Monthly Archives: July 2014

Cemetery of the Week #144: St. Philomena Churchyard

Philomena001St. Philomena Catholic Church
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Kalawao, Molokai, Hawaii
In use: 1872 – 1932
Number of interments: Unknown
Open: The national park is open Monday through Saturday, but the number of visitors is capped at 100 per day. Visitors must be at least 16 years old. Unless you are invited by a resident of Kalaupapa, you must take a tour offered by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa.

Molokai, the most isolated Hawaiian island, has so little automobile traffic that it does not have a single traffic light. Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula was used for more than a hundred years as a place to intern Hawaiians infected with leprosy. The area — where internees were sentenced to live until 1969 — became a National Park in 1980.

The first case of leprosy documented in Hawaii was found on the island of Kauai in 1835. It’s believed that that Chinese, imported to work in the sugar cane fields, brought the disease with them, but that’s impossible to say when whalers and missionaries brought so many other diseases to the vulnerable Hawaiians.

Since there was no cure for the disease, infected victims were rounded up and exiled to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Surrounded by such rough seas that ships could land only rarely, sufferers were often thrown overboard and told to swim. A 2000-foot cliff on the southern side of the peninsula kept them penned in.

Although Hawaiians had lived on the peninsula previously, they were displaced by order of King Kamehameha V in order to isolate the leprosy victims. The first group of exiles consisted of nine men and three women dropped off on January 6, 1866.

New internees found an area with few buildings. The sick often lived in caves or such lean-tos as they could cobble together. Supplies were seldom delivered, so those who were strong enough grew taro, sweet potatoes, and fruits, and gathered seafood from the oceans and tidal pools.

In 1864, two years previous, Joseph de Veuster had arrived in Honolulu. Before long, the Belgian was ordained in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu and became known as Father Damien. Nine years later, he traveled to Kalaupapa to minister to the victims of leprosy.

Father Damien, two months before his death

Father Damien, two months before his death

With Father Damien’s help, the lepers built themselves homes, a church, and a hospital. Damien, who spoke Hawaiian, ministered, nursed, and encouraged them. In 1885, after 12 years of aiding the sick, Damien himself was diagnosed with leprosy. He eventually died of it on April 15, 1889. He was 49.

Damien was buried beside the walls of St. Philomena Catholic Church, which he had helped islanders expand several times over the years. He was buried in a site he’d selected personally, beneath the gnarled pandanus tree under which he’d slept when he first arrived on the island.

The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, to which Damien had belonged as a young man, erected a black marble cross above his grave. It read, “Sacred to the Memory of the Reverend Father Damien de Veuster. Died a martyr to his Charity for the Afflicted Lepers.”

Damien's grave

Damien’s original grave and marker

A movement to have Damien beatified – the first step on the path to sainthood – began the year following his death. Bishop Koeckemann of the Sacred Hearts Mission, who had clashed with Damien in life, stymied the process. It gained momentum in the 1930s. Rome announced formal beatification proceedings in 1935.

Of course, Father Damien wouldn’t be allowed to rest. The National Park Service site says, “Because Kalaupapa remained an isolation settlement and the world could not come to his church and grave, Damien’s remains were exhumed in 1936 and reburied at Louvain, Belgium.” Hawaiians objected loudly, but an arrangement had been reached between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Ferdinand III of Belgium. Internees of Kalaupapa were left only with the cross marking his grave.

In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared Father Damien venerable, the next step up the ladder to sainthood. A relic – Damien’s right hand — was returned to his original grave at Kalawao in 1995. He was canonized as a saint on October 11, 2009. Kalaupapa National Historical Park became the only National Park site connected with a saint. (Mother Marianne Cope, who cared for Damien in his final years, then stayed to tend the other victims of leprosy for 30 years, was canonized in 2012. Although she died in Kalaupapa, she is buried in Syracuse, New York.)

Kalaupapa from the ocean

Damien in not the only person buried in the National Park. Since 1866, more than 8000 people, mostly Hawaiians, died at Kalaupapa. Damien himself buried around 200 a year. The National Park Service estimates there are 1200 grave markers and several thousand unmarked graves spread over 15 cemeteries inside the park. In Moku Puakala, the area around St. Philomena Church at Kalawao, lies Brother Joseph Dutton, who served with Father Damien, and other religious workers affiliated with the Baldwin Home for Boys.

With the discovery of sulfone drugs, leprosy could be put into remission and was no longer contagious. The isolation order was finally lifted in 1969, when the state of Hawaii officially decided to change the terminology to Hansen’s Disease, rather than leprosy, as a way to lessen the stigma of its sufferers. Internees at Kalaupapa were free to leave, but many of them chose to stay in the place they considered home.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter established Kalaupapa National Historical Park. The Park Service describes the mission of the park thus: “Kalaupapa serves as a reminder of a nation in crisis when Hawaiian people were exposed to diseases for which they had no immunities. It is a place where we can reconsider our responses to people with disfiguring disabilities or illnesses. Kalaupapa, once a community in isolation, now serves as a place for education and contemplation. It is a place where past suffering has given way to personal pride about accomplishments made in the face of great adversity.”

In 2009, President Barack Obama authorized a memorial for the estimated 8,000 former patients buried on Kalaupapa. Only about 1,300 lie in marked graves. The monument appears not to have been completed yet.

It can be challenging to visit Molokai. From Maui or Honolulu, you can catch an inter-island flight into Molokai or take the Maui-Molokai ferry from Lahaina. Life moves at a relaxed pace on Molokai, so plan to spend the night.

If you visit, National Park Service warns, “The 3.5-mile trail to the park is extremely steep and difficult. Hiking is physically demanding. There are no medical or dining facilities at Kalaupapa. Visitors flying or hiking in must bring their own lunches. Guests of residents also need to bring their own food supplies. All food and sundries must be brought in and all trash taken out. The mule ride ride concession provides lunch to its customers.”

There is also no place to stay over, unless you stay with one of the residents.

Most importantly, photographs of the few remaining patient/residents is forbidden without their written permission.

Useful links:

Information on the cemeteries of Kalaupapa

Information on visiting Molokai

Father Damien Tours

Guided Mule Ride Tours

National Park Service brochures

Outdated page on the monument to named the unnamed victims of Kalaupapa

Other Hawaiian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Seamen’s Cemetery in Lahaina, Maui

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Kawaiaha’o Churchyard, Honolulu, Oahu

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Keawala’i Churchyard, Makena, Maui


Union Cemetery Companion

Union Cemetery, Redwood City, California: The People, Their Lives, Their CommunitiesUnion Cemetery, Redwood City, California: The People, Their Lives, Their Communities by John G. Edmonds

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this book after I’d taken a tour of the Union Cemetery in Redwood City. Because of that, many of the stories of the pioneers in this book were familiar to me. I wish there had been a way for the author of the book to feature the most interesting stories in some way that drew the reader’s attention to them. The encyclopedia style wins points for being comprehensive, but if you’re not familiar with the layout of Redwood City, Woodside, Atherton (and the surrounding towns) or Searsville, Summit Springs, and West Union (the surrounding ghost towns), it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the details.

I wish there had been more gravestone photos and that those that had been included were larger. The graveyard, which lies along a busy street, has suffered such brutal vandalism that this book could provide a photographic record if the monuments ever need to be replaced again.

I wish it had included a map of the old-time businesses referenced in the book. A map of the surrounding areas it mentions would have been helpful, too.

But those are all comments from someone who doesn’t live in San Mateo County, who only comes there to shop. Locals would get much more out of this book that I did. It’s still a gift to its community.

The book is available directly from the Historic Union Cemetery Association.  I bought mine from Amazon.

Cemetery of the Week #143: Union Cemetery

The Grand Army of the Republic plot at Union Cemetery

The Grand Army of the Republic plot at Union Cemetery

Union Cemetery
316 Woodside Road
Redwood City, California 94061
Established: 1859
Size: 6 acres remain
Number of interments: 2500 or so
Open: dawn to dusk

After the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ceded California to the United States, California was proclaimed a state on July 4, 1848. Luckily for America, Mexico hadn’t heard the news that gold had been discovered in the soon-to-be-named American River on January 24, 1848.

As soon as the news got out, one of the largest migrations the world has seen began. Hundreds of thousands (mostly men, mostly young) descended, hoping to find their fortunes.

In 1850, sailors discovered that Redwood Creek, nearly 30 miles south of San Francisco, is a natural deep-water channel that empties into the Bay. This became useful when, a year later, men began to cut down the redwood trees in the Santa Cruz Mountains running down the outer edge of the peninsula. At the foot of the mountains, the redwoods were milled into lumber, which was then floated down the creek to wharves along what came to be called the Port of Redwood City. From there, the wood was shipped to the towns springing up everywhere during the Gold Rush.

A village originally called Redwood Landing took root beside the creek. Its earliest burial ground stood on land owned by William Cary Jones. He’d allowed 13 burials there, but after Horace Hawes purchased the land, he wanted the graveyard moved. The little town was forced to start a proper cemetery.

Many of the people buried here were children. The Palmer children died of diptheria.

Many of the people buried here were children. The Palmer children died of diptheria.

Early in 1859, a cemetery association purchased land along Woodside Road. They oversaw the cemetery’s design and sold burial plots, but since they weren’t incorporated, they deeded the cemetery to the Governor of California — and his successors — as trustees. This led to California’s first cemetery legislation, as the government didn’t wish to be made responsible for every graveyard in the state.

The Union Cemetery’s name “reflects the controversy that erupted in the Civil War, three years after the cemetery’s beginning,” according to the historical plaque placed at the cemetery. “Founders of the cemetery strongly opposed the secessionist sentiment that threatened the nation’s unity.”

Jean Cloud, one of the first docents at the cemetery, believed this was the first Union Cemetery in the United States, since it was named before the Civil War began.

Union Cemetery’s first burial was a four-year-old girl named Ana (or Annie) Douglass. The brochure published by the Historic Union Cemetery Association, says she was the granddaughter of Benjamin F. Fox, San Mateo’s first judge. Annie and her brother were initially buried on the Hawes’ farm, but they were moved here to rest in the family plot.

Approximately forty veterans of the Civil War rest in the Grand Army of the Republic plot, along with a pair of wives and “a drinking buddy.” One of the men in the cemetery (though not in the GAR plot itself) was a survivor of the California 100, who fought at 23 major Civil War battles and was at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered.

Death on a headstone in Union Cemetery

Death on a headstone in the Masonic plot in the Union Cemetery

During the Depression, San Mateo County’s poor were buried in a potter’s field section of Union Cemetery, which lay along Woodside Road. Ellen Crawford, current president of the Historic Union Cemetery Association, says her research indicates that the bodies were not moved when the road was widened to four lanes in the 1960s. She believes several hundred bodies continue to lie beneath Woodside Road.

When the original Union Cemetery Association petered out in 1918, no one took over maintenance of the cemetery. Of the more than 2200 documented burials, only 700 graves are marked. Some graves originally had nothing more permanent than a redwood cross or fences. Weather and time defaced many of those markers, but vandals destroyed even more.

Burials came slower and slower after 1940, when anyone who could afford it wanted to be buried elsewhere, rather than in the neglected patch alongside the busy road. The final burial took place in 1963.

Even though it took no responsibility for it, the State of California continued to own the cemetery until 1962. Then it quitclaimed the cemetery to Redwood City. By then, forty-some years of neglect — and vandalism — had taken quite a toll.

Closeup of the current Union soldier

Closeup of the current Union soldier

In fact, the Historic Union Cemetery Association “was founded just to protect the statue of the Union Soldier,” which stands over the Grand Army plot, according to San Mateo County historian Michael Svanevik. The statue of a Union soldier leaning on his rifle was originally purchased by Mrs. Jane Stanford, widow of the founder of Stanford University . The soldier came in pieces that could be screwed together. The plinth it stands upon is actually more valuable than the statue, according to Svanevik, because it is unique. There are literally thousands of that same statue.

The statue was vandalized multiple times and completely replaced twice. The current statue was paid for by the Historic Union Cemetery Association’s fundraising.

Victim of the 1906 earthquake. Stone repaired by the Historic Association.

Victim of the 1906 earthquake. Stone repaired by the Historic Association.

The Association continues its good work. One by one, the fences which encircled the old plots are being repaired or replaced. Headstones have been pried out of the dirt and reset. The Association offers tours on a variety of subjects. (I was there just last month with the San Francisco Obscura Society for a wonderfully morbid tour.) On Memorial Day, they celebrate their veterans with an old-time anvil launching: two blacksmith’s anvils are placed one atop the other, with black powder in between. It’s worth going to the Association’s extensive website just to see the photos.

Useful links:

Home page of the Union Cemetery (with flying anvil)

Timeline of the Union Cemetery

History of the Union Cemetery

Photos of the Union Cemetery


Cemetery of the Week #142: Chinko-ji Temple cemetery

The gate to Rokudo-san

Chinko-ji Temple cemetery
aka Rokudo-san cemetery
aka Rokudochinnoji cemetery
595 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0811, Japan
Telephone: +81 75 343 6555
Founded: 836 AD
Size: a fraction of an acre
Number of interments: hard to say, since Japanese are cremated and their ashes interred beneath their headstones marked with only their family names
Gates are open: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The buildings open only occasionally. Check with the Tourist Information Center downtown for opening hours if you want to see the paintings of Hell and the Spirit World.
Admission: free
Important to know: The mosquitos in June were fierce, even in the heat of the afternoon. You may want to invest in insect repellent before you visit.

The city of Kyoto was founded in 794. For centuries, it served as the capital of Japan, until the emperor moved his court to Tokyo in 1869. It’s been called the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, but may only have as many as 2000 of them, 1600 of which are Buddhist temples along with 400 shrines dedicated to Shinto, the native religion.

Kyoto’s largest festival of the year takes place in August, when the city observes the Bon Festival, the Japanese celebration of ancestral spirits.

Rhoads_Kyoto_3400The book Introducing Kyoto by Herbert E. Pluschow reports “The Bon Festival begins on August 8 with a visit to Chinko-ji Temple. The location of Chinko-ji (also called Rokudo-san) marks one of the largest grave areas that existed since Heian times. Formerly, it extended from Kiyomizu-dera Temple all the way downhill to Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple and as far north as Chion-in.” Kyoto, a Cultural Guide, adds, “This area was known as ‘the land of the dead,’ a place where the bodies of those who died without family were often abandoned.”

So perhaps there were no monuments to move, no graves to disturb. The area is suburban now, full of houses. Of the massive graveyard, only a fragment remains at Chinko-ji.

The small Buddhist temple of Chinko-ji (also known as Rokudo-san) stands in the Higashiyama neighborhood, just south of Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood. The temple dates to the 9th century. As far as I can tell, the graveyard does not date that far back.

The plaque at the gate says, “A Rinzai-sect temple of the Kenniji school, founded in 836, and commonly known as Rokudo-san. Kyōto’s Bon Festival, Buddhist observance honoring the spirits of ancestors, begins with the tolling of the temple bell. The area is called ‘Rokudo-no-tsujii,’ or ‘the place where this world and the other world meet.’ Reference to this belief appears in Konjaku Monogatari, Tales of Times Now Past. The well behind the Main Hall was believed to have been used by Ono no Takamura (802–852) to commute between the two worlds.”

In fact, the temple still has a statue of Chinese scholar Ono no Takamura, a calligrapher and poet who served Emperor Saga in the early part of the ninth century. Takamura was so eloquent in his descriptions of Hell that it was believed he was an emissary from Enma, the King of Hell. Legend holds that at night Takamura would climb into the well at Rokudo Chinkoji, descend to the underworld, and help Enma judge the dead. In the morning, he’d climb back out, then go serve the Emperor.

Chinko-ji remains a place to pray for “the souls of commoners.” Rokudo-san, the temple’s popular name, refers to the roads to the six Buddhist realms to which a soul may go: 1) Jigoku (Hell), 2) Gaki (the land of the hungry spirits), 3) Chikushou (the land of the beasts), 4) Shura (the land of fighting), 5) Ningen (the land of humans, or our world), and 6) Tenjo (Heaven). Rokudo no Tsuji (the intersection of this world and the next ones, where the six roads begin) is believed to be in the small open square inside the tori gate from the street.

Japanese Buddhists believe that the souls of the dead inhabit mountains, which were Paradise. The bottoms of valleys were Hell. The mountain above Chinko-ji is called Mt. Amida, the Buddha of eternal light who rules Paradise. Some souls were so weighed down that they couldn’t climb uphill and were condemned to roam the earth, causing suffering. The Bon Festival addresses itself to these unhappy souls, which are welcomed back to earth at temples considered gates of Hell.

The welcoming bell is inside this building.

The welcoming bell is inside this building.

At Chinko-ji, people welcome their ancestors back by ringing the temple’s bell, called “Mukae-gane” or the welcoming bell. Unlike most temple bells in Japan, where you draw the clapper back to strike the bell, this one requires you to push the clapper forward. Legend says that the bell can be heard in every corner of hell and was once heard as far as China.

The building housing the bell stands on the right side of the temple complex. Just past in stands a hall with a statue of Enma and his emmisaries.

Straight ahead from the gate, on the north side, stands the main hall of the temple, which houses a statue of the Buddha Yakushi, who has the ability to rescue the suffering from Hell.

Some of the Jizo

Some of the Jizo

The well that Takamura used to visit Hell still exists behind one of the temple buildings, but it was closed the afternoon when I visited. During Bon, people used to buy pine branches from the temple and lower them down into the well, so that the souls of the dead could grab on.

On the western side of the shrine, a plastic roof shelters a large statue of Jizo, the Buddhist guardian of travelers, children, and the dead. He’s surrounded by 200 smaller Jizo.

Behind the Jizo shrine stands the pocket graveyard. I didn’t open the gate and walk in, even though my family was alone at the temple when we visited. It didn’t feel respectful and I could see as much as I needed from the gate.

The graveyard with sotoba

The graveyard with sotoba

However, as I stopped to pay my respects to Jizo and take some photos, the sotōba – the wooden blades marked with the posthumous names of the dead – rattled like chattering teeth in a sudden breath of wind.

I was glad when other people came into the temple grounds with us.

Useful links:

A great blog post with photos of the temple at O-Bon and the tale of “ghost-raising sweets”

A photo tour of the temple

A Japanese page for the temple, with a map

A photo and more information about the Welcoming Bell

A haiku about the Welcoming Bell

A video of the temple at O-Bon: