by J’aime Rubio
Okay, so that title probably caught your eye, right? Well, it’s true. I literally found the man of my dreams via Find-a-grave, but the story didn’t start there. In fact, both my story and his were literally running parallel to one another for many years; we just hadn’t crossed paths yet. You see, I have been wandering cemeteries for years, researching and writing about the stories of the forgotten ones who have already passed on. He also was wandering cemeteries for many years, photographing and researching the vital records of the buried dead to contribute on Find-a-Grave, a website database for burial memorials worldwide.
At that point in time, I had been researching the life of Dorothy Millette Bern, once common-law wife of MGM producer Paul Bern. For far too long, Dorothy’s earlier life had been shrouded in mystery, but her reputation and character became overtly slandered after the unexplainable death of Paul, which has always been the cause of controversy. Was he murdered? Was it suicide? Several authors and journalists have tried to blame Dorothy for the death of Paul Bern, regardless of the fact there is little evidence to prove such a theory. It didn’t help matters that Dorothy herself was nowhere to be found when Paul’s body was discovered. To add to the mystery, weeks later Dorothy’s lifeless body was pulled from the Delta waters in the Georgiana Slough. She had been reported missing from her cabin on the Delta King steamboat, on its way to Sacramento from San Francisco. To put a long story short, I was determined to solve the mystery behind her strange demise and clear her name of the defamation. I spent a lot of time visiting her grave at East Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento, California. In fact, this cemetery became a sort of get-away for me to escape the everyday stress of life among the solace of the dead.
The cemetery itself is tucked away within a quiet neighborhood in East Sacramento. It was established in 1904, but the grand mausoleum that holds the main offices and funeral halls was constructed in the mid-1920s. I had been coming to East Lawn for quite some time, after I began researching the story of Anna Corbin, victim of a horrendous murder that took place in 1950, at the Preston School of Industry in Ione, California. The young man accused of murdering Anna was tried three times, since the first two trials ended in hung juries. The third time, with the trial moved to Sacramento, the defense was able to convince a jury of his alleged innocence and Eugene Monroe walked. Little did they know that he had been the prime suspect in another woman’s murder in Los Angeles in 1947, with the same exact MO. After being released from custody and moving to Oklahoma to live with relatives, Monroe committed another murder. This time, the victim was an expectant mother in Tulsa. He eventually confessed and was sentenced to life in prison, although he only spent 29 years in jail.
Both Anna and Dorothy’s stories became so near and dear to me that I would visit them at least once a week. During my time wandering the grounds of East Lawn, I discovered so many more stories of those interred there. From the older and lesser known brother of famous law man Wyatt Earp to the wife of mobster Walter “Big Bill” Pechart, the cemetery is full of some pretty amazing stories. Famed Big Band leader Dick Jurgens is interred in a small ground niche with a music note to mark his spot. Even one of the first doctors to help start Sutter Hospital, Dr. Aden C. Hart, is buried there in a very humble grave. Little did I know that a new chapter of my own story would soon start here, as well.
While researching Dorothy Millette Bern’s case, I noticed the photograph of her on Find-a-Grave. I messaged the contributor, asking if he was a relative. Mind you, just the day before I had sat at her grave, pondering life and death, literally in tears because I had come to the realization I was alone and so very different from everyone else I knew. I had faced a failed marriage to an abusive and alcoholic husband for nearly 10 years. It felt like there was no way out of my situation. The only consolation I felt was during time spent at the cemetery, amongst the dead. As I sat there in front of Dorothy’s grave, crying, feeling the breeze of the cool autumn air, watching the winds sway the branches of the trees ever so gently, I said, “If only I could find someone who loves cemeteries as much as I do, who loves to do the same things. If only I wasn’t so alone.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and gave no more thought to the plea I had just thrown out into the universe.
A couple of hours after I sent that message on Find-a-Grave, I received a reply back. No, he wasn’t related to Dorothy, but just someone who had read about her in a book about old Hollywood. It intrigued him to know more about her story. He complimented my profile photo and the fact that it reminded him of an old Hollywood glamour shot. We had an instant connection and certainly a lot of common ground. We started writing each other more. That led to phone calls. It was at East Lawn that we decided to play a little game, I would leave him a present at Dorothy’s grave and he would leave one for me. I left him a stone engraved with “Surround yourself with positive people.” The next day, he left me an antique edition of the complete poetic works of James Whitcomb Riley.
Unfortunately the day he came to drop it off, the ground was wet from rain. He convinced the staff in the main building that he had to leave something for me. Thankfully, the girl at the front desk was enough of a romantic to oblige his request. When I showed up, I didn’t know how to ask the front desk attendant about a mystery gift left for me, but the lady at the counter was very nice. She even told me she was jealous as she handed me the book. “I wish someone would do something romantic like that for me.”
It’s been five years that we have been together now and another fifty cemeteries we have visited together since then. I no longer feel alone in the world. We make a great team in everything we do. I am certain that there was an angel up there who heard my plea that day at Dorothy Millette Bern’s grave and knew that there was someone out there for me. We just hadn’t found each other yet, so we were given that little nudge in the same direction. Yes, I found love on Find-a-Grave. The key to happiness was waiting for me right there at East Lawn Cemetery all along.
J’aime Rubio, author of Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered and Behind The Walls: A Historical Exposé of the Preston School of Industry, was born and raised in California. Besides being a mother of two, a published poet and author, she is also a journalist who has contributed her historical knowledge and investigative research to various newspapers and magazines in both California and Arizona.
Although she spends most of her free time roaming cemeteries and researching the past, she also maintains www.jaimerubiowriter.com which links to all six of her historical blogs. These blogs focus on people and places in history, with the hope to give a voice to the voiceless so that the forgotten will be forgotten no more.
About the Death’s Garden project:
I am starting up the Death’s Garden project again. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.