Tag Archives: pioneer cemeteries

Graves of California Settlers

What Lies Beneath: California Pioneer Cemeteries and GraveyardsWhat Lies Beneath: California Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards by Gail L. Jenner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hate to rate this book so low, since the author says she cracked ribs and got a concussion in the course of researching it. Unfortunately, the book suffers from trying to cover way too much ground, splitting California’s 58 counties into 10 sections and jamming them into 300 pages. Because it has so much to cover, everything ends up glossed over at speed. I often got the feeling that fewer stories, told in greater detail, would have been more satisfying.

The author chose to focus on the unknowns of history, which means she left out Levi Strauss, Phineas Gage, Emperor Norton…although she does include Wyatt Earp, who wasn’t a California pioneer. She does a very commendable job of including pioneers of color, including William Leidesdorff (although his name is misspelled), Mary Ellen Pleasant, and the Spanish and Mexican land grant owners. She also talks at length about some of the Chinese pioneers who made history in the state.

Rather than arranging each section by cemetery, the chapters flow through various members of each family — often switching mid-chapter to talk about burial grounds in other counties without mentioning they are hundreds of miles away from the area for which the chapter is named. I found it really confusing, even with flipping back and forth to the map to see where each digression took me.

There aren’t many photos in the book (always a complaint for me), but those that are included seem to be placed randomly. For instance, the cross remembering soldiers killed in the Modoc War (in one of California’s northernmost counties) is placed at the start of the Central Coast chapter. The Modoc War itself is discussed 110 pages earlier, in the San Diego chapter. (San Diego is one of California’s southernmost counties, more than 800 miles away.) If the event is important enough to be included, why isn’t it referenced in the appropriate geographic area?

Most disappointing, sometimes cemeteries are given a street address in the text, but often they aren’t. There’s no list of cemeteries mentioned (other than combing through the index), no suggestion of additional resources, no contact information.

I really wanted this to be a terrific book, especially since it was a gift.

If you’re a completist like me and you’d like a copy of the book for your collection, you can get one from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HGEbPW

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery
Address: 227 East 28th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64108
Phone: (816) 472-4990
Founded: 1857
Size: 27 acres
Number interred: 55,000
Open: 7 am to 5 pm daily.

Atop a hill overlooking the city lie the founders of Kansas City, Missouri. Union Cemetery is Kansas city’s oldest public cemetery, the final resting place of politicians, artists, war heroes, business leaders, and everyday people. Today it is advertised as Kansas City’s “most serene and historic public park.”

John Calvin McCoy came to this area as a surveyor working for the US government in 1830. In February 1835, he filed the plat for the town of Kansas. He owned a store which outfitted settlers moving west on the Santa Fe Trail.

The cholera epidemic of 1849 filled the existing family plots and the first city cemetery in Kansas City. City leaders spent years searching for a suitable replacement until James W. Hunter  deeded 49 acres of his hilltop farmland to the Union Cemetery Association. The land lay halfway between the town of Kansas on the Missouri River and the town of Westport, which was a supply stop for wagon trains as they moved west. The cemetery, which opened in 1857, was envisioned as a “union” between the two towns.

James Hunter’s monument, like many in the cemetery, is marked with a post corresponding to the walking tour map.

A fire in August 1889 damaged the sexton’s cottage and destroyed the burial records. The loss was total, as many of the graves had only been marked by wooden or limestone markers, which have eroded over time. The cottage was burned again in 1985, but by then, the cemetery records were kept off-site. The Women in Construction in Kansas City rebult the cottage for the third time. It was rededicated in October 1990. Now it serves as a visitor center and gift shop. It’s only open Thursday and Friday from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Missouri’s most famous 19th century artist, George Caleb Bingham, was a landscape painter concerned with the effects of light. His best-remembered work was the 1845 “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Bingham chose to be buried facing south in the cemetery, although the tradition was to bury everyone facing east, toward Jerusalem and the resurrection. Bingham apparently claimed that the Lord would find him, no matter which way he faced.

A bronze medallion adorns Majors’s grave.

Alexander Majors was a partner in a freighting firm that led settlers across the prairie. His company founded the Pony Express during the Civil War. Although it only lasted 18 months, it cost Majors his fortune. He died penniless in 1900.

A small monument in the Kearney family plot remembers Hattie Drisdom Kearney. On Christmas Day 1855, she was sold as a slave. She was 11 years old. She begged a “kindly looking” man to buy her. After Charles Esmonde Kearney placed the winning bid, he freed her. When she told him she had nowhere to go, he hired her as a housekeeper and nurse. She worked for the Kearney family for 80 years, raising several generations. Now she lies amongst them.

By 1910, the cemetery was sadly deteriorated. The Cemetery Association sold 18 acres to fund upkeep. In 1937, the remaining 27 acres were deeded to Kansas City. The Native Sons of Greater Kansas City began a major restoration as its first community service project. The present gated entry was funded by the Native Sons in the 1950s. The iron fence enclosing the cemetery was added by the city in the 1990s.

The Union Cemetery is now maintained by the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation. It’s a beautiful place, full of history and beautiful monuments, well worth a visit.

Useful links:
The Union Cemetery Historical Society: https://www.uchskc.org/

Walking tour map: https://kcparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Walking-Tour-Map-of-Union-Cemetery.pdf

African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City: https://aahtkc.org/union-cemetery

Findagrave listing: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/32037/union-cemetery

2019 Bay Area Cemetery Events

Saturday, September 21, 2019 from 9 am-noon
San Lorenzo Cemetery Clean Up and Open Day
Usher Street and College Street, San Lorenzo, CA 94580
Drop by to help preserve our local historic cemetery! Bring gloves, rakes, and water. A hat, sunscreen, eye protection, and study shoes are recommended. The cemetery will also be open during this time for the public to visit the grounds and ask questions.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.haywardareahistory.org/calendar/2019/9/21/cemetery-clean-up-amp-open-day

IMG_1788Sunday, September 22, 2019 from 1-4 pm
Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Discovery Walk
St. Helena Public Cemetery, 2461 Spring Street, St. Helena, CA 94574
Tours depart from the cemetery’s front gate at 1 and 2 pm. The stories of French and Swiss winemakers, portrayed by St. Helena High School Drama Club students, will be featured during the St. Helena Historical Society’s 17th annual “Spirits of St. Helena” Cemetery Discovery Walk. Each tour will visit selected gravesites on the St. Helena Cemetery grounds. Tours take place rain or shine. Please wear comfortable walking shoes. More info: 707-967-5502 or email shstory@shstory.org; visit shstory.org; or find the St. Helena Historical Society on Facebook.
Admission: $10
More info: https://shstory.org/events/#spirits-cemetery-walk

Sunday, September 22, 2019 from 4:30-7 pm
Evening Hike to Rose Hill Cemetery
Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve: Upper Parking Lot, 37.958359, -121.86326, Antioch, CA
Long ago, miners left their mark on these hills. Take a hike to historic Rose Hill Cemetery to learn their tales of spirit, heroism, tragedy, and endurance.
Parking fee: $5. Tour: Free
More Info: http://apm.activecommunities.com/ebparks/Activity_Search/26333

Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 10 am
Food Tour of Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Ave, Oakland CA 94611
Docent-led tour of Oakland’s beautiful Mountain View Cemetery by Barbara Gibson & Jane Leroe, who will focus on the cemetery’s connection to food.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Friday, October 4, 2019 at 5:30 pm, 6:15 pm, 7 pm, 7:45 pm
Saturday, October 05, 2019 at 5:30 pm, 6:15 pm, 7 pm, 7:45 pm
17th Annual Sebastopol Cemetery Walk
Meet at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 500 Robinson Road (off Bodega Ave.), Sebastopol, CA
The evening begins with a soup, salad, antipasto, and bread supper held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sebastopol. Plenty of parking is available at the church. Please arrive at least 15 minutes before your showtime. After supper, your group will be led to Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Cemetery by a tour guide, accompanied by the very popular Hubbub Club, who describe themselves as “a cross between a New Orleans marching band and a Fellini movie.” At the cemetery, your tour guide will lead you through the luminary-lit route.
Admission: $45.00 ($48.24 w/service fee)
Tickets: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4290773

Saturday, October 5, 2019 from 9 am-noon
Volunteer at the Presidio Pet Cemetery
667 McDowell Avene, San Francisco, CA 94129
The Presidio Pet Cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of the faithful companions of the military families who lived at the Presidio when it was an Army post. The pet cemetery has been closed off for almost 10 years in order to protect it during the Doyle Drive replacement project, but it will reopen to the public very soon. Help us get the pet cemetery in tip-top condition by joining us to paint its brand-new fence!
Admission: This volunteer event is free and open to all ages. Space is very limited, so registration is required. For questions, please email volunteer@presidiotrust.gov.
More info: https://www.presidio.gov/events/volunteer-at-presidio-pet-cemetery

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 10 am
Exploring Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 94611
Docent-led tour Oakland’s lovely Mountain View Cemetery by Barbara Gibson.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Saturday, October 12, 2019 from 10 am-2 pm
Alhambra Cemetery Potter’s Field Clean Up
211 Foster Street, Martinez, CA 94553
The Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, established in 1851, has a rich history.  Pay your respects to the many people buried in the cemetery’s potter’s field by helping to clean up debris and remove weeds from the graves of those who built our communities: laborers, restaurant staff, railroad workers, farmers, and veterans. We will also prepare the Chinese Funerary Burner site for future excavation and restoration. Wear comfortable clothes, gloves, and protective eyewear. Lunch for volunteers is generously provided by E Clampus Vitus.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.martinezcemetery.org/2019-fall-cemetery-cleanup.html

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 11 am
Trolley Tour of the Eastside, Westside, and Hillside of Cypress Lawn
1370 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014
Docent Terry Hamburg guides a tour of beautiful Cypress Lawn that will last about two hours and includes refreshments. The state-of-the-art trolley is heated and air-conditioned. Each tour will have a $50 raffle prize.
Admission: Free. Trolley capacity is 24 riders, so RSVPs are required. Call 650.667.7404 for reservations.
More info: https://www.cypresslawn.com/events/2019/10/trolley-tours-general-excursion-eastside-westside-hillside-2/

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 6-7 pm
Halloween Costume Parade 2019
Meet at Sterling Park Recreation Center, 427 F Street, Colma, CA 94014
Join us on this Halloween Adventure as we parade and trick or treat from the Sterling Park Recreation Center to the Italian Cemetery. The parade will begin promptly at 6:15 pm at Sterling Park. Don’t forget to wear your best Halloween costume.
Please register by October 9th, 2019 to ensure we have enough goodies for everyone! For more information: (650) 985-5678.
Admission: Colma resident: $1 per youth
Non-resident: $5 per youth
More info: https://www.colma.ca.gov/event/halloween-costume-parade-2019/

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 7-9 pm
Cinema at the Italian Cemetery
Italian Cemetery, 540 F Street, Colma, CA 94014
Join us for an evening under the stars. Bring your blankets and pack a picnic for the family. Movie screening will be held outdoors on the Italian Cemetery Mausoleum lawn. We will host fun pre-movie activities, including music and a kids’ craft station. We will have a small snack bar on site, serving popcorn, candy, and hot chocolate.
Admission: free. Please call (650) 985-5678 to sign up and find out what the movie is.
More info: https://www.colma.ca.gov/event/cinema-at-the-cemetery-2019/

Saturday, October 19, 2019 from 9 am-noon
San Lorenzo Cemetery Clean Up and Open Day
Usher Street and College Street, San Lorenzo, CA 94580
Drop by to help preserve our local historic cemetery. Bring gloves, rakes, and water. A hat, sunscreen, eye protection, and study shoes are recommended. The cemetery will also be open during this time for the public to visit the grounds and ask questions.
More info: https://www.haywardareahistory.org/calendar/2019/10/19/cemetery-clean-up-amp-open-day

Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 9 am-noon
Volunteer at the Presidio Pet Cemetery
667 McDowell Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129
The Presidio Pet Cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of the faithful companions of the military families who lived at the Presidio when it was an Army post. The pet cemetery has been closed off for almost 10 years in order to protect it during the Doyle Drive replacement project, but it will reopen to the public very soon. Help us get the pet cemetery in tip-top condition.
Admission: This volunteer event is free and open to all ages. Space is very limited, so registration is required. For questions, please email volunteer@presidiotrust.gov.
More info: https://www.presidio.gov/events/volunteer-at-presidio-pet-cemetery-2019-10-19

Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 10 am
History Hike from Bothe-Napa Valley State Park to Bale Grist Mill State Historical Park
3801 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515
In the past, millers, preachers, teachers, and survivors shared a common thread in the history of the Bale Grist Mill and Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Discover their connection on this hike and learn a bit about natural history, too. You will be led by a park naturalist to the pioneer cemetery and the site of Napa’s first church. After a 1.2-mile hike, you will arrive at the Bale Grist Mill during Old Mill Days, where you can see how pioneers milled grain in the 1800s and join in the harvest-inspired festivities.
Admission: free
More info: https://napaoutdoors.org/parks/bothe-napa-valley-state-park/3rd-saturday-hikes/

Saturday, October 19, 2019 at 10 am
Symbolism Tour of Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 94611
Docent Sandy Rauch leads a tour focusing on the memorial symbolism in Oakland’s lovely Mountain View Cemetery.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Saturday, October 19, 2019 from 10:30 am-noon
Petalumans of Yesteryear present their annual Cypress Hill Cemetery Walk
430 Magnolia Ave, Petaluma, CA 94952
The annual “The Lives of the Petaluma Pioneers” fundraising tour begins at the Cypress Hill Cemetery office parking lot. After a greeting by Isaac Wickersham (buried here), groups will be escorted to the gravesites of Captain Tom Baylis, Isaac Garrett Wickersham, Mr. And Mrs. Edward Spalding Lippitt , Mrs. Henry (Addie) Atwater, the McNear family, & William Howard Pepper. The tour concludes inside the Cypress Hill columbarium designed by Brainerd Jones, as narrated by Lyman C. Byce (also buried here).
Admission: $15 + service fee
Tickets: https://cemeterytour2019.brownpapertickets.com/

Friday, October 25, 2019 from 7–10:30 pm
Ghosts of Dublin Pioneer Cemetery tour
Dublin Heritage Park & Museums, 6600 Donlon Way, Dublin, CA 94568
Event is recommended for ages 8 and up. Cemetery tours departing at 10 pm are reserved for 14+. Take a flashlight tour through Dublin’s historic Pioneer Cemetery, where Dublin’s buried past comes alive. Hear haunting stories of ghosts thought to be lurking in Dublin, including reports of recent findings by local paranormal researchers. See ghostly images of long-dead pioneers in Old St. Raymond Church. The tour includes a walk through the Kolb House, where you may have to look twice at the eerie shadows in the corners. Make your way through the dark and creaky 162-year-old Murray School House with only your flashlight to guide you. Fortify yourself with hot cider and cookies in the Sunday School Barn. Tours last approximately 1 hour. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress warmly. Rain or shine.

Admission: Tickets are $14. One (1) ticket per person. Space is limited and this event will sell out. Purchase your ticket early.
More info: https://dublin.ca.gov/calendar.aspx?PREVIEW=YES&EID=4676

Saturday, October 26, 2019 at 10 am
Historic Irvington Cemetery Tour
41001 Chapel Way, Fremont, CA 94538
Join us for a tour of Irvington Memorial Cemetery, founded in 1845 — before the Gold Rush! Hear and discuss the stories of local pioneers. The tour starts promptly at 10 am.
Admission: free, with donations to support the Washington Township Museum of Local History gladly accepted.
More info: https://museumoflocalhistory.org/

Saturday, October 26, 2019 at 10–11 am
Union Cemetery Tour – Halloween Stories (tentative)
Watch their website from more information.
More info: http://www.historicunioncemetery.com/JoinUs.shtml

Saturday, October 26, 2019 from 10 am–5 pm
Ghost Tour: Shipwrecks of Point Reyes
Bear Valley Picnic Area, 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station, CA
Do the ghosts of doomed sailors haunt Point Reyes’ treacherous shores? We’ll pay our respects at a historic cemetery and travel out to the sites of myriad maritime tragedies, seeking personal connection to long lost ships and those who wait to tell their stories from the bottom of the sea. This class will be instructed by Frank Binney. Youth ages 12 and up are welcome with adult supervision.

Admission: $75 for non-members. Registration is required online prior to the event in order to limit class size. If sales have ended, but you would like to attend, contact us at fieldinstitute@ptreyes.org.
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ghost-tour-shipwrecks-of-point-reyes-tickets-59368253043

Saturday, October 26, 2019 at noon-3pm
14th Annual Pumpkin Festival at Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 94611
Celebrate Halloween at our fun-filled pumpkin patch meadow, with free pumpkins, activities, onsite food trucks, and treats for the kids!
Admission: free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Friday, November 1, 2019 at 10 am until Sunday, November 3, 2019 at 5 pm
Bouquets to the Dead 2019
90 First Street W, Sonoma, California 95476
Local artists and folk honor their dead and our ancestors at Sonoma Mountain Cemetery for Dia de los Muertos, All Saints Day, and Samhain with a processional from the square. Come one and come all!
Admission: Free
More info: https://allevents.in/sonoma/bouquets-to-the-dead-2019/200017964259018

Friday, November 1 to Saturday, November 30, 2019
Fall Foliage Display at Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Ave, Oakland CA 94611
Stop by and admire the colorful leaves of our redwood and oak trees.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 10 am-noon
Walking Tour of Old St. Mary’s Cemetery
Meet at the St. Joseph Family Center, 7950 Church Street, Gilroy, CA 95020
The walking tour of Gilroy’s historic Old Saint Mary Cemetery lasts approximately two hours. Reservations are recommended but not required.  To make reservations or for more information call the Gilroy Museum at (408) 846-0446.
Admission: free
More info: https://www.gilroyhistoricalsociety.org/calendar/2019/11/2/walking-tour-old-saint-mary-cemetery

Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 10 am-1:30 pm
Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead Mountain Cemetery Tour
Meet at the Overlook Trail Kiosk, 90 First Street West, Sonoma, CA
Please join us for a lively, informative walk through our historic Mountain Cemetery with amateur historian Fred Allebach. Meet cowboys and Indians, ranchers and real estate tycoons, farmers and farriers, carpenters and stone masons, quarrymen, grocers, butchers, bakers, maybe even a candlestick maker.
Admission: $35
Tickets: https://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/eventReg?oeidk=a07egi5n2nme0c94270&oseq=&c=&ch=

Saturday, November 2, 2019 from 12:30 pm-1:30pm
Día de los Muertos
Celebrate the dead with an all-ages festival throughout Downtown Santa Cruz, created in partnership with Senderos. Experience vibrant dance performances. Get your face painted. Indulge in delicious food. Join in on a procession to enjoy more dance, music, and outdoor altars at Evergreen Cemetery. The event will be MC’d by Adriana Frederick-Sutton from Univision. More details are coming.
Admission: free
More info: https://santacruzmah.org/events/d%C3%ADa-2019/2019/11/02

Sunday, November 3, 2019 from 11-3 pm
Haunting Bike Tour of Colma Cemeteries
Bring your bike and meet at the Colma BART Station at 11 am, then take a spirited tour of several massive cemeteries where famous San Franciscans are buried. We’ll visit Woodlawn, Home of Peace and Hills of Eternity, Cypress Lawn, and Holy Cross. We return to Colma or South SF BART together at end of tour. RSVP at shaping@foundsf.org
Admission: We request a $20-50 sliding scale donation for our bike tours (but are flexible and you can pay less–or more!–as you see fit), benefiting Shaping San Francisco.
More info: http://www.shapingsf.org/tours.html#colma

Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 11 am
Kings All – Railroaders Miners & Men of the Forest
Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 1370 El Camino Real, Colma, CA 94014
Professor Michael Svanevik guides a trolley tour of historic Cypress Lawn that will last about two hours and includes refreshments. The state-of-the-art trolley is heated and air-conditioned. Each tour will have a $50 raffle prize.
Admission: Free. Trolley capacity is 24 riders. RSVPs are required. Call 650.667.7404 for reservations.
More info: https://www.cypresslawn.com/events/2019/11/trolley-tours-kings-railroaders-miners-men-forest/

Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 10 am
Exploring Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 94611
Docent-led tour Oakland’s lovely Mountain View Cemetery by Jane Leroe.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Saturday, November 23, 2019 at 10 am
Olmsted & Oakland Notables Tour of Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 94611
Tour of Mountain View Cemetery led by docent Chris Pattillo, focusing on its design by Frederick Law Olmstead and the Oakland notables buried here.
Admission: Free
More info: https://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/events/upcoming-events

Canceled due to restoration work:

Saturday, October 12, 2019 from noon-2 pm
Historic Mare Island Navy Cemetery Tour
Saturday, November 9, 2019 at noon-2 pm
Historic Mare Island Navy Cemetery Tour

Cemetery of the Week #167: Oak Hill Memorial Park

IMG_8984Oak Hill Memorial Park
300 Curtner Avenue, San Jose, California 95125
Phone: (408) 297-2447
Officially Founded: 1847
Size: more than 300 acres
Number of interments: approximately 20,000

Founded on November 29, 1777, San Jose was the first secular settlement in Northern California. Its original purpose was to raise crops for San Francisco’s Presidio. The first settlers in the pueblo of San Jose were Spanish soldiers who came up from Mexico with Juan Bautista de Anza.

As early as 1839, pueblo officials had started burying their dead under oak trees on the northern side of the San Bautista Hills. By the time surveyor Chester Lyman and Captain William Fisher of Rancho Laguna Seca chose a tract nearby for an official graveyard, none of the original markers remained. Lyman measured 25-1/4 acres for the Protestant and Catholic cemetery, along with four acres for a potter’s field.

The first recorded burial in this graveyard took place on November 22, 1849 when one of the children of Captain Julian Hanks was laid to rest. That wooden marker is thought to have been destroyed when a grass fire swept across the graveyard.

The burying ground was simply called the graveyard until December 6, 1858, when it was finally designated Oak Hill Cemetery. The name changed again in 1933, when the city of San Jose sold it to A. J. Hocking. He renamed it Oak Hill Memorial Park. Under the Hocking family management, a crematorium and the Parkview and Azalea Terraces mausoleums were built and the Garden of the Apostles and Chapel of Oaks were added. The cemetery was sold to a private corporation in 1986. Throughout the years, land has been added several times. Currently, the cemetery encompasses more than 300 acres.

Ygnacio Bernal, grandson of Joaquin Bernal, was born on his grandfather’s Rancho Santa Teresa land grant in Santa Clara County in 1841. Ygnacio spoke four languages and fathered nine children with Jesusita Patron, who lies beside him now.

Maggie Caldwell Fox was the first child born to Anglo-American immigrants who came overland to Santa Clara County. She was born in a damp barn at Mission Santa Clara in February 1847 and died in 1885.

Representatives of almost every early emigrant party — Murphy, Townsend, Schallenberger, Reed, Donner, Branham, etc. — rest at Oak Hill, in the oldest secular burial ground in continual use in California. The first overland party brought Josiah Belden, Grove Cook, Peter Springer, and Charles Weber to the Santa Clara Valley in 1841.

Rhoads_Townsend_SanJose.jpgThree years later, Dr. John Townsend led the first party of wagons to come over the Sierra mountains in 1844. He was the first licensed physician in San Francisco, where he also served as the city’s fourth alcalde (mayor during the Mexican era) before he caught Gold Fever. Townsend was also a founding member of the San Jose Lodge 10 of the Free and Accepted Masons. While nursing victims of a cholera epidemic in San Jose in 1850, he and his wife Elizabeth perished.

Several survivors of the Reed-Donner Party wagon train are buried at Oak Hill. James Frazier Reed was one of the party’s leaders, until he killed a teamster on the Humboldt River. The group banished him, so he went on alone to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California. Once he heard the Donner Party was trapped in the Sierras by an early snowfall, Reed attempted to return to the party to resupply them, but was unable to reach them. He returned to the mountains the following February to help with the rescue. His wife and stepchildren survived the winter. After they settled in San Jose, Reed donated $34,000 in 1849 to provide a capitol building for the first State Legislature when the state capitol was San Jose. Reed’s daughter Patty, who was 8 at the time of the Donner Party rescue, took part in the 1918 dedication of the Pioneer Monument at Donner Lake.

IMG_8986George Donner Jr. was ten when his parents died in the Sierras during the winter of 1846-7. San Franciscans bought a lot for the boy, who grew up to be a grain dealer and joined San Jose’s volunteer fire department. He died in 1874 and is buried with his four-year-old son Albert. For many years, George’s grave was unmarked, but a large granite monument to the Donners stands there now.

Also formerly buried in an unmarked grave is Anna Maria Bascom, who came to San Jose with her husband (another physician) via wagon train in 1849. She sewed together sheets of denim to make walls for a school and a church. Later, she ran a boarding house where all the politicians stayed while San Jose served as the state capitol. The Bascoms brought the first piano to San Jose. Several sources describe how Native Americans and those of Spanish heritage stood around outside the house to listen to the piano being played. Bascom Road was named for them.

Joseph E. Rucker and his brother drove 200 cows from Missouri to California in 1852. The cattle, which they’d bought for $10 a head, sold for $150-200 each in California. Joseph invested his earnings in real estate. His son Samuel, also buried here, served in the California legislature and was elected mayor of San Jose in 1889.

IMG_9002Mountain Charlie, whose real name was Charles H. McKiernan, built most of the early roads into the Santa Cruz Mountains and ran a stagecoach line between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. He controlled lumber mills, orchards, vineyards, and raised sheep and cattle. On May 8, 1854, Charlie got between a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs. Although she crushed the front of his skull in her jaws, he survived the attack. For the rest of his life, he wore his hat pulled low to disguise this disfigurement. He died of stomach cancer 38 years after the attack. Charlie’s grave is a California Registered Point of Historical Interest. The plaque remembers him as the “most colorful of all characters in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

Belle Butler, who staked the claim for the Mizpah Mine — the richest silver mine in Nevada — sold her stake for $338,000. She is buried under a large heavy granite pillar with her daughter Lotty. During her life, Belle was known as the Angel of Charity.

In 1852, Frenchman Charles Lefranc planted grapes along the Guadalupe River on land that became New Almaden Vineyard. His vineyard combined cuttings he’d brought from France with cuttings from General Vallejo’s vineyards north of San Francisco. By 1862, Lefranc was producing wine commercially. In 1887, he came out of his cellar to find a team of horses running amok. While trying to stop them, he was trampled. His injuries led to his death several days later.

Paul Masson emigrated to the US in 1878. He worked in Lefranc’s vineyards and married Lefranc’s daughter Louise. Masson and his brother-in-law Henry experimented with bubbling wines. By the end of the 19th century, Masson was America’s premier champagne producer. The Paul Masson winery in Saratoga is now known as the Mountain Winery, which offers an annual summer concert series.

Jacob Rich, native of Poland, came to San Jose in 1853 and opened a tailor shop. In 1877, he established a public horsecar line. Sixteen years later, he controlled 17 miles of electric streetcar lines. He helped to organize Temple Bickur Cholin, San Jose’s original Jewish synagogue.

Judge David Belden moved to San Jose in 1871, in time to be appointed to the new Twentieth Judicial District. He presided over the trial of bandit Tiburcio Vasquez in January 1875. Afterward, Belden served on the State Supreme Court until his death in 1888.

German immigrant Henry Rengstorff owned six farms and orchards around Santa Clara County. He raised grain, hay, and fruit. The thoroughfare in Mountain View that bears his name used to run to Rengstorff’s Landing, one of many landings along the bay. His monument combines a gothic aedicule over a shrouded urn.

Charles H. Harmon came west at the age of 15 and soon began to paint. His panorama of the Santa Clara Valley orchards in bloom was displayed at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Some of his paintings have been collected by the San Jose Historical Museum.

Internationally known painter Astley D. M. Cooper painted Native Americans and Western scenes. His huge canvases adorned saloons during the 31 years he lived in San Jose. Several paintings are in the collection of the San Jose Historical Museum. His painting “Trilby” sold for $62,000.

Frank H. Holmes and his brother Arthur were the first to drive an automobile in — and back out — of Yosemite. They made the trip in 1901 in Frank’s Stanley Steamer. Frank built automobiles in San Jose until the 1906 quake destroyed his factory. After that, he concentrated on growing and packing prunes.

Mary Ward became California’s first registered female embalmer in 1890. She and her husband William established their mortuary in 1888. She died in 1937.

Mrs. Catherine Smith advocated suffrage for all adult citizens, regardless of gender. She founded the San Jose Woman’s Club in 1894 and served as its president for ten years. She died in 1904. Her family monument is a square monument topped with a shrouded urn.

Buried in an unmarked grave is Carrie Stevens Walter, who wrote and edited the Santa Clara, a monthly magazine of short stories and essays. In 1900, she was the only woman on the Save the Redwoods Committee of the newly formed Sempervirens Club, which established Big Basin State Park and saved redwoods throughout the state. She lies beside her 19-year-old son in the Walter family plot.

In 1909, Charles David Herrold opened the world’s first broadcasting station in San Jose. His station took the call letters KWQ in 1921, before becoming KCBS. He died in 1948.

Much of this information was inspired by from A Walk Through the Past: San Jose’s Oak Hill Memorial Park. My review is here. You can buy your own copy on Amazon here.


Just a pretty view in Oak Hill, with the hills south of San Jose in the distance.

A Walk Through the Past

A Walk through the Past: San Jose's Oak Hill Memorial ParkA Walk through the Past: San Jose’s Oak Hill Memorial Park by Patricia Loomis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

California’s oldest secular cemetery is the pioneer burial ground of Northern California’s largest city. The huge cemetery is a lively place on a weekend, but has been heavily vandalized in the past. Buried here are George Donner, who was 10 when he survived the harrowing winter in the Sierras but went on to raise a family of his own. Also here is Mountain Charley, a mountain man who survived being mauled by a mama grizzly in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He lost an eye, but lived 30-some more years. More recently, George Merino, proclaimed king of the West Coast gypsies, was buried here in 1975.

This is the perfect cemetery guidebook. It has a map, short biographies of the permanent residents, photos of them, their graves, and often their property or other historical ephemera that illustrates their lives and contributions.

The only issue I have is that its organization is confusing. Rather than starting with the oldest graves in the pioneer section, that section comes last. I think the sections are arranged in order from closest to the gate on back to the fence, but it means you have to wait to get to the most interesting stories. That’s minor, though, considering how fascinating everything else is.

You can get your own copy of the book at Amazon.

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