Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas With The Dead

I had no idea the dead came home on Christmas Eve, but I love the idea that my brother might have been with us once more.

Cemetery Postcards

Giza pyramids001Today has been crazed and I ended up away from my desk, so no Cemetery of the Week tonight.  Instead, I offer up my latest obsession, my Cemetery Postcards tumblr.

Here’s the link:

It will collect the postcards I’ve got scattered throughout this blog and feature more from my collection, along with such information as I’ve been able to figure out from the notes and stamps and images on them.  I think it will be a fun.

If you’re on tumblr, stop over and say hi.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Rhoads_Altaville_2836One of the things I like best about cemeteries is all that they teach about community.  You can learn what people valued:  Samuel is still a native of Ireland, even though he lived to be 74; Thomas was a Mason. You can learn whether the dead continue to be valued:  Samuel died in 1884, but someone still puts flowers on his grave.  The grass has been mowed and raked away, but Thomas’s elaborate marble confection has been treated gently so that it still retains all its glorious detail.

This is the Protestant Cemetery on the outskirts of Angels Camp, in California’s Gold Country.  The area was once called Altaville, after it had been called Cherokee Flat, Forks-of-the Road, Low Divide, and Winterton.  Gold was discovered in the creek near here, which came to be named after the Mexican bandit Joaquin Murietta. Also found near here was the Calaveras Skull, from which the county takes its name. (Calaveras is Spanish for skull.)  The Calaveras Skull purported to prove that humans and mastodons roamed this area simultaneously.

I spent my birthday celebration in this cemetery, roaming around with my husband and daughter.  All three of us kept busy taking pictures.  We didn’t see another soul in this graveyard, but the air was alive with bird song and the grass rustled with lizards.  The sky was blue, the grass was golden, the stones shown brightly, and whatever their quarrels in life, the community rested peacefully, basking in the autumn sunlight.

It all comes down to enjoying the beauty while you may.

“Yes, an awful lot of sorrow has sort of quieted down up here. People just wild with grief have brought their relatives up to this hill. We all know how it is…and then time…and sunny days…and rainy days…’n snow…We’re all glad they’re in a beautiful place and we’re coming up here ourselves when our fit’s over.” — Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Cemetery of the Week #118: the Lick Observatory

Vintage postcard of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton.

Vintage postcard of the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton.

The Lick Observatory
7281 Mount Hamilton Road
Mount Hamilton, California 95140
Telephone:(408) 274-5061
Founded: 1887
Number of interments: one
Please note: The telescope is not open at night, when it continues to be used by scientists. The light from your car’s headlights will impede their work.
Open: From Labor Day to Memorial Day, the observatory is open Thursday to Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Check the weather before you visit, as the road sometimes snows closed. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the observatory is open every day from noon to 5 p.m.

Philanthropist James Lick was born in Pennsylvania in 1796. He moved to Buenos Aires and then on to Lima, where he amassed a fortune building pianos. When the Mexican-American War began, he sailed to San Francisco, where he arrived in 1847 with an iron safe full of gold Spanish doubloons and 600 pounds of chocolate. The chocolate was such a hit that he persuaded his friend Domingo Ghiradelli to leave Peru and move to the new boomtown to set up a chocolate factory. The building stands at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf to this day.

Lick increased his fortune by buying up “sand lots” in San Francisco: bits of dune so far outside the village limits that no one else guessed they would someday be valuable real estate. This was one year before the discovery of gold in California, which makes Lick one of the luckiest men in San Francisco’s history. Among his contributions to San Francisco were lots on Market Street for the original California Academy of Sciences and the Society of California Pioneers, the Masonic Temple near his hotel on Montgomery and Sutter Streets, and the Conservatory of Flowers building, which he had imported from England, although he died before it was constructed. He also bought land in San Jose from which he could see the mountain that would one day house his greatest monument.

As he neared the end of his lonely life, Lick considered building himself a memorial pyramid in the heart of San Francisco a century before the Transamerica Pyramid was a gleam in its architect’s eye. Lick was a freethinker fascinated by “the ancient Sciences of Egypt,” according to the book Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape. The tomb would have been “more massive than the royal tomb at Giza.” Unfortunately, San Francisco’s city fathers weren’t enthusiastic about the pyramid plan.

In consequence, Lick set aside a bequest of $700,000 for an observatory to house a telescope “superior to and more powerful than any telescope yet made.” Originally he had wanted the observatory to be placed in the heart of San Francisco, but even then people were beginning to understand that, between the lights and the pollution, cities weren’t the best location for star-gazing. Several mountaintops were proposed and discarded, due to their inaccessibility. Finally, a 4209-foot peak twenty miles south of San Jose called Mount Hamilton was chosen. It had been named for a Methodist minister, but that didn’t dissuade Lick. He bought five hundred acres — both the mountain and enough of the surrounding land to protect it from light encroachment — but left it to Santa Clara County to build the road to the top of the peak.

When Lick died on October 1, 1876, all of San Francisco flew their flags at half staff for three days. Thousands viewed his body where it lay in state Pioneer Hall. (This was the second Pioneer Hall Lick had funded for the Society of California Pioneers. Both were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.) Lick’s funeral “had been as grand as that for any head of state,” according to The Lick Observatory Historical Collections Project. A procession of hundreds followed the hearse, drawn by four black horses, to the Masonic Cemetery, where he was buried temporarily in a vault.

Vintage postcard of the moon rising over the Lick Observatory.

Vintage postcard of the moon rising over the Lick Observatory.

Before his death, Lick “expressed the desire that he might be buried on Mount Hamilton, either within or to one side of the proposed observatory, after the manner of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, who was buried in the crypt in 1723,” as reported in Pen Pictures from the Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated.

On January 9, 1887, Lick was disinterred from his Masonic vault and moved down to his namesake observatory. It was his first visit to the mountain’s summit. “Followed by a large procession of officials and prominent citizens,” Pen Pictures reported, he was reburied at the base of the telescope’s pier, hidden from sight beneath the floor. A plaque that reads, “Here Lies the Body of James Lick” marks the spot. According to Visionary State, the Lick Observatory is the only such institution in the world to bury its primary benefactor beneath its telescope.

Over a decade after his death, the Lick Observatory finally opened in 1887. Because of its isolation, the Lick Observatory became the first continuously occupied mountain-top observatory in the world. Its thirty-six-inch refractor lens was ten inches larger than the biggest telescope at the time.

Visitors can visit the Lick Observatory’s small museum and see the enormous telescope under which Lick is buried.

Useful links:

Information for visiting the Lick Observatory

About the building of the observatory

Lick’s contributions to the Society of California Pioneers

Pen Pictures from the Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated, edited by H.S. Foote. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888, p. 126-133.

Santa Clara Genealogy essay about Lick

Cemetery of the Week #117: Luther Burbank’s gravesite

The Cedar of Lebanon that stood over Burbank's grave

The Cedar of Lebanon that stood over Burbank’s grave. Vintage postcard from my collection.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
204 Santa Rosa Avenue (Santa Rosa and Sonoma Avenues, Downtown Santa Rosa)
Santa Rosa, California 95404
Telephone: 707-524-5445
Date of Burbank’s burial: 1926
Size of the grounds: 1 acre
Number of interments: 5
Open: The Carriage House Gift Shop and Museum is open and walk-in docent-led tours are available April through October. The grounds are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk year-round for self-guided tours and reserved Group and Children’s Tours.
Admission: $2 for ages 12 and up.

THIS WEEKEND December 7 & 8, 2013:  The house and grounds are decorated in Victorian finery for a Holiday Open House.  The details are here.

Inspired by Darwin’s Variations of Animals and Planets under Domestication, Luther Burbank began to experiment by growing potatoes. By age 24, he’d developed the Burbank potato, which is the most widely grown potato in the United States. You’ve undoubtedly eaten hundreds as French fries.

Burbank moved to Santa Rosa, California, fifty miles north of San Francisco, in 1875. He opened a nursery, importing plants from Japan and Australia. His goal was to increase the world’s food supply by selectively breeding plants. Over the course of his experiments, Burbank introduced over 800 new varieties of plants, including more than 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and even hundreds of ornamental flowers. He developed 100 species of plums alone.

In all, the famed horticulturist lived and worked in Santa Rosa for more than 50 years. He said it had the perfect climate: “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth, as far as Nature is concerned.”

In 1916, Burbank married his 29-year-old secretary. He was 67. They were together ten years before he suffered a fatal heart attack.

On Burbank’s death in 1926 he was buried near his greenhouse on the grounds of his home. The Lewiston Daily Sun reported, “The burial was as simple as the daily routine in the cottage where Burbank lived and worked. No prayers were said aloud at his bier and the stillness of evening in the home was unbroken by funeral orations. Old friends and former fellow workers carried the casket to the grave from the room where Burbank died. A few words were spoken informally by close friends, a song was sung, and the body was lowered to its final resting place.” A Cedar of Lebandon served as both monument and headstone.

Findagrave reports that Madame Dorothy Raegen Talbot, an opera singer and friend of Burbank’s, sang his favorite song at his funeral. She was buried beneath the tree after her death from breast cancer in 1929. Dr. Joseph Hugues Shaw, Burbank’s friend and physician, and local ballet master James Alfonso Kenney were also buried there in the next decade.

In Burbank’s funeral cortege were San Francisco’s Mayor James Rolph Jr., the chancellor emeritus of Stanford University, Mayor Dunbar of Santa Rose, a judge, the superintendent of the Santa Rosa public schools, and a banker.

Judge Ben B. Lindsey of Denver gave a funeral oration at Burbank’s funeral to a crowd that was estimated at 10,000. He expanded on Burbank’s Unitarian rejection of a god of fire and brimstone. He said, “Luther Burbank lives forever in the myriad fields of strengthened grain, in the new forms of fruits and flowers and plants and vines and trees and above all the newly watered gardens of the human mind from whence shall spring human freedom from those earthly fields that shall drive out gods, false and brutal.” Needless to say, the eulogy wasn’t printed in all the papers that carried the story of his burial.

"This rock pool is created in memory to the ingenious plant wizard. This memorial is adjacent to Luther Burbank's home and grave." Vintage postcard dated 1968..

“This rock pool is created in memory to the ingenious plant wizard. This memorial is adjacent to Luther Burbank’s home and grave.” Vintage postcard dated 1968.

The Cedar of Lebanon tree that stood over Burbank’s grave was one he had planted in his front yard, intending from the first that it would serve as his grave monument. These trees can live up to 300 years, but this one developed root disease and had to be felled in 1989.

When his wife Elizabeth died in 1977 — 51 years after her husband — she had to have special permission from the city of Santa Rosa to be buried alongside Luther beneath the Cedar. (Bonita, their dog, is buried there too, according to Permanent Californians.) Permission was probably easier to get since she left the house and gardens to the city as a museum.

Luther Burbank lived in this modified Greek Revival house with his mother Olive from 1884 to 1906. (After 1906, he lived in the larger home he had built across the street, but it was removed in the late 1960s.) After his death in 1926, Elizabeth moved back into the cottage and lived there until her death. Its present furnishings reflect her taste.

The property includes a greenhouse designed and built by Luther Burbank in 1889. The greenhouse includes a replica of his office and contains many of his tools. The carriage house was renovated as a museum in 1986. Changing exhibits Burbank’s life and work.

After the Cedar of Lebanon had to be removed, part of its trunk was shaped into a love seat memorial.  A plaque describes it like this: “This sculpture was made of wood from a Cedar of Lebanon tree that Luther Burbank planted from a seed in the front lawn. Burbank requested that he be buried near his beloved tree, saying, ‘I would like to know that the strength of my body is going into the strength of a tree.’ His request was granted by his widow at Burbank’s death in 1926. Unfortunately, the Cedar suffered from root disease and was felled in 1989. This sculpture signifies a quiet reminder of the bond between Luther Burbank and this historic Cedar of Lebanon tree.”

The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are located in downtown Santa Rosa, at the corner of Santa Rosa and Sonoma Avenues, across the street from City Hall and Juilliard Park. It has been registered as a national, state, city, and horticultural historic landmark.

Directions: Take Highway 101 north to Yolanda Avenue. Turn left on Santa Rosa Avenue. Go 1.7 miles to the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and Sonoma Avenue.

Useful links:

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens homepage

Newspaper report of Burbank’s funeral

The text of Judge Lindsey’s eulogy

Flowers from Burbank’s funeral