Tag Archives: Portland cemetery

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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


Cemeteries in Portland?

Can anyone recommend a pretty cemetery to visit in Portland, Oregon in May?