Tag Archives: Santa Rosa cemeteries

Cemetery of the Week #138: Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

View of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

View of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
aka Santa Rosa Pioneer Cemetery
1600 Franklin Avenue, Santa Rosa, California 95404
Telephone: (707) 543-3279 c/o Santa Rosa Recreation, Parks & Community Services
Founded: 1854
Size: 17 acres
Number of interments: approximately 5,500
Open: Daily from 6 AM TO 9 PM Pacific Daylight Time or 6 AM TO 6 PM Pacific Standard Time

The first burial in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery was Thompson Mize, who had recently come to town via wagon train. He drowned in a puddle in a drunken stupor. With his death, the incipient town of Santa Rosa realized they needed a graveyard. Oliver Beaulieu offered a hilly spot far from the edge of town.

Thus founded in 1854, the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery is the final home of whalers, brewers, cattlemen, and the brother-in-law of General Mariano Vallejo who donated land for the city plaza downtown. 250 veterans from the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, both World Wars, and the Korean War rest here.

Bill Montgomery leads a tour of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

The cemetery grew organically for several years. In 1867, it was finally laid out formally, in the style of the “Rural Cemeteries” pioneered by Mount Auburn back east, and grave plots were sold by a cemetery board. Bill Montgomery, who served as docent of the tour I took last Saturday, believes Santa Rosa’s pioneer cemetery might be the first Rural Cemetery to bear the name in California. Antique rosebushes, Naked Lady iris, palm trees, and other plantings still survive from those early days.

The historic plaque just inside the cemetery’s Franklin Avenue gate says that the cemetery “holds the remains of over 5000 citizens hailing from all parts of the United States and various foreign countries.” That number may actually be closed to 5500, as many of the graves are now unmarked. At one point in the past, the city of Santa Rosa burned the brush on the hillside as a way to fight the overgrowth. The burning destroyed all but one of the old wooden grave markers.

Although the cemetery doesn’t boast any big names, it does contain some interesting stories:

Samuel West was a sharpshooter from Tennessee who marched down to New Orleans to fight for Andrew Jackson at Chalmette Plantation in the last major battle of the War of 1812. (In fact, the Battle of New Orleans was fought several weeks after the peace treaty had been signed in Belgium, but word hadn’t reached the combatants yet.) Armed with coon rifles, men from Tennessee caused 4,000 British casualties in the first day of fighting. West and his wife Phoebe came to Santa Rosa by wagon train in 1854 in their 50s.

The Civil War monument

The Civil War monument

A plot near the Franklin gate remembers veterans of the Civil War. It is ringed with cannonballs and sports a Spanish American War cannon, but these are replacements. The original war surplus pieces were melted down as scrap metal during World War II. 188 Civil War veterans are buried throughout the cemetery. Most of them moved to Santa Rosa after the war.

One of those Civil War veterans is Sergeant Thomas Morton Goodman, sole survivor of the Centralia, Missouri Massacre. He and his men had been sent home on leave to Missouri. When the train they were traveling on arrived in Centralia, they found the tracks had been blocked by Bloody Bill Anderson. Anderson ordered the Union soldiers from the train, demanded their uniforms, then insisted the commanding officer step forward. When no one else volunteered, Goodman – not the only sergeant in the group – stepped up, expecting death. As he was led away in his underwear, all 26 remaining men were shot down on the train platform. Eventually, Goodman escaped his captors and lived to write his memoir. After he moved to Santa Rosa, he and his sons worked as blacksmiths.

In 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake leveled the unreinforced masonry buildings of Santa Rosa’s downtown. Because eight square blocks were knocked down, the town has the distinction of being the city most destroyed by an earthquake in US history. 35 victims of the earthquake are buried in the Rural Cemetery, including two paperboys who were crushed by a falling parapet when they rushed out of the Press Democrat office where they had been folding their papers for delivery. A plot with three monuments holds their graves and remembers other victims of the quake.

In 1920, the cemetery was the site of the last documented vigilante hanging in the Western United States. The hanging tree stood just inside the cemetery, but it was taken down soon after the event – but not before people had chipped away its bark and cut down the ropes as souvenirs.

In the 1930s, the Depression forced the cemetery into bankruptcy and it was all but abandoned. Eventually the city of Santa Rosa took responsibility for it in 1979, but matters didn’t really improve until the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery Restoration Committee took over caring for it in 1994.

Rhoads_SantaRosa_1256The Friends of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery recently celebrated 20 years of caring for this beautiful place. The city allocates $5000 a year for maintenance, but all other work in the cemetery is funded by donations or performed by volunteers. The group offers a variety of tours throughout the year.

On June 13, 2014 – Friday the 13th – the Friends are hosting their popular Darkside Tours, lantern-guided night tours which will cover “the murders, suicides, and other horrific events that took place in early Santa Rosa.” The tour, which raises funds for restoration of the cemetery, costs $25. Pre-registration is required.

Useful links:

Santa Rosa City homepage for the Rural Cemetery

PDF of the self-guided tour

PDF for making a donation to or joining the Friends of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

Press Democrat story about the cemetery

Blog post with even more stories from the cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #117: Luther Burbank’s gravesite

The Cedar of Lebanon that stood over Burbank's grave

The Cedar of Lebanon that stood over Burbank’s grave. Vintage postcard from my collection.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
204 Santa Rosa Avenue (Santa Rosa and Sonoma Avenues, Downtown Santa Rosa)
Santa Rosa, California 95404
Telephone: 707-524-5445
Email: BurbankHome@LutherBurbank.org
Date of Burbank’s burial: 1926
Size of the grounds: 1 acre
Number of interments: 5
Open: The Carriage House Gift Shop and Museum is open and walk-in docent-led tours are available April through October. The grounds are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk year-round for self-guided tours and reserved Group and Children’s Tours.
Admission: $2 for ages 12 and up.

THIS WEEKEND December 7 & 8, 2013:  The house and grounds are decorated in Victorian finery for a Holiday Open House.  The details are here.

Inspired by Darwin’s Variations of Animals and Planets under Domestication, Luther Burbank began to experiment by growing potatoes. By age 24, he’d developed the Burbank potato, which is the most widely grown potato in the United States. You’ve undoubtedly eaten hundreds as French fries.

Burbank moved to Santa Rosa, California, fifty miles north of San Francisco, in 1875. He opened a nursery, importing plants from Japan and Australia. His goal was to increase the world’s food supply by selectively breeding plants. Over the course of his experiments, Burbank introduced over 800 new varieties of plants, including more than 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and even hundreds of ornamental flowers. He developed 100 species of plums alone.

In all, the famed horticulturist lived and worked in Santa Rosa for more than 50 years. He said it had the perfect climate: “I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth, as far as Nature is concerned.”

In 1916, Burbank married his 29-year-old secretary. He was 67. They were together ten years before he suffered a fatal heart attack.

On Burbank’s death in 1926 he was buried near his greenhouse on the grounds of his home. The Lewiston Daily Sun reported, “The burial was as simple as the daily routine in the cottage where Burbank lived and worked. No prayers were said aloud at his bier and the stillness of evening in the home was unbroken by funeral orations. Old friends and former fellow workers carried the casket to the grave from the room where Burbank died. A few words were spoken informally by close friends, a song was sung, and the body was lowered to its final resting place.” A Cedar of Lebandon served as both monument and headstone.

Findagrave reports that Madame Dorothy Raegen Talbot, an opera singer and friend of Burbank’s, sang his favorite song at his funeral. She was buried beneath the tree after her death from breast cancer in 1929. Dr. Joseph Hugues Shaw, Burbank’s friend and physician, and local ballet master James Alfonso Kenney were also buried there in the next decade.

In Burbank’s funeral cortege were San Francisco’s Mayor James Rolph Jr., the chancellor emeritus of Stanford University, Mayor Dunbar of Santa Rose, a judge, the superintendent of the Santa Rosa public schools, and a banker.

Judge Ben B. Lindsey of Denver gave a funeral oration at Burbank’s funeral to a crowd that was estimated at 10,000. He expanded on Burbank’s Unitarian rejection of a god of fire and brimstone. He said, “Luther Burbank lives forever in the myriad fields of strengthened grain, in the new forms of fruits and flowers and plants and vines and trees and above all the newly watered gardens of the human mind from whence shall spring human freedom from those earthly fields that shall drive out gods, false and brutal.” Needless to say, the eulogy wasn’t printed in all the papers that carried the story of his burial.

"This rock pool is created in memory to the ingenious plant wizard. This memorial is adjacent to Luther Burbank's home and grave." Vintage postcard dated 1968..

“This rock pool is created in memory to the ingenious plant wizard. This memorial is adjacent to Luther Burbank’s home and grave.” Vintage postcard dated 1968.

The Cedar of Lebanon tree that stood over Burbank’s grave was one he had planted in his front yard, intending from the first that it would serve as his grave monument. These trees can live up to 300 years, but this one developed root disease and had to be felled in 1989.

When his wife Elizabeth died in 1977 — 51 years after her husband — she had to have special permission from the city of Santa Rosa to be buried alongside Luther beneath the Cedar. (Bonita, their dog, is buried there too, according to Permanent Californians.) Permission was probably easier to get since she left the house and gardens to the city as a museum.

Luther Burbank lived in this modified Greek Revival house with his mother Olive from 1884 to 1906. (After 1906, he lived in the larger home he had built across the street, but it was removed in the late 1960s.) After his death in 1926, Elizabeth moved back into the cottage and lived there until her death. Its present furnishings reflect her taste.

The property includes a greenhouse designed and built by Luther Burbank in 1889. The greenhouse includes a replica of his office and contains many of his tools. The carriage house was renovated as a museum in 1986. Changing exhibits Burbank’s life and work.

After the Cedar of Lebanon had to be removed, part of its trunk was shaped into a love seat memorial.  A plaque describes it like this: “This sculpture was made of wood from a Cedar of Lebanon tree that Luther Burbank planted from a seed in the front lawn. Burbank requested that he be buried near his beloved tree, saying, ‘I would like to know that the strength of my body is going into the strength of a tree.’ His request was granted by his widow at Burbank’s death in 1926. Unfortunately, the Cedar suffered from root disease and was felled in 1989. This sculpture signifies a quiet reminder of the bond between Luther Burbank and this historic Cedar of Lebanon tree.”

The Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are located in downtown Santa Rosa, at the corner of Santa Rosa and Sonoma Avenues, across the street from City Hall and Juilliard Park. It has been registered as a national, state, city, and horticultural historic landmark.

Directions: Take Highway 101 north to Yolanda Avenue. Turn left on Santa Rosa Avenue. Go 1.7 miles to the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and Sonoma Avenue.

Useful links:

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens homepage

Newspaper report of Burbank’s funeral

The text of Judge Lindsey’s eulogy

Flowers from Burbank’s funeral