I was strolling down the street one day…
Ok, it was 2 days ago. I was walking back from the post office when I see an old grave marker in the bushes right by the sidewalk.
The marker is for Edith E. Walker, Born Jan. 20 1853, Died Nov. 20 1920. That would have put her at almost 68 years old. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was still 7 or 8 blocks from home and I couldn’t see carrying this thing the whole way. It is pretty heavy.
This section of sidewalk runs right along side an early 20th Century apartment building. It is owned by a notorious slumlord in town and the place is really nasty. The building is built very close to the property line, so there is maybe 2 feet of dirt in-between the sidewalk and the building. There are just a few poorly cared for bushes in the dirt area and the marker was clearly visible.
I walked home and looked in the phonebook for local cemeteries. There are 2 cemeteries in town but really only one is still in operation. The small one, which is owned by the city is only a few blocks from my house, but in the opposite direction of where I found the grave marker. I don’t think they bury people there any more. The other, larger cemetery is about 5 miles away at the edge of town.
I called the larger one and a young woman answered. When I told her what I found her reaction was one of shock, and without hesitation she said something like, “What?!? Well, bring it to us!”. I was encouraged because you never know when you’re going to get someone who doesn’t give a shit. Her reaction could have been something like, “Well, we’re not missing any, so good luck”.
I got in my car – that would be my new car – and drove back to get it. I fished it out of the bushes and drove it up to the cemetery. This is the first time I had been there. The place is called Ocean View Cemetery, and for good reason. It sits on a high bluff a few blocks from the bay and the view is spectacular. The weather was just as stunning that day. Blue skies, low 70s, and almost no wind.
The narrow road winds its way through the bucolic setting to the Sanctuary and main office. The building was the most uninspiring thing there. It is a long, squat, beige stucco building with a flat roof and no windows. It looked like something built in the 50s. I wasn’t sure where I was going and the first door I entered lead in to the sanctuary. Inside, it was very nice with lots of marble, flowers, and soft lighting.
Outside, in front of the sanctuary there were a half dozen private crypts. Each one was maybe 10X12 feet. They were very nice and very ornate. Lots of molded concrete and marble. They looked like they had been there forever. Then beyond that, the graveyard stretched out before me with the bay and the ocean off in the distance. It was very, very pleasant.
I eventually found the main office. There were two woman there and they just flew in to action as soon as I announced I was the one that called about the grave marker. I’m sure this was the most excitement they had seen in a while. One woman came out to my car to look at it…. Did I mention I was in my new car?….Anyway, the other woman started pulling out these old ledgers of death records to try and find out if Edith was one of theirs.
The ledgers are about 3 feet wide and a foot tall. Each one is broken up alphabetically and lists all of the deaths for a given decade. We looked in the 1920-29 ledger under the “W”s for an Edith Walker and she didn’t show. I took the opportunity to scan the “P”s for a Petch and found nothing there, as well. The penmanship was flawless and all written by the same hand. It was hard to believe it was done 90 years ago because it looked like a very nice calligraphy font printed by a high-end laser printer.
When I got back outside there was a guy from the maintenance department there. He had already pulled the marker out of my new car and it was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup. The 3 of us stood there and speculated as to how it could have ended up at the corner of H and 9th.
The older woman asked where I lived and I told her I owned the big green house at M & 9th. She paused for a second and then asked, “Isn’t there a Vance house right there.” I was impressed. The Vance’s were big wigs in the early history of Eureka. There are a few “Vance Houses” in town and a Vance Hotel (1880s). There was the Vance Mill, etc, etc. I told her the Vance House was at M & 10th and she said, “Oh yes, the Dutch Colonial.” Again, I was impressed. If she had asked if The Petch House was right there I would have been really, really impressed, but she didn’t.
As a side note: The Vance House at M & 10th is where the bottom half of The Frankenstein Hutch came out of. The Vance Hotel is where my 2 medicine cabinets came from.
The maintenance man speculated that the marker was probably the top of a small monument type grave stone because of the way the top was beveled. He pointed out to spot a few hundred yards away were there was a small grouping of monuments. They were all in the 4 to 6 foot tall range. Not really the typical grave stone, but more like small statues. It was hard to tell, but they looked similar to the small private crypts I had passed, so I think they were probably cast concrete with some marble plaques. I’m sure they were over 100 years old.
The maintenance guy went on to explain that this whole area between us and the monuments a few hundred yards away was once filled with these type of grave statuettes. He said it used to all look like The Ferndale Cemetery. It was now all manicured lawn and you could just make out indentations in the ground where grave markers were set a few inches below the level of the grass. All of the monuments, with the exception of the small grouping in the distance were gone.
The Ferndale Cemetery
I asked what happened and he and the woman explained that during the 1950s they ripped out all of the monuments and just set the name plates in the ground to mark the graves. All of the statues were hauled to the back of the cemetery and buried.
I stood there gape mouthed for a second and finally asked why the heck did they do that. There was a brief pause and finally the guy sheepishly said, “It was done for maintenance reasons”. They did it so they could mow the lawn easier. There was a longer pause. We were all thinking the same thing, but nobody said it: What a bunch of narrow minded, short sided, idiots. They ripped out a bunch 100+ year old Victorian grave stones so it would be easier to mow the stupid lawn. Unbelievable.
With that, I wished them luck in trying to find Edith and left.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I was strolling down the street one day…