Tag Archives: Oregon cemetery

Death’s Garden: Jacksonville Cemetery

Broken bud

Broken bud photo by Loren Rhoads

by Stacey Graham

Jacksonville, Oregon was a dirty little rut. Miners swarmed the hills looking for gold hidden in creekbeds and left it destitute of honor, beauty, and respectability. Once gold was pulled from Rich Gulch in 1851, Jacksonville blossomed, while men drug mules through the mud streets and into the hills, leaving their families to struggle in the small Southern Oregon village.

Pioneers bringing hope for a new life eased into the Oregon Territory. As campsites gave way to houses and businesses forced the miners into behaving, Jacksonville broadened its shoulders and grew into one of the largest cities in Oregon in the last half of 19th century. Farmers tamed the surrounding land, changing the face of the ancestral home of the Upland Takelmas tribe as the Native Americans jostled for position amongst the newcomers—and fell behind.

The population stumbled in 1884 when the railway bypassed Jacksonville, now the county seat, for nearby Medford. With the railway went businesses and residents looking for a way out of this tiny Western town butting up against the hills. Jacksonville fell into a gentle decay until the 1960s, when town residents protested against having Interstate 5 dividing the town and sparked preservation efforts.

Jacksonville now has National Historic Landmark protection on over 100 of its buildings — plus the cemetery — due to their efforts.

The first burial on the land occurred in 1859, before the cemetery was officially opened. Local businessman John Love got permission to bury his mother in October. Plots were being advertised by December 1859 and the ground was dedicated in 1860. It has been filling ever since.

My story in Jacksonville started in 1982. Moving from the San Francisco Bay Area to a hamlet called Applegate, twelve miles from Jacksonville and along the river, I became involved in Jacksonville’s history by volunteering as a teenager to be a historical interpreter at the Beekman House, as well as working at the now defunct museums.

Summers in the Rogue Valley were often between 90-100º. Wearing layers of period clothing in a non-air conditioned mansion led me to take lunch breaks up in the hills surrounding Jacksonville. Winding into the trees where it was cooler, I’d drive into the cemetery overlooking the town and relax.

Often I’d have lunch with the Beekmans, but then branched out to visit other graves on the 41 acres. My favorite was Josephine, no last name listed. Her late 19th-century stone was small and crumbling. Evidently she had been forgotten, perhaps right after burial, as lives flowed through the town like gold dust—just a wink and it was gone. The dirt path cut over her gravesite. Her stone was half-buried in the shrubbery. Having a soft spot for the underdog, I pulled away the weeds and brought the stone back into the sunlight. Thirty years later, I still think about my first adopted gravesite.

While Josephine’s stone gave no clue to her demise and only a death year now lost to my bad memory, other stones shared the realities of the early pioneers: cholera, diphtheria, measles, smallpox, lead poisoning, and “Indian War” made the list of ways to hit the dirt early in Jacksonville.

While in college, years later, I took a class that focused on the community. I had a pick of subjects; it only needed to be something that once brought the community together, as well as charted the development of the Rogue Valley. What better microcosm than a cemetery?

Plotting the cemetery was easy. For the most part, it was well-maintained (aside from poor Josephine) and sectioned into seven segments including Jewish, Catholic, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and the Independent and Improved Order of Red Men. A potter’s field on the north side of the cemetery held the remains of blacks, whites, Native Americans, Hawaiians, and possibly Chinese. Due to the nature of being a potter’s field, there are no gravestones beyond a more recent monument erected to honor the 133 bodies left behind.

As my research continued, the connection between the community was clear: everybody dies. Choosing to focus on the art of the stonework, I wove patterns from their shared stories. Hardship, bad luck, and disease were etched into the faces of the gravestones — but decorated by art, it became part of their narrative. A child taken by measles, a middle-aged man lost in war, or a woman buried next to her infant: represented by lambs, half-opened roses, even beehives and horses told tales that no date could share.

I later earned degrees in History and Archaeology/Anthropology to learn more about how we keep the circle going and how the past influences our choices. I’ve continued my work, quietly visiting cemeteries around the United States. Now I take my children as the next generation of gravestone custodians and art lovers. What better way to revisit Josephine and tell her that she’s not forgotten?


SGrahamMHStacey Graham is the author of four books and a ragtag collection of short stories. You may currently find her scaring the pants off of readers with her book Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls, and Other Creepy Collectibles. She intends on returning the pants at a later date. Please visit her website, at Twitter, and at Facebook to share your ghost story.


About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. (This one’s a little late.)  If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you. The submissions guidelines are here.

Not the book Lone Fir deserves

Lone Fir: The Cemetery -- A Guide and HistoryLone Fir: The Cemetery — A Guide and History by Johan Mathiesen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This may be the worst cemetery book I’ve ever read, which is saying something because I’ve read a lot. It’s even worse because it volunteers to share profits from its sale to support the lovely and fragile Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland.

I wonder if anyone other than the author read the text before publication. It’s so poorly written that the history is difficult to follow. Some of that may be because it’s unclear who owned the property when Emmor Stephens was buried there, but since I’m not familiar with Portland history, I was completely lost. Typos bring their own form of amusement. (At one point, Chinese organizations “banned” together, rather than banded together.)

I could have looked past those problems, believe it or not, but the final straw was the random way photos have been dropped into the text. On page 6, there’s an unidentified photo of a woman in flip-flops alongside someone’s t-shirt sleeve plunked in the middle of a paragraph about the original property owners. Across from her is a photo of what seems to be a film crew. I couldn’t find any explanation for either photo.

As the book continues, photos of monuments from Lone Fir pop up arbitrarily. It’s especially frustrating in the Notable Monuments section of the book, where the text talks about monuments that may or may not appear elsewhere in the book while showing monuments that have nothing to do with the text surrounding them. The problem could have been solved if a page number had been dropped in here and there — or if an index had been included in the book, so I could have at least looked up what he was talking about.

As it is, the maps at the back are small and confusing. The listings are numbered to correspond with the maps, but since you don’t have a photo of what you’re looking for, you’d have to wander the graveyard until you could match it to his description. In the meantime, you’d have to keep flipping back and forth through the book…

I’m not sure for whom this book was intended. It doesn’t have enough history to be useful to historians or genealogists. It’s not a guide that would tour you around the cemetery, making it easy to hit the highlights. Without an index, it’s impossible to find anything quickly or to be sure of what you’re seeing when you do find it.

What a shame. Lone Fir Cemetery deserves so much better than this.

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Oregon Cemetery Overview

Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its CemeteriesMad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its Cemeteries by Johan Mathiesen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was looking for a book about the cemeteries of Oregon in advance of last weekend’s trip. This is a strange hodgepodge of a book, varying from the author’s unusual and intriguing thoughts on cemeteries and fraternal organizations to pages and pages of epitaphs to a fun and opinionated section on the “best” cemeteries of Oregon.

The guide to the Oregon cemeteries takes up the last 150 pages of the book. It doesn’t give much history of each graveyard, rarely includes photos, and says very little about historic personages one might visit. Some cemeteries get only a scant paragraph. This book is a place to start, but my quest for a book about the cemeteries of Oregon continues.

This same author has a book on Lone Tree Cemetery, which I picked up at Powell’s over the weekend.  I’ll review it as soon as I finish reading it.

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Cemetery of the Week #136: Lone Fir Cemetery

The Soldiers' Monument at Lone Fir.

The Soldiers’ Monument at Lone Fir.

Lone Fir Cemetery
SE 26th Avenue and Stark Street
Portland, Oregon 97214
Telephone: (503) 224-9200
Established: 1846
Formally dedicated: 1855
Size: 30.5 acres
Number of interments: 25,000 (at least)

Portland’s lovely Lone Fir Cemetery began in 1846 with the burial of Emmor Stephens, father of a man who owned property nearby and rests there now. In 1854, victims of a steamship accident were buried near him and the ground was formally dedicated as a cemetery in 1855.

Many Oregon pioneers are buried in graves that are no longer marked. There may be as many as 10,000 unknowns buried here. Some of these are Chinese laborers. The men intended that, after their bodies had been buried a suitable length of time, their bones would be exhumed, scraped of flesh, bundled together, and sent home to China. A large number of them still reside in their “temporary” graves.

Dr. Hawthorne's obelisk

Dr. Hawthorne’s obelisk

A tall obelisk marks the grave of Dr. James C. Hawthorne, who cared for the insane shortly after Oregon achieved statehood. He opened the Oregon Hospital for the Insane in 1862 and cared gently for his patients, who were allowed time outdoors and musical performances. If patients – who were often abandoned by their families – died at the hospital, Dr. Hawthorne saw that they had a decent burial at Lone Fir. 132 of them rest there now.

Among them, in an unmarked grave, rests Charity Lamb, who murdered her husband with an axe as he sat down to dinner with the family. She had hoped to escape an abusive situation, but was instead convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in the Oregon State Penitentiary, where she was the only female prisoner. Eventually she was released to Dr. Hawthorne’s asylum, where she died.

Here lies a Woodsman of the World.

Here lies a Woodsman of the World.

Lone Fir has a good number of beautiful tree stump graves. One might suspect that the men remembered by these stones had been loggers, especially since many of them say “Woodsman of the World,” but in fact the stones were purchased from an early burial insurance company.

Another lovely grave at Lone Fir has been badly vandalized. Not much seems to be known about 31-year-old Paul G. Lind, except that he liked to play Scrabble. You can see photos of his unique monument at Findagrave. None of the letters are left in place now.

Once this was a beautiful tiled Scrabble board.

Once this was a beautiful tiled Scrabble board.


Scottish immigrant Donald MacLeay invested in the Oregon railroads and was the President of US National Bank of Portland, which became USBancorp. He commissioned a mausoleum after his first wife died. It was completed in 1877 for $13,500. He survived for two more decades before he joined her. Unfortunately, the winters have been hard on the mausoleum and its stone is flaking away. It looks spooky and has appeared in several movies.

The MacLeay mausoleum

The MacLeay mausoleum

Even with the ravages of time and vandalism, Lone Fir is breathtaking. When I visited last weekend, the chestnut trees were in glorious bloom and the rhododendron at the Soldiers’ Monument smelled like heaven. Squirrels played, birds sang, and everywhere I looked was bright with shades of green. National Geographic magazine named Lone Fir one of the Top Ten Cemeteries to visit in the world.

Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon through its Cemeteries (which I’ll review tomorrow) says, “If you choose only one cemetery to visit in Oregon, this should be it.” As it was the only cemetery I’ve visited in Oregon so far, I can’t speak to the reality of that statement. I can only tell you that Lone Fir is spectacular in the spring. I am so glad I didn’t miss it.

The Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery offer tours beginning at the Soldiers’ Monument every second Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. They also offer headstone-cleaning workshops. Their calendar of events is here.

In fact, the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery’s website tells the tales of pioneers, prostitutes, shanghai captains, mayors, governors, and preservationists buried in the graveyard. It’s worth reading their biographies even if you can’t make it to Portland to pay your regards in person.

Useful links:

History of Lone Fir Cemetery

The Portland Metro government page on Lone Fir Cemetery

The Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation is raising money for restoration work.

National Geographic’s list of the 10 Best Cemeteries in the World

Notes from one of the Halloween tours of Lone Fir

A news report on vandalism in 2013