Cemeteries Alive With History
My anchor’s cast on a rope Where I shall never rest --1907 epitaph, Julian
Haven of Rest Cemetery
“Your grave is the only piece of real estate you ever really own.” --Patricia Lowry, Carlsbad
professor and local historian
The quiet is huge in an old cemetery in autumn.
The wind scours trees planted when ancestors were children, dropping the papery leaves to scrabble along the tombstones. There may be a burst of birdsong or the rustling of a lizard in the undergrowth, but not much else.
Loudest are our mortal thoughts, especially during our annual ruminations on life, death and the hereafter: Halloween (Saturday); the Day of the Dead (Sunday) and All Souls Day (Monday). Observed or not, these cultural and religious rites make fall an appropriate season to venture into North County’s graveyards of longstanding.
Far from being morbid, a cemetery visit can be a literal step back in time. A short walk reveals a clear distillation of the people who lived and made local history: Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, Europeans, farmers, gold miners, stagecoach drivers, real estate tycoons, schoolteachers, chicken ranchers, shopkeepers, children and untold others.
A cemetery also speaks volumes about those of us left behind.
Among the ceramic figurines and silk flowers placed by survivors are tokens both poignant and playful. On an infant’s grave at Oak Hill Memorial Park in Escondido, a tiny stuffed bear sits with its faded arms outstretched and empty. At Haven of Rest in Julian, a store-bought birthday card rests against a headstone, wishing the occupant below “a wonderful year and happiness always.”
Patricia Lowry of Carlsbad is a confirmed cemetery-goer. An assistant professor in education at the University of San Diego, she has done extensive research on the history of Oceanside’s Mission San Luis Rey and its churchyard cemetery.
“People are always fascinated by mortality and the quest for immortality,” said Lowry, who plans to be buried at San Louis Rey herself. But she theorizes that the strongest attraction may have to do with the unique part a burial ground plays in the human life cycle.
“The cemetery is the last place you go before you go somewhere else,” she said.
Most area cemeteries permit visitors during daylight hours, provided they observe posted rules and maintain a respectful demeanor. An advance trip or phone call to the community’s historical society or museum can help serious history buffs put their visit in context.
While North County is dotted with cemeteries of all vintages, the following represent those that are most historic, accessible or just a bit haunting.
1500 Block South Hill St., Oceanside The years have made a lie of Oceanview Cemetery. A century ago, the cemetery and the town of Oceanside were young. There was plenty of Pacific to be seen from the green rectangle facing Hill Street.
But as Oceanside grew and the cemetery began to fill with the town’s earliest residents, the ocean view evolved into a modern jumble: mobile homes; train tracks; a bowling alley and its neon sign for the “Blue Palette Room”; a transmission shop and the nonstop blur of traffic.
It certainly looked different when the Sibley girls were buried there in 1906. Little Myrtle, 6, and her sister, 4-year-old Lorena, died Feb. 24 of that year and still rest side by side, in Row 13, Space 13.
“Apparently they ate poison mushrooms on some kind of family outing,” said Kristi Hawthorne, who is both president of and archivist for the Oceanside Historical Society. “I always think of them when Oceanview (cemetery) comes up.”
The burial ground was formalized March 9, 1895, when the Oceanside Odd Fellows Cemetery Assn. filed articles of incorporation with the county clerk. But according to George Hubbard, manager of nearby Eternal Hills Memorial Park, the cemetery was sold about 1930 to an investor named Malcolm Smith.
“He had the land resurveyed, and work began on the mausoleum, but he somehow lost his money,” Hubbard said. “The cemetery was essentially on its own until 1953, when we said we would work with the city on it.”
Since Oceanview is a non-endowment cemetery with no funding for maintenance, it has been under the unofficial umbrella of Eternal Hills ever since. Hubbard arranges for maintenance crews and irrigation, and honors reservations held by some longtime residents for now-rare burials. Oceanview has seen only one burial since 1991.
Much of the cemetery’s upkeep is unofficial, and has been taken on by Oceanside natives Keith and Dorothy Martin, whom Hubbard credits for the graveyard’s recent tidiness.
The Martins engage in a constant battle with gophers, grass, and litter to keep up the cemetery not only because they have many relatives there, but friends, classmates and memories as well.
“We have cut back to just three days a week, so we finish up one end and start right in at the beginning,” said Dorothy, 70.
“We have known so many of these people, we just walk through and suddenly we find ourselves talking about them,” she said. People like Clay Jolliff (1877-1958), who had a clock and jewelry shop just a short way down Hill Street.
“Keith bought his first gift for me, a locket, from Mr. Jolliff,” Dorothy said. “I still have it.”
The “Dolly Ladies” are there, Prufert sisters Julie E. (1857-1939) and Marie C. (1863-1948), whom Dorothy recalled as “two diminutive ladies who sold handiwork and some dolls. It was always a treat to window shop or go in.”
Some headstones speak volumes. The Grate family monument is prominent near the cemetery’s wrought-iron entry:
“William G. Grate, Served 4 y’s in the Civil War, Co. D. 19 O. Inft., Nov. 25, 1901, aged 59 years. In God We Trust.” To the other side, testimony to a long widowhood: “Mary A. Grate, Wife of W.G. Grate, May 25, 1934, Aged 92 years.”
And to a third side, a place where the husband and wife probably stood together one sad summer day almost 100 years ago: “Eva E. Grate, Daughter of W.G. and M.A. Grate, July 24, 1896, Aged 26 Years.”
Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery
4050 Mission Ave., Oceanside The records from nearly 200 years ago are nearly nonexistent, but this adobe-walled cemetery is easily the oldest community burial ground in North County.
“The mission itself dates from 1798, so it is pretty safe to assume burials began about then,” said Mary Whelan, curator for the mission’s museum. “We do know a number of Indians attached to the mission had been buried by 1830.”
It was then that Franciscan Father Antonio Peyri oversaw construction of a massive monument to the Luisenos, who had helped build and maintain the largest California mission. The whitewashed structure is still the graveyard’s dominant feature.
After the Indians came Spaniards, who held sizable land grants in the surrounding areas, followed by the newly independent Mexicans (who privatized the mission in 1846), then the early American and European settlers from Holland, Ireland and Italy.
“Everyone is there--the Indians, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the gringos--the whole parade,” said Patricia Lowry, a professor and local historian. “It is a natural historical landmark.”
The mission grounds and cemetery bounced back from a 50-year period of neglect, from 1846, when Pio Pico bought it, to 1896, when Father Joseph O’Keefe arrived to begin putting the mission whole again.
“We have a painting from 1897 showing sheep grazing in the cemetery,” said curator Whelan, “so it hadn’t been terribly well-kept.”
Today, a part-time maintenance crew keeps the oldest and newest sections equally trim and lush. The main access is a simple wooden gate set under a morbid but fanciful skull-and-crossbones arrangement that is the source of some contention.
Some say the rather macabre frill was a devout friar’s attempt to sober the thoughts of those who passed beneath it. Others maintain that it is a remnant from the 1950s, when the Walt Disney Co. used the mission and cemetery as a backdrop for some episodes of the popular “Zorro” TV series, starring Guy Williams.
There are some well-known names engraved in stone here. The cemetery is the final resting place of Petra Carillo (1850-1913), a relative of the late film star Leo Carillo, who was said to be a frequent visitor.
Other occupants prominent in their day include Magdalena Pico (1872-1901), sister of Pio Pico, California’s last governor under Mexico, as well as the descendants of Spanish land grant holders such as the Marrons, the Serranos and the Osunas.
But for every familiar name, there also are a dozen unknowns, and a not few unlucky. Rounding out one of the cemetery’s older sections is a plot containing two sisters-in-law, each named Mary Hermens. Although they were born 10 years apart, both died on Jan. 27, 1916. The two drowned while trying to scape in a horse and buggy as a flash flood swept through the San Luis Rey Valley.
“We have the names you would expect to see, like the Marrons and the Lusardis, but we would also like to hear from the descendants of someone who was, say, a baker or candlemaker for the Franciscans, people we may not know anything about,” said Ed Gabarra, mission administrator.
San Luis Rey’s rich history, combined with a cemetery expansion that will open the facility to everyone, sealed Patricia Lowry’s eventual fate.
“I will be buried there because the mission is timeless,” she said. “And everyone wants to be part of something eternal, don’t they?”
San Marcos Cemetery
1021 Mulberry Drive, San Marcos It is one of Madeline Fulton’s earliest memories.
She is all dressed up, as are the other little girls. They are carrying baskets of flowers and tiny American flags. Maj. Merriam is there, a proud veteran of the Civil War looking impressive in his dress uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic.
“I can’t say if it was Armistice Day or Memorial Day, but there was a gathering at the cemetery,” she recalled. “All the girls of my Sunday school went from grave to grave, putting flowers and flags down for the soldiers.”
Now in her late 70s, she has been to the cemetery on many other occasions, but her opinion hasn’t changed.
“It is beautiful,” she said.
Three generations of her family are there, on a gentle grassy slope lined with orderly processions of granite markers and stones. Subdivisions are creeping up the Twin Oaks Valley and over from Mission Avenue, but it is still a place apart--9 manicured acres dotted with old shade trees.
The caretaker points out the oldest stone in the place, belonging to Nellie Littlefield.
She died young, even for her day. She was only 30 when she passed away in the settlement of San Marcos on Aug. 1, 1893. Until her death, many area ranching families buried their own in simple wooden caskets, finding suitable sites on their homesteads and setting to work with pick and shovel.
But for reasons lost to history, Nellie’s death prompted an outcry for a community burial ground. The Littlefields, working with other local families, formed the San Marcos Cemetery Assn., and on March 10, 1894, the local paper announced its town cemetery was “open for business.”
Nellie’s white stone, now tinged with moss, stands in the heart of the cemetery.
Among her permanent neighbors are such early settlers as the Nordhals, the Fultons, the Astlefords, the Bordens, the Barhams and other families who today might best be known for the local streets bearing their names.
“Almost everybody did a little ranching, either cattle or dairy, or a little farming and haying--maybe they had a special trade or a store, but it was mainly agricultural,” said Stan Mahr, 79, of San Marcos.
His grandparents, Michael and Maria Mahr, homesteaded the land where Cal State San Marcos now stands. They are buried at the cemetery; so is Stan’s father, Louis. (His mother, Hilma, just celebrated her 100th birthday).
Because of his many years of service on the cemetery’s board, Stan Mahr has a unique honor--a new wall of cremation niches named after him. “I guess there aren’t too many people with their names in a cemetery who aren’t there full-time,” Mahr said.
Oak Hill Memorial Park
2640 Glen Ridge Road, Escondido It was a crisis they should have seen coming, but Escondido’s founders were busy boosting “The Hidden Valley” as a wonderful place to live; not to die.
Then, in the spring of 1889, two well-known citizens did. The first was Charles E. Thomas--one of five brothers who had formed the Escondido Land & Trust Co. He was soon followed by ex-millionaire businessman Sam Brannan, who had spent his last years living in a tent in a fig grove, destitute.
To make a fitting place for their brother, the Thomases deeded 34 acres at the southeast corner of town for a community burial ground and formed the Oak Hill Cemetery Assn. Thomas and Brannan joined Lena Abbie Hayes, who died just shy of her second birthday in 1878, and whose burial is the first recorded for the cemetery. (In 1890, Brannan’s remains were moved from their pauper’s grave to Mt. Hope Cemetery in San Diego.)
“The original cemetery plan was wheel-shaped with road-paths radiating as spokes from a hub center,” the late Frances Ryan wrote in her memoirs, “Escondido, the Early Years.” “Without a caretaker, neighbors dug graves and people cleaned and decorated their family plots.”
Still visible today are the distinct sections of the cemetery: “Catholic Hill” to the north, dotted with Italian marble monuments and stately angels; “Babyland,” a special children’s area in a quiet corner; Civil War veterans; Mennonites; Masons and Odd Fellows.
Presiding over one of the oldest sections is the hand-hewn monument of William Beven (1830-1894), a local mason who chiseled his own headstone.
Oak Hill, which has expanded to 40 developed acres of its total 76, has proven a popular cemetery for casual visitors. Drawn by stately oaks, liquid ambers and cork trees populated by friendly squirrels, visitors use the public cemetery much like a park--for healthy walks and picnic lunches overlooking the city.
Or they may come to leave a token of affection, as did the woman who on a recent afternoon placed a shiny pinwheel in the grass near a headstone. As she maneuvered her car back toward the land of the living, the pinwheel spun in the breeze and threw hypnotic reflections on a marker that read only “Brother.”
San Pasqual Cemetery
California 78 near San Pasqual Academy, San Pasqual A short detour into this tiny, arid cemetery provides a quick history lesson about this agricultural stronghold near the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
“It is predominantly a few families--the Judsons, the Trussells, the Peets, all the people who came here to farm early on,” said Bud Judson, the vice president-secretary-irrigator of the cemetery association. “We have plot maps, but for the most part we just know who is where.”
His great-grandfather is there--John B. Judson, who came to the area in 1875 and set up a dairy operation.
Burials were, until recent times, a community affair, with family members and neighbors laboring long and hard in the hill’s decomposed granite. Judson said modern burials, which are down to perhaps one a year, are expedited by backhoes or jackhammers.
He can see the old cemetery from his home, and he worries about its future because the descendants of many of those buried there have left the area.
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “Maybe it will really be dust to dust.”
Santa Ysabel Cemetery
California 79 at Santa Ysabel Mission, Santa Ysabel With its shrines, melted candlewax and handmade embellishments on nearly every grave, Santa Ysabel Cemetery is thick with Diegueno Indian tradition.
Set in the Catholic churchyard of an Indian sub-mission, or asistencia, dating from 1818, the cemetery has all the earmarks of a long and hallowed history.
Tiny white seashells, revered for their beauty, are set into intricate rosette patterns on weathered cement crosses. Others gleam with white quartz or broken bits of colored glass worn smooth and jewel-like with age. Survivors with more artistic ingenuity than funds have fashioned crosses from metal irrigation pipe or dressed up plain wooden markers with bright thumbtacks.
“We take care of our own down there,” said 84-year old Florence Ponchetti, one of the tribe’s elders. “We are still doing it in the old way, but it is getting harder. The young people just don’t seem to be interested.”
She and her late husband, Steve, were deeply involved in burial rites for their tribe, which has lived in this high valley in the shadow of Volcan Mountain for many generations. For 35 years until his death in 1984, Steve Ponchetti was the reservation’s prayer leader, its last. A handsome fired clay bust in his likeness by local artist James Hubbell is prominent near the cemetery gate.
“The tradition here was that these men, they were selected to lead the prayers and the songs when someone died, because there wasn’t always a priest around,” said his widow. “We were called all over, from the desert line to San Diego.”
There would be an all-night vigil at the deceased’s home, filled with Spanish hymns and prayer, followed the next day by a Catholic Mass. During a procession from church to gravesite, participants would sing a nine-verse version of “Adoro Ti.” The grave would be blessed and the casket lowered.
“Then, our Indian boys always buried their own, so they would get their shovels,” Ponchetti recalled.
When the burying was done, there would be more singing and prayers while friends and family decorated the grave.
“And then we would go over to the hall, and the family would put out a dinner and thank everyone,” she said. “But the Indians who really believe in all this, they are dying, so I think soon it will all be gone.”
But the cemetery stands. Those buried there are enrolled members of the tribe, either by blood or marriage.
On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, a few survivors will gather in the cemetery to weed and clean it.
And when the night comes, they will light candles and pray over them as they burn away, thinking of those who have gone before.
Haven of Rest
End of A Street, Julian The tourist crowds are thronging Main Street below, happily lining up to buy apple pies, cider and just about anything else the little mountain town has to offer. And somewhere, if his epitaph is to be believed, Frederick August Grand is smiling.
“Father of Apple Days, Oct. 7, 1913; Oct. 13, 1990,” reads the inscription carved into a stately plank of lumber, cut diagonally from a huge pine.
A rustic swath crowning a hillside overlooking town, Haven of Rest harkens back to a more sentimental time in the 1870s.
“Like most small, rural cemeteries, it was put on a hill,” said Dick Zerbe, a charter member of the Julian Historical Society. “People were of a mind that their deceased family members were appreciative of the view.”
“Back in the 1800s, there was no association, no real rhyme or reason,” said Jim Mazzone, president of the volunteer Julian Cemetery Board. “If Aunt Minnie always liked the view from under the pine tree, that is where she went.”
Donated by one of Julian’s founders--Drury Bailey--and several other pioneers, the cemetery eventually was organized and divided into a number of sections and family plots that to this day are set off by small fences, chains and cement borders.
Matters were somewhat complicated in the 1950s, when most of the early plot maps and burial records were lost in a fire.
Fortunately for history buffs, many of the town’s original residents, such as Bailey (1844-1921), rest beneath well-marked headstones. Lured to Julian along with his brothers and cousins by gold, he went prospecting and found the San Diego Mine on March 2, 1870. Five days later, he had another strike, this time the Good Hope Mine. He stayed in the town that had been so lucky for him the rest of his life.
An elaborate 6-foot red granite marker rises in the center of the cemetery in memory of another early settler, Irishman Tom Daley. A bachelor with a thriving meat business in the 1880s boomtown of Julian, he suddenly found himself in the role of father when two local boys, George and Henry Hoskings, were orphaned. A longtime friend of the family, he took them in and raised them as his own until his death in 1900.
Cemetery officials estimate that as many as two-thirds of about 750 burial plots and cremation niches have been filled, with the remainder reserved by longtime residents.
“The people who take the greatest interest are those who aren’t too far away from moving up there,” said Zebe with a wry chuckle.