Naturally, the original wooden markers stood little chance of enduring the local climate. Most rotted away after only a few years’ time, leaving little trace of the burial site while ground heave from occasional frosts, have left their mark on the later plots. Continue reading

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Carvings and symbols: Part IV

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Names and dates are important facts for any researcher but on a headstone, the variety of carvings and symbols can build out a more complete story.

Double-headed eagles…

32 Degree Mason, Lakeview Cemetery

32 Degree Mason, Lakeview Cemetery

Knights in weathered armor…

Knights of Pythias, Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Knights of Pythias, Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

…olive branches and oak leaves, scallops and axes. All of these are mysterious symbols to visitors unfamiliar with the metaphors.

During the late 1800s, the Pacific Northwest offered a unique opportunity to start fresh in one of the last frontiers. Civil War veterans, Scandinavian fishermen and loggers, Welsh miners, Japanese farmers and others, placed their bets and came west.

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Yet while this was their chance to start over for something better, it did not mean the traditions or familiar language of one’s homeland were forgotten. Continue reading

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The stones share a few secrets – Part III

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A visitor pays respects

A visitor pays respects

Cemeteries attract all sorts of visitors, although some are more surprising than others. The same can be said about old tombstones. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along.  In King County, it’s common to see a nod to both the rustic pioneer and classic Victorian. (See The Secret Garden  for a traditional English Victorian  cemetery).

One of the more striking sights are the tree stump monuments, courtesy of the fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World. Joseph Cullen Root started the group in 1890 after he was inspired by the idea of woodsmen clearing the forest for their families.

Comet Lodge Cemetery

Comet Lodge Cemetery

Continue reading

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Six cemeteries in the spotlight – Part II

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Any cemetery enthusiast will readily agree that highlighting just a few cemeteries out of so many can be an almost impossible task. And while only six King County cemeteries could be chosen for the indepth Stones & Bones articles, several other fascinating places will be highlighted when symbols, inscriptions and unique stones are discussed.
 

#1: Woodinville Mead Memorial Cemetery

Annie's Rose

Annie's Rose

At one time, this area of King County was so heavily forested that tree stumps could be used as shelters or temporary housing. When logging was in full swing, the summer skies were overcast with a pall of smoke from the many forest fires and land clearings.(1) However, as the land was gradually cleared, news of the rich soil spread and farmers began moving into the area, soon outnumbering the original loggers.

In 1871, Ira Woodin and his wife Susan, settled down in this northern part of King County to pursue their logging and farming interests. In 1878 and in 1910, the Woodins deeded land from their homestead to the Woodinville Cemetery Association. Today, the cemetery quietly stands next to a busy road leading out to State Route 522, lovingly overseen by devoted volunteers.

#2: Lakeview Cemetery

Denny family grandeur

Denny family grandeur

Home to almost virtually all the original Seattle pioneers, Lakeview Cemetery exudes a Victorian aura few would expect from a Pacific Northwest cemetery. Continue reading

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Discovering secrets in King County’s old cemeteries

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Newcastle Coal Miners' Cemetery

Newcastle Coal Miners'

Cemetery issues shot to the forefront of American consciousness when headlines broke the Burr Oaks scandal this past summer. Body dumping and plot re-sales for extra cash shocked locals and veteran police officials alike who were at a loss to fathom how all this could have happened without anyone noticing.

More shocking was the glaring realization that the vital links to a community’s past had disappeared into a back lot pile of broken stones and bones.

Tolt Cemetery

Tolt Cemetery

Families typically assume that a loved one’s interment spot is a given for time eternal – or for at least as long as the endowment funds last. But the reality is that families die out, move on, or simply lose interest in visiting the grave of a relative no one can now remember. Aside from intrepid genealogists or local historical societies, headstones are lost, become overgrown or fade away into the dirt.

Out of sight, out of mind. Continue reading

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Vandalism…

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The Pacific Northwest is not known for its kind winter weather and cemetery headstones are all too familiar with its vagaries. Weeks of rain, floods, high winds reaching up to 90 mph in some years, even snow. Any headstone not made out of granite can expect to be worn down rather quickly and certainly the original wooden crosses would not have lasted much more than a few seasons.

But sometimes, we give nature a helping hand. Below are a few of the sights that are all too common these days.

It ranges from spray paint…

Auburn Pioneer Cemetery

Auburn Pioneer Cemetery

To the broken, in-ground stones….
Newcastle Cemetery

Newcastle Cemetery

To those missing for decades…
Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Saar Pioneer Cemetery

 

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Cemetery etiquette, please…

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Flickr photo: Rubber Slippers

Flickr photo: Rubber Slippers

This morning, I stumbled over an article from BBC Magazine discussing the lack of cemetery etiquette being seen more frequently in various graveyards. Since I can spend several hours at a particular site, I admit to having a more tolerant view of picnicking as long as whatever is packed in, gets packed out.

However, modeling shoots during a burial service and parking for sports events do seem a little much.

Read the full article here.

What do you think?

 

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Where do we go from here?

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The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

The overgrowth at Highgate Cemetery, London

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times this morning, discussing the impact of vanishing Jewish burial societies. As the community members grow older and eventually pass away, there are fewer people available (or willing) to coordinate the administrative and burial traditions.

Right now, New York’s Office of Miscellaneous Estates has stepped in to handle these details, giving the remaining members a sense of relief that they will be placed at rest in their respective cemeteries. Yet ultimately, the longer term question of who is responsible for these and other abandoned cemeteries, hangs unanswered.

There’s certainly no dearth of interest in cemeteries. Type “cemetery blogs” into Google and hundreds of links pop up, proving a fascination with lopsided monuments and intriguing carvings. Visiting is fun. It’s informative, a link to past history whether or not it’s my own. It’s a chance to give someone life again by saying his or her name aloud.

But then I leave. Continue reading

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Saving Ancient Catacomb Frescoes the Viennese Way

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Recently, The Benefits of Technology discussed how modern innovations help researchers either find lost sites or recover important data that was considered long gone.

This past weekend, the BBC reported another fascinating development and this one hails from the Vienna Academy of Sciences.

Rome has over 40 Jewish and Christian catacombs tunneling more than 100 miles in and around subterranean Rome. However, due to structural concerns, the Vatican only allows public access to approximately 1,600 feet of these treasures. Other catacombs can be accessed only by special permission.

Over the past three years, a team of 10 scientists have been mapping the largest one, Saint Domitilla, via laser scanner. The scanner looks deceptively like something one would find in an astronomy store but has a more complex programming. Continue reading

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Stones & Bones

A community’s roots can be seen in its oldest cemeteries and Seattle, Washington is no exception. Places such as Comet Lodge, Crown Hill, Auburn Pioneer, Saar Pioneer or Newcastle Cemetery, patiently wait to tell stories to those willing to poke through the overgrown, scruffy weeds.

I’m pleased to announce that both the Heritage 4Culture Special Projects and the Allied Arts Foundation have awarded grants to produce Stones & Bones: A Photo-Documentary of King County’s Historic Pioneer Cemeteries. The project will explore ongoing preservation efforts in approximately six pioneer cemeteries. Additionally, I will interweave poignant human interest stories, intriguing carvings, senseless vandalism and if you’re lucky, a ghost story or two.

In the early fall, Beyond The Ghosts… readers will have the opportunity to see the results. Slide shows, in-depth articles on the profiled cemeteries and interview podcasts are just a few of the proposed offerings. I’ll start dropping hints on what to expect in the Upcoming Articles post scheduled for late August.

For local readers, there will be three presentation slide shows planned for local residents. Times, places and dates for these free talks will be announced at the beginning of September.

Some interesting items have been discovered so far and I look forward to sharing them later this year.

 

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The Nation’s Longest Graveyard

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Imagine an deep economic depression. Add in heightened political animosities and incessant war-mongering. Top it off with a spicy dash of blatant religious persecution. Now extend an irresistible offer for free land, 320 acres to be exact, in wide open and fertile spaces. Perhaps there’s even a little gold to be found on that land.

 

A chance for a Do Over in tough times.

 

But like all free offers, there’s a catch.

 

Almost 2,000 miles of heat, dust, cholera microbes, impassable mountains, frostbite, hunger and fast moving rivers lie between you and those 320 acres of Fresh Start. And even before you can take that first step to freedom, everything you own must fit into a box measuring only four feet across and twenty-one feet in length. And that’s without calculating in the necessary food, water and ammunition supplies. And did those real estate agents happen to mention most of your traveling would be via foot?

 

Yet almost 200,000 people did just that.

 

Between 1841 and 1869, the Oregon Trail was traveled by settlers looking to escape the economic downturn, missionaries seeking to proselytize, Mormons escaping persecution, gold-seekers, the Overland Stage line and eventually, the Pony Express.(1) The four to six month journey spanned over half the continent as the wagon trail proceeded west through territories and land later to become six U.S. states: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Extensions of the Oregon Trail became the main arteries feeding settlers into six more states: Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Washington, and Montana.(2) Continue reading

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Dr. Paul Wallace: Archeologist, Intrepid Hiker & Bard of Mummy Tales

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It’s a faint trail steeped in ancient mystery that winds through almost twenty miles of rugged, Greek mountain terrain. A bone chilling downpour inaugurates the first hour of this fourteen-hour trek and the only equipment carried, is a flashlight and some water. The only guide through the weathered landmarks is a book written in 440 B.C.. The reason for this seemingly mad jaunt? The opportunity to traverse the Anopaia Pass just as it was done at the Battle of Thermopylae, a betrayal famously revisited in the recent movie, “300”.  

 

Thermopylae may have raged over two millennia ago but the romance of outnumbered Spartans desperately battling against a greatly superior Persian force still marks it as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.* Discovering the 2,500 year-old path and hiking it at night as the Persian army did, was an adventure Dr. Wallace simply could not let slip away and in 1980, he published his findings in The American Journal of Archeology.

 

Dr. Wallace’s specialty is Greek and Latin literature but it wasn’t until he became a Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens that a deep fascination with archeology took hold. Visits to dig sites and mapping expeditions through ancient hills, accompanied by his faithful Herodotus, gave insights on archeology’s continuing importance for the next generation. Back home at Dartmouth (and later at the University at Albany/SUNY) he began offering general archeology courses rich with slide shows, mummy anecdotes and exacting tests. Eventually, word of mouth boosted course popularity to the point where his classes had to be held in some of the largest lecture halls on campus.

 

Later, these same insights illuminated a possible solution to a very old riddle. Continue reading

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Don’t Hold Back Now…Serious Funny Bones

Epitaphs aren’t just funny or sad – they can also be quite damning. In our time where cost and legal actions prohibit lengthy soapboxing (no small mercy considering what Bill Clinton or Rush Limbaugh would say), earlier tombstones felt no such need in that pre-litigious age.

This Funny Bones posting showcases some of Janet Greene’s more sobering finds from her book Epitaphs to Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones.

Located in Wethersfield, CT

“Here lies interred Mrs. Lydia Beadle, aged 32 years and,

Ansell, Lothrop, Elizabeth, Lydia and Mary Beadle,

Her children the eldest aged 11 and the youngest 6 years

Who on the morning of the 11th day of December, 1782

Fell by the hands of William Beadle

An infatuated Man who closed the horrid sacrifice of his wife

And children with his own destruction.”

 Located in Pelham, MA

 Warren Gibbs, died by arsenic poisoning Mar. 23, 1860

Aged 36 yrs. 5 mos. 23 days

“Think my friends when this you see

How my wife has done for me

She in some oysters did prepare

Some poison for my lot and fare

Then of the same I did partake

And Nature yielded to its fate.

Before she my wife became

Mary Felton was her name.”

  Continue reading

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