Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gadsden Purchase

Arivaca Cemetery
Out there is a forest of cacti. There are lots of smaller cacti, just large enough to rip you to shreds, but the towering saguaro dominate the landscape, looking like so many Beefeater Guards or hitchhikers out in the middle of the desert. I wasn’t prepared for the extent of the cacti forest nor the amount of growth in general. Interspersed with the cacti are rangy, miserly mesquites with small silver-shaded leaves scrunching niggardly at the sun. It’s not a forgiving landscape, but it teams with life; and that’s not including the people sneaking through from Mexico. If I wasn’t honest, I would tell you about the blistering heat and the rattlesnakes slithering through the sand, but the temperature was in the high-40s when I visited, and the snakes were too stiff to leave their holes. The cacti were out, though, so it was advisable to stay on the path.

This was my first visit to the Southwest, much less the Gadsden Purchase. They play at being Mexican down here and they give their streets and developments Spanish names, like Rancho del Cerro or Paseo de Chino, and they like to deck out in turquoise and silver; but it’s the same people who pretend they’re Hawaiian or Montanan or whereveran. To be fair, I was south of Tucson strung out in a blossoming oasis of old people, tens of thousand of people fifty-five or older. Their favorite sport is bocci where they roll the balls along artificial turf instead of tossing them down the alley. You can play it until you’re almost dead. I’ve never seen such a congregation of white hair in my life. If your spouse dies and you’re fifty-two, you’ve got to pack up and leave. I told you it wasn’t forgiving down here. They have small craft shops in the community centers, and if you’re not a resident, they won’t sell to you. Really. I guess there’s not enough craft to go around. If you want tourist ware, try the Indian lady across the street; she can use the money.

Relationships are complex in the West, no less in Arizona than Oregon. We all have Indians and we all have retirees and we all have Mexicans and we all have aging hippies and we all have ranchers and we all have tourists and we all have miners and we all have meth heads and we all have survivalists. And Mormons; we have Mormons. Blacks and Asians on the Coast. Not all equally distributed, to be sure. Nonetheless, wherever you are, exactly who you are is hard to say. We all want to have a voice.

Elton Waack
A big argument is authenticity: who has a right to what? How long do you have to be here to take part in the discussion? Whose water rights are we talking about? I asked my brother-in-law, where do they get the water for all these subdivisions? As water went, it was warm and slightly sulfurous.

“Oh,” he replied, “they have their own artesian wells; they get it from the aquifer.”

“How long are those wells going to last?” I asked.

“Not as long as they hope.”

And then he talked about how the saguaro are all going to be gone in eighty-years, thanks to global warming. It takes eighty-years for the first arm to begin to appear on a saguaro. Those arms in the air? They’re not hitchhiking; they’re waving goodbye.

Mexicans or Indians, I can’t tell which. They both say they were here before the rest of us. Except the Apache. The Apache came down here in modern times. They let loose after the horse came up from the latifundistas and the gun came down from the couriers de bois. But the question of whose land it is will always resonate. The Mexicans think the whole West Coast is theirs. For them, the border is an inconvenience making it difficult to travel between ancestral lands. Their identity is not tied to a specific spot of land. The Indians, on the other hand, are tied to their reservations whether they live on them or not. Their identity is place-specific. Excepting that now all Indians are Métis, like it or not, and their identity as an Indian is always tenuous and self-defining. Perhaps it’s a matter of language; the Mexicans maintain a national language which unites them all, regardless of their differences at home. At home, regional differences are paramount in self-identity. In America, you’re all Mexican and regional difference are lost on us. Their pan-national language, though, separates them from the mainstream population, which has only a limited window into it. It assumes a form of identity protection in the face of cultural onslaught. The Indian, unfortunately, has nowhere to hide. Even if he or she could remember their native tongue, it would not have been a national tongue; there was none.

Aside from those groups, there are numerous others of many races who have been here for a long time and surely consider themselves as native to the place as anyone else. Their identity comes from where they were born, not where their ancestors were born. And that’s an international human question: what is the relationship between self and place? How many generations do chickens have to lay eggs in the oven before they become buns? Whatever the answer, there’s a lot of crusty folks who are willing to lay their life down to call themselves Westerners.

McGee Ranch Cemetery
The Canadian Métis deal with identity in a reasonable way; the only way any of us can determine identity, really. The Métis are one of three recognized native populations in Canada: the Inuit, the Indians, and the Métis. By definition, the Métis are a mixed breed grouping. In the beginning it was largely East Coast Indians marrying (or whatever) largely French voyageurs; the offspring were Métis. Because they weren’t totally accepted by either the indigenous peoples or the invaders and yet were so numerous, they ended up forming a people unto themselves. They have formal associations and branches all over the country. They like to point out that being a half-breed Canadian is no different from being a half-breed American. It’s their considered opinion that both halves breed. The tricky question is how big does ones Indian half have to be before one qualifies as an Indian? You’d think in this day and age that DNA analysis could pinpoint markers for any tribe in the US, but…

The number is: whatever you want it to be. The import thing, the Métis say, is whether or not you think yourself a Métis. Well, you say, you wouldn’t be asking the question if you didn’t already think you were a Métis; so, is that enough?

No, say the Métis. Other Métis have to say you’re a Métis, too. If all the guys down at the bar say, “Sure, you’re a Métis with the best of us,” you can pick up your feathers at the union hall. Otherwise you might just be a half-breed. Or an octaroon.

The story of the West is the story of waves of immigrants. And I don’t mean since the wagon trains; I mean since forever. The tribes didn’t pick up and start to move only when the Europeans arrived. From language distribution to genotypes to haplo groups to oral and written histories, we know that the Americas, like the rest of the world, have always been in flux. To a certain extent the questions become ones of from where do the invaders come and how long were they there? Conquering and being conquered is the history of the world. From how far away does an invader have to come before they’re considered foreign and not just neighborhood infighters?

Back to me, again. I’m an aging hippie. I permanently moved to the West Coast in 1969 after visiting a couple times in the earlier 60s. Two of my children and all of my five grandchildren have been born in the Pacific Northwest. Where I grew up now exists as a storybook memory. It’s no longer a real place. Oregon is the only place I know. I think I belong here. I think it’s my place. There are a lot of people like me. We all want our voice. We all think we’re native. Who’s to say?

Tumacacori Mission Cemetery
Which made me wonder about the dynamics of Arizona. We were on a back road, returning from the tiny village of Arivaca, when we were stopped by the Border Patrol. No, they didn’t drive up behind us and flip on their lights; they had a regular check-point set up on the road and they were stopping everyone coming through. There were four or five guys, a couple trucks, a shade tent, a huge fan—they say it gets hot—and a barbeque grill set up in the middle of the desert.

“Hi, where you folks coming from?”

Good looking young guys in crisp uniforms. Nobody wore a hat and nobody wore sunglasses. There was no failure to communicate.



Where else? The road doesn’t go anyplace after Arivaca, and Arivaca is hardly a place in itself. There’s nothing out that road but Arivaca.

“Actually, officer, we’re smuggling Mexicans.”

One has to assume it’s working, because illegal immigration has dropped eighty percent in the past half-dozen years. Most experts think a different dynamic is at work and that the Border Patrol is no more effective than ever, but that the number of people trying to cross has dropped. Which, frankly, is more realistic.

Nonetheless, when you count all these random checkpoints, the big permanent checkpoints, the squads of police patrol trucks cruising the highways, and the helicopters lumbering across the Sonoran desert, one has to think one is looking at a growth industry gone mad. Do we really need to arm the border at what cost? Must we try and control the ebb and flow of humanity with guns? Why is violence always our solution?

What worries me more: illegal Mexicans or Goldman-Sachs? How come there are no guns holding off Bank of America? From whom do we need protection?

Arivaca Cemetery
Arivaca is a good place to see one approach. The cemetery has that raucous  Mexican vitality but is equally comfortable welcoming the hippie and the cowboy. Anybody with a hammer and a saw can put up a mausoleum as fancy as the next person’s. I can imagine there’s been any number of parties here. I’d come help decorate the place, if there was a keg of beer. Maybe some tacos. They wouldn’t care if you were an Indian, either. Really, I think you could be a pasty white guy from New Jersey and still be buried here.

McGee Ranch Cemetery
Which is more than one can say for the Tohono O’Odham. Not only do they not want you walking in their cemetery, they don’t want you taking pictures of their cemetery. Even from the road. When I crouched down to take a picture of the “keep out” sign, two pickup trucks did U-turns and admonished me for ignoring the “no photographs” signs. That I hadn’t stepped onto the property didn’t faze them; the signs say “no photographs,” period. It didn’t seem I should argue niceties of the law with them, so I slunk back to the car and took a couple shots from the window as we were leaving. Take that! Now I have a camera full of Indian spirits that I don’t know what to do with.

Tohono O'Odham Cemetery
I made a quick visit to a large cemetery complex of some three or four cemeteries in Tucson, but didn’t begin to have time to do it justice—it demands several days; though my sister and brother-in-law did lead me to a darling ranch cemetery they knew of from having hiked past it with their hiking club, that I had ample time to enjoy: the McGee Ranch Cemetery. The ranch and the larger community of McGee Ranch are where the Sierrita Mountains begin thrusting their bare elbows out of the desert. It gets no lusher as one rises in these mountains. The ranch—the size of which I’ve been unable to pinpoint—has an unusual policy: any blood descendant (of age) of the original McGees is welcome to come to the ranch, carve out their couple acres, and build a home. They don’t care if you’ve been living in Mongolia for two generations, a desert plot awaits you in Arizona. Let me warn you, though. If you bring your wife (or other way around, if it applies) with you and you should happen to die, she’s out of there unless you had kids of age. They’re strict about that sort of stuff down here. At least that’s why I was told. Honest.

The cemetery’s up a draw leading into the mountains and is blocked by a gate. They’re happy to let you visit the cemetery (or they were happy to let us visit the cemetery), but they’d like the courtesy of being asked. Fair enough. Do stop and do ask and do walk the few hundred yards up the dusty road to the cemetery. The road got traffic on it while we were there, but nonetheless was pocked with numerous animal prints: deer, dog, and large cat. Larger than house cat. It’s a busy desert.

Each grave is delineated by a ring on stones, and they march in regular order underneath a canopy of trees. There more than a bit of whimsy and humor here and it’s devoid of excess sobriety. Just the place to visit on a sunny afternoon; provided it’s not too hot. They tell me…

Evergreen Cemetery - Tucson
If you ask me—which you didn’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway—it’s an uneasy truce, this border. I don’t know how long it can last; not forever, that’s for sure. Someone’s going to have to tell these people they’d better pray for cheap desalinization or else they’re going to have to pack up and move home. They should take hints from those ancient dwellings they find down here: civilizations come and go. Mostly go. They dry up and blow away. And if you’re thinking of getting water from the Pacific Northwest? Forget about it; we have fools enough of our own. And don’t think about moving here, either. I just said we have fools enough of our own.

My advice: if you’re going to die in Arizona, head for Arivaca. You’ll find good company there.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Bay City IOOF Cemetery
Empires are quixotic. In and of themselves they are not particularly peaceful. A combination of the tendencies which propels a people to establish an empire, along with the many fronts an empire necessarily has to maintain, ensures that the bigger the empire, the more wars it will engage in. Consider Rome and consider America as two prime examples.

On the other hand, think of America again. Before the advent of America, the country, America the place was a ruthless and dangerous world, a place of a thousand wars. Everyone was more or less permanently at war with everyone else; at least until one got down to the Aztecs. After Western governments appeared, the internal wars all but disappeared. What was left of the Indians after disease ripped through them fought a passionate but hopeless rear-guard action against the government, then it was all over.

I say this, not to promote the U.S. as a harbinger of peace, far from it; but to point out, that, even while empires grow and often engage in violent, inexcusable behavior, their overall effect is to increase the amount of peace in the world and to decrease the chances one has of being the victim of violence. Any kind of violence.

Would I go so far as to say large countries are the cause of increasing peace in the world? Well, they’re one part. America may be fighting on innumerable foreign fronts, but at home she’s been quite for nearly a hundred-and-fifty years. And you can tag on seventy-five years of peace prior to that conflict. Care to compare that nearly two-hundred-and-fifty years with Europe? There’s something to be said for being one country.

But the peace descending on the world is more complex than just that. It may be impossible to find the progenitor of peace, but it’s not so hard to find parallel paths. It’s hard to say that increasing country size causes increasing peace/safety, which may rather be the result of detribalization. Or is there a difference between the two? Would a difference make a difference? One can find many parallels. Violence decreases with education, urbanization, rise in standard of living, automobile use, enhanced communication, birth control, abortion, and additions to the periodic table of elements. Do any of these things have to do with decreasing violence? Yes, to one degree or another, they all do; they are a part of the march of civilization, and it’s the march of civilization which, news media, fundamentalists, and Republicans to the contrary, has made this world an infinitely safer place than the one we inherited. And it’s getting safer every day. Let’s hear it for civilization!

An important concomitant is the rise of secularism and the demise of religion. I know that’s hard to believe in this era of religious fanaticism, but, overall, religion has been steadily losing ground to reason for hundreds of years. And as religions are, by design, separators, not uniters, of people, as the influence of religion wanes, international cooperation gains.

Alrighty then, what, you may ask, does this have to do with cemeteries?

Thought you’d never ask.

A news blip reported in the ICCFA Magazine (June, 2011), a trade magazine for the funeral business: they reported that celebration was taking over from mourning in English funerals. I don’t know that the percentages would be the same, but I’m confident you’d find the same trends in the U.S. (England tends to be more cutting-edge than us when it comes to the art of dying.) It’s not easy to know quite what the British mean by the terms they use, but the general drift is clear: people are lightening up.

The report breaks down funeral styles into “traditional,” 67%; “contemporary,” 21%; and “humanist,” 12%. You’ll have to shove your own definitions into those categories. I’m presuming “humanist” is code for “atheist,” although how that fits with “contemporary” is a little fuzzy. And “traditional” doesn’t necessarily mean “mourning,” as the same article claimed 49% of all funerals as having a “tone [of] celebration rather than mourning.” One can be a dour Christian or a happy one, apparently.

The report went on to mention a few other curious data, such as 31% of funerals “involved personal input from mourners,” and that 35% “involved personalized flowers.” I’m not privy to the difference between personalized and impersonal flowers, but they, evidently, know. If those classifications aren’t slippery enough, they left us with saying 36% of funerals “had purely religious music,” whereas 64% had “contemporary, classical, or a mixture of both.” Again, I’m in the dark as to whether they classified the Beatles as “contemporary” or “classical.”

All I know is that, when you visit a cemetery in Oregon these days, you find surging personalization in tombstone design. Armageddon may be upon us, but it’s not being accompanied by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The spirit of departure these days is less likely to be “Trust in Jesus,” than it is to be as Claude and Frances Friend wrote on their Scottsburg Cemetery stone:

“Tried to leave the woodpile a little higher than we found it.”

Scottsburg Cemetery

Friday, October 7, 2011

Damn Straight

Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH (Photo: Davis Paul Ohm)
I should recuse myself right from the beginning. I’m not a neutral observer. I’ve got a lot of reservations about lawn cemeteries and John Llewellyn, author of A Cemetery Should Be Forever: The Challenge to Managers and Directors (Glendale, CA 1998), manages the cemetery that started that trend: Forest Lawn in California. I’ll extend a further disclaimer that I’ve never been to Southern California and have never set foot inside Forest Lawn. Who knows, I might love the place.

I was handed a copy of this book by Rachel Fox, manager of fourteen pioneer cemeteries for Metro, the local multi-agency operation that handles much civic responsibility here. I was inquiring as to the beginnings of commercial cemeteries: which was first? She thought Llewellyn might have an answer.

But first another story:

A few years back I happened to have a meeting with the manager of River View Cemetery, Portland’s premier “garden” or “rural” cemetery. While modest compared with other cities, our rural cemetery suits us fine. As I was leaving the meeting, I asked the director about the history of River View. I asked specifically about its design: who did it and how did it come about? The director opined that he thought there hadn’t been much planning at all, that they’d simply laid the roads out following the natural contours of the hill. Then he gave me a brochure detailing the history of the cemetery. Sure enough, the brochure commented on the many months of careful planning with landscapers and designers that were spent before any earth was moved. The director had neglected to read his own brochure.

Likewise, despite being seeped in the industry for three generations (his great uncle was Hubert Eaton, the messiah of Forest Lawn), Llewellyn apparently forgot to study his history. As far as Llewellyn is concerned, “the Burial Act of 1855 marked the beginning of cemetery development in Great Britain, although several cemeteries had been established earlier in London by private enterprise”; leaving one with the impression that this is what started it all in America, as well. Even the very invention of cemeteries didn’t impress Llewellyn. In his view, “when Hubert Eaton conceived his ‘memorial-park plan’ in 1917, he transformed the way cemeteries were operated and viewed by society. Up to that point, changes in cemeteries had been slow—evolutionary.” Llewellyn dismisses The roles of Père Lachaise and Mt. Auburn as being “influenced by [the] design” of rural cemeteries. He never mentions Albert Strauch and the creation of the cemetery superintendent position at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, even though a president of Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum wrote the foreword.

Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH (Photo: David Paul Ohm)
The reality is that Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA, a scion of Père Lachaise in Paris, was, in 1831, the first “rural” cemetery in America. Those cemeteries began the rural cemetery movement and could not have been influenced by it. Spring Grove and Albert Strauch made the first restructuring of the rural cemetery with the creation of the superintendent’s position, which he accompanied with design innovations presaging Eaton’s lawn cemetery. The real transformation of American cemeteries was ushered in with the invention of the commercial cemetery, which Llewellyn guesses to be around 1860, a date which seems reasonable. Still, it would be nice to know which cemetery that was, for that was a truly transformative move. That’s when death entered the market place.

A point Llewellyn doesn’t like to dwell on. He could have entitled his book, A Cemetery Is Forever. Instead he chose Should Be. Yeah, they should be; but are they, if they’re a commercial enterprise?

Llewellyn follows David Charles Sloan’s The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History in his classifications of American cemeteries: frontier, domestic, churchyard, potters’ field, municipal, lawn-park, and memorial park. “Frontier” in his definition means roadside grave left by pioneers on their way west. Technically, that’s a “grave site” and not a cemetery. “Lawn-park” and “memorial park” don’t appear significantly different and should probably be lumped together. Potters’ fields are historical appendages and don’t exist anymore outside institutional graveyards, such as asylums or prisons. By “domestic” he means family graveyards; they exist but are not an option for most people. That leaves us with churchyards, municipals, and memorial parks.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA (Photo: friendsofmountauburn)
I’m not sure that’s a helpful enough distinction. I’d argue that the most significant line should be drawn between civic and commercial cemeteries, with churchyards put in a category of their own. I would define “civic” as those cemeteries supported by a tax base, and “commercial” as those supported by corporations. A civic cemetery might generate enough income to not require tax support, but the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of a civic cemetery is a governing body, be it city, county, state, federal, or otherwise. The responsibility for a commercial cemetery, whether for-profit or not, rests with the owner or, most often, owners.

Within those broad divisions, of course, there are many variations. Llewellyn manages to write an entire book about cemeteries and never mentions the Masons or the Odd Fellows; yet their cemeteries occupy a gray area straddling the line between civic and non-profit commercial. In spirit they’re closer to churchyards, as fraternal organizations are closer to churches than to governments or corporations. Perhaps we can lump church and fraternal cemeteries together as “community” cemeteries.

Any cemetery is open to abandonment, but we can rank the three cemetery types—civic, commercial, and community—by their likelihood of abandonment. With absolutely no statistics to back me up, I’d guess that it’s a toss-up between commercial and community, but that civic cemeteries, by the nature of the duration of governments, have the best chance at long term survival. Llewellyn only skirts the issue of whether or not corporations should be involved in the death business at all, whether it’s a proper subject to leave to the whims of the market place? He neglects to compare the life cycles of corporations versus the life cycle of governments. He never asks what happens when you give your eternity over to Pan Am or Bell Telephone? He never confronts the problem of when your cemetery starts to look like Detroit.

No indeed, most of his book is devoted to questions of cemetery management, which is its proper subject: how to make wise investments, make plans for the future, etc. His concern is how to keep the cemetery going, not what to do after it fails. He often talks about pricing, largely as an apologist for the industry, shaking his finger at the independent monument and casket sellers, not to mention at the cremation business. (He tells a story of someone being dusted with cremation ashes once, but never talks about stacks of bodies like cordwood outside mortuaries; and I assure you he would never mention necrophilia.) He stresses that one has to give quality service at a fair price in order to remain in business over the long haul, although he does admit that occasional price gouging does exist. He offers an interesting defense: “Although mortuaries’ prices have been criticized as being too high, consumers have not encouraged price competition.”

Ah ha! We knew it! Consumers are responsible for setting prices, not the seller. If only we’d grump more, prices would be lower. If we don’t grump, they’ll rise until we do. Why, that’s only fair, no? That’s what capitalism is all about: squeezing the last dollar out of you, even if you’re dead. So, if you want a better price on your funeral, write your funeral home now and tell them so. That ought to do the trick.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA (Photo: friendsofmountauburn)
There is a suggestion that Hubert should have been named Hubris. If there was one thing Eaton had faith in, besides his god, it was himself. The comment has been made, “someone along the line convinced him he had taste.” In a display of sweeping arrogance, Eaton proclaimed his “Builder’s Creed,” where he laid out his vision of a cemetery, one to which you’d better conform if you want to be buried in Forest Lawn: “I therefore know the cemeteries of today are wrong because they depict an end, not a beginning. They have consequently become unsightly stoneyards, full of inartistic symbols and depressing customs….” In one fell swoop he condemned everything that went before him. Your style of mourning depresses him or offend him. Individual expression, personal displays of remembrance are inadequate. We need the sage from Liberty to bring us the proper respect for the dead in a uni-grave system “where memorialization of loved ones in sculptured marble and pictorial glass shall be encouraged but controlled by acknowledged artists….” One can only presume that it was an acknowledged artist who suggested bringing in fake copies of famous Italian statuary. And surely it was an acknowledged artist who suggested putting a fig leaf on David. The last thing we need is a prick hanging out in the cemetery.

What Eaton was—and is—selling was a Christian view of life and death. As much as possible, he wanted to drive death from the cemetery. Starting with the name. No more cemeteries; from now on they shall be memorial parks. We don’t honor the fallen here, only the resurrection. “I believe, most of all, in a Christ that smiles and loves you and me.” Feel safe now?

An initial impulse that drove the creators of Père Lachaise was that their new cemetery should be an attractant for the populace. It was hoped people would come and stroll the grounds and be edified and uplifted by the sculpture and mausoleums doting the landscape. This theme was carried over to the rural cemeteries of America. Eaton did nothing new in attracting people to his cemetery; he simply broadened the base of offerings and made the whole design his design, rather than yours. In a way he was the Walt Disney of cemeterians. It’s no coincidence that both Disney World and Forest Lawn were born in Southern California; they share a similar gestalt.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Photo: Jennifer Gaillard)
A Cemetery Should Be Forever was published in 1998, the same year Tyler Cassity bought the moribund Hollywood Memorial Park. Llewellyn’s book was au courant in noting the newcomer. He was discussing endowment issues when he mentions Cassity. He warned “the buyer is taking on a huge challenge, and it isn’t clear how enough funds will be found to bring the cemetery up to even a minimal level of maintenance.” Cassity went on to steal Llewellyn’s title and rename his cemetery, Hollywood Forever. Welcome to the new Eaton. And from Missouri, nonetheless. He gets all the new star burials. He found the funds.

But will Hollywood Forever last forever? Probably no more so than Forest Lawn. You can put any shade of lipstick on them you’d like, but they’re still commercial cemeteries. One of these days they’ll disappear, go bankrupt, kaput. Welcome to Detroit.

Hollywood Forever (Photo: Jeremy Weatherly)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Post Card

Pettys Cemetery, Ione, OR
First, the banjo.

Second, skip the bluegrass.

Rhythm banjo. I don’t like that barrage of notes that banjo players insist on throwing at the listener. I’m too old to get that fast. And they tend to loose the rhythm in that machine gun fire. It’s as if they don’t want you to hear the individual notes: “If I play incredibly fast, everyone will be so wowed that they won’t notice it’s a banjo.” When I first began to coax individual notes out of the banjo, I thought it sounded Japanese. Now I think of it as swamp rock banjo. Just what you’d expect there in the Northwest.

But I digress.

I’ll admit that I go through ten minutes of guilt everyday because I haven’t written anything lately for this blog. Then I get over it and go on with my day.

Denio Cemetery, Denio, NV
If I were to write a post, Id tell you that a bit back my son and I took a 1300 mile trip around the outback of Oregon. Aside from visiting twenty cemeteries or so, the highlight and ostensible reason for the trip was to drive the White Horse Ranch Road, a seventy five-mile gravel ride from just south of nowhere to its nearest neighbor. That would be Denio, a gas station surrounded by about thirty people who never make their presence known. Outside Denio, where other towns sport deer crossing signs, Denio provides donkey crossings. Wild donkeys, they have them there. They do. A hundred miles from Denio to Lakeview and we had it to ourselves except for the donkeys. Paved yet. The road, not the donkeys.

Unity Cemetery, Unity, OR
The countryside we traversed is the same country where Meek’s Cutoff is and where the movie of the same name was filmed. The original wagon train had something like 200 wagons in it. In the movie there are three. It stars Michelle Williams, who specializes in movies with enigmatic endings, often in Oregon. The Kings, Nahum (1783-1856) and his wife, Serepta, after whom Kings Valley Cemetery was named, were in that train. It is harsh country.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, one goes east to go to the West, if one lives on the wet (no, there should be no “s” in that word) side of the Cascades, which most of us do; but the West of Oregon is a far cry from the West of Colorado or Montana. That West got taken over by Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Texas. Less show and more grit up here. I don’t come here to get away from it all; I come here to come here. The photos are all up on Flickr.

Sunset Cemetery, Ontario, OR
I’ve been doing a survey of Lone Fir Cemetery Cemetery, our local crown jewell pioneer cemetery, for the past year. I wasn’t aiming to record every headstone, because genealogy is not my interest, but rather those in certain classes. The broadest and most subjective class are those stones of an “interesting” design. It’s hard to imagine a more subjective classification than “interesting.” It includes most all of the handmade markers plus those of highly unusual design, such as a spherical polished ball engraved with dragons or a scrabble board in full color.

Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, OR
 The first person to have been buried at Lone Fir was Emmor Stephens, grandfather to a fellow named J. B. Stephens (after whom a Liberty ship was named). When J. B. and his wife died some years later, he had a monument which carries three-quarter life-size carvings of them both. That’s impressive enough, but on the reverse it has an equally notable epitaph.

“Here we lie by consent, after 57 years 2 months and 2 days sojourning through life awaiting    nature’s immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe, of which we were first composed.”

This is a mighty strong faith being expressed here, a faith in Mother Nature. It set a tone for the cemetery which rings to this day. Conventional religion creeps in here and there—it’s a cemetery, for Christ’s sake—but the overall ambiance is a full appreciation of this world and its universe. Carl Sagan could have written that epitaph. It’s why my wife and I chose to be buried here. And we were lucky; shortly after we purchased our plots, they closed sales on new ones.

But I digress again. Enough about me.

Another category is as subjective as design: interesting epitaphs. No “Gone but not forgottens,” okay? A third grouping is more defined: cameos, either photoceramics or portrait engravings; while the final sets have hard-and-fast edges: all Woodmen of the World and all white bronze markers. I did this survey with an eye towards A) giving tours of Lone Fir; and B) publishing a small guide to the cemetery. You’ll notice, none of my classifications have anything to do with who is buried there; that’s for the local historians and genealogists, whom I wish well.

But I couldn’t compile a guide to the cemetery without some knowledge of how it came together, so that’s taken me into a little research; which is all a round about way of explaining why I have ignored my guilt feelings and marched on with what I’m doing.

Then there’s the book effect. Having a book published is a little like getting a doctorate: instant credibility (unless you publish it yourself, then it’s an Internet diploma). Instant credibility is handy and a large part of the reason why the book came out as it did. When Ashland Creek sent an email inquiring if I was interest in putting a book together, I instantly knew that the important feature here was to get it published. And the sooner the better. Ashland Creek thought sooner was better for marketing purposes, and I thought sooner would be better for marketing myself. My presumption was the second book would be easier to publish than the first; hence I made almost no fuss with whatever Ashland Creek wanted to do. My mantra was, “If you guys like it, I like it.” 

That worked.

My focus, though, is on the future. The next time I’ll have a little more freedom to say, “No, the monkey in the gray flannel suit stays.”

Sunset Cemetery, Ontario, OR

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mad As the Mist and Snow

Welcome to Mad As the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its Cemeteries. The title, a poem by W. B. Yeats, appears as an epitaph in Jones Pioneer Cemetery in Portland, OR, the first stanza of which goes:

   Bolt and bar the shutter,
   For the foul winds blow:
   Our minds are at their best this night,
   And I seem to know
   That everything outside us is
   Mad as the mist and snow.

Think of it as a tickler for the Oregon cemetery experience, designed to be taken to bed with you at night when you’re ensconced in a motel in Burns and are wondering what to do the next day. “Look, here’s something we could do tomorrow: visit the Fort Harney Cemetery.”

And Drewsey. Don’t forget Drewsey. Drewsey is a doozy.

The contents will be familiar to studious readers of Blogging a Dead Horse and followers of DeadManTalking as most everything is taken from blog posts or set introductions on Flickr. They’re easy to find, if tedious. On the other hand, a chunk of the book is given over to selected epitaphs arranged into categories; and while they all exist among the photos on Flickr, finding them is a major challenge. I drew them from a separate database of epitaphs not available on the Web, that’s easier to search than Flickr.

This is a case where the publisher contacted me; a rarity in the business, and for that I am eternally grateful. But it also means that I agreed to pretty much whatever the publisher wanted and the result is a heavily edited version of what you’ll find in the blog or Flickr. That being said, it’s a text-driven book, not a coffee-table book. That will come later and will cost a bunch more. At $22.50, this one is a steal. Okay, if not a steal, then a long-term borrowing.

What I’d really like is to drag you out to the cemeteries with me so we could both exclaim, “Wow, look at this!” Alas, you live in Massachusetts and I live in Oregon.

But if you can’t get out to see Oregon cemeteries, don’t worry, you have equally wonderful cemeteries in your backyard. Everyone does. If reading this book makes cemeteries pop out and seem fun to you, hop on your bike or slide into your car and head for the hills. Or the hollows or the flats. Or the northeast part of town, wherever dead people congregate. It’s free and its visceral. Parks with art and reading material. Pathos and tenderness. Stone-cold history and angels; what more could you want?

The book is available at Ashland Creek Press and should show up on Amazon is a week to ten days. Or what the heck, send me $22.50 and I’ll send you a copy, shipping free. Is this too good to pass up, or what?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Cascade Massacre

Margaret Iman’s (1834-1924) story is writ in stone is a small, eponymous cemetery on the backside of Stevenson, a river town on the Washington side of the Columbia as she rips a gorge through the Cascades:

Born at Tippecanoe Co., Ind.
1852 Missouri to The Dalles on horse back
Carried motherless babe 500 miles
Took raft downriver to Cascades
1853 met and married Felix G. Iman
Survived Indian War of Mar. 26, 1856
Indians burned home
Had 16 children, 9 boys, 7 girls

Her husband, Felix Iman’s (1828-1902), slab is next to hers. Together they sketch a compelling pioneer story.1

Born DeKalb Co., Mo.
Arrived at Cascades by ox team in 1852
Married Margaret Windsor 1853
1854 built & owned steamer “Wasco”
1855 donation land claim of 323 acres
1858 worked on upper Cascades block house
Built & owned 2 sawmills
Built 1st school. For short time saloon owner.

Aside from a minor error, it hints at the enormous effort the Iman’s put into wresting a home from the forest. Frank, it happens, “was born 24 November 1828 in Monroe, Illinois,” according to “Iman Family Notes: ‘Margaret’ (A Windsor Perspective).”2 It wasn’t Frank who came from DeKalb Co., but rather Margaret, who left for Oregon from there.

It wasn’t an easy departure. Margaret, it turns out, was a runaway. She was born a Windsor, whose mother died when she was about ten years old and was subsequently raised by an archetypically cruel stepmother. By the time she was seventeen, her family was living in DeKalb Co., and by the time she was seventeen she’d decided she’d had it and ran away from home, joining a wagon train headed for Oregon. Her father went after her, dragged her back, and lost her again when he went looking for a river crossing. The second time he let her go. She was subsequently lost to the Windsor family until a descendant in Kansas put an add in the Ladies Home Companion in the 1920s asking if anyone knew what happened to her? One of Margaret’s children, Louis, chanced upon the magazine in a Vancouver, WA barber shop and his wife contacted the folks in Kansas.

The Indian War mentioned on her tombstone actually lasted longer than March 26, although not much. It’s frequently called the Cascade or Fort Rains Massacre and was part of a general Indian war of resistance to the white invaders known as the Cayuse War, of which, probably, the most famous incident was the euphonious Battle Of Seattle. The Imans played a not insignificant role in the events, and their interpretation of what happened differs considerably from the official record. According to James Windsor,3 who refers to the incident as the Yakima attack, the wrong Indians were punished. Sheridan claims4 that the Yakimas forced or coerced the local Cascade Indians into joining the attack, but the Iman’s claim otherwise. Sheridan left us a list of the settlers and soldiers killed in the uprising:

" I append a list of killed and wounded: Killed — George Griswold, shot in leg; B. W. Brown and wife, killed at the sawmill, bodies found stripped naked in Mill creek ; Jimmy Watkius, driving team at mill ; Henry Hagar, shot in Watkins' house, body burned ; Jake Kyle, German boy ; Jacob White, sawyer at mill ; Bonrbon, half-breed, died on the Maty going to The Dalles ; James Sinclair, of the H. B. Company, Walla Walla ; Dick Turpin, colored cook on steamer Alary; Norman Palmer, driving team at mill ; Calderwood, working at mill ; three United States soldiers, names unknown ; George Watkins, lived four days ; Jacob Roush, carpenter, lived six days. Wounded — Fletcher Murphy, arm; P. Snooks, boy, leg; J. Lindsay, shoulder; Jesse Kempton, shoulder; Tommy Price, thigh ; two .soldiers, U. S. Army ; H. Kyle, German ; Moffat, railroad hand; johnny Chance, leg; ]\I. Bailey, leg and arm; J. Algin, slightly'."5

Sheridan doesn’t supply us with a list of Indians hanged, but a loose sheet of paper in the Oregon Historical Society’s files offers these names: “Chief Chenoweth, Capt. Jo, Tecomcoc or Tecomeoc, Tsy, Sim-sasselas or Sim-Lasselas, Tumalth or Tunwalth (other spellings), Old Skien, Kenwake (sentenced but reprieved on scaffold), and 4 Finger Johnny.”6 In Margaret Iman’s oral memoirs she describes the hanging of the Indians: She recalled they were “hanged on a tree about one mile from where we lived. Some of them, when asked to talk, shook their heads and put the noose around their own necks. Others laughed at those who were hanging.”7

Felix Iman’s schooner, Wasco, also particpated in the repulse. Assigned the task of hauling troops from Portland to The Dalles, the Wasco came under fire from Indians collected where White Salmon is now, across the river from Hood River; but the river is sizable and their balls had no effect. The third steamer to ply the waters between Cascade Locks and The Dalles, she subsequently returned to her trade, albeit for a short period of time. By 1857 she was out of business on the river. A newspaper advertisement from, probably, the 1860s offered passage between Bellingham, WA and Seattle on the “fast and commodious” steamer Wasco for $1; although I can’t be sure it’s the same steamer Wasco.

We can’t reasonably expect Sheridan, who was responsible for the protection of the whites along the river, to admit to hanging the wrong people. Nonetheless, this long quote from James Windsor describes the Iman experience:

Windsor points to this quote to help clarify the situation [of the Indian attack of March 26, 1856]: “I read the settlers in Skamania Co. at the Cascades had been expecting an indian attack for some time. Some of the friendly local indians had been warning the settlers that unfriendly tribes were planning an imminent attack, and for this reason Felix decided to build a new house closer to the river in case the family had to escape by boat. The original Iman house had been farther back from the river by about a mile. Of course no one knew when the attack would come and all were suprised by it. The local indians who were hung had been on friendly terms to the white locals. Indian Jim was one of the ones hung, and he was a good friend of Felix. They were of the Cascade tribe. The motive behind the hangings was anger and racism. Quite a few of the white settlers had lost relatives besides homes in the attack and there was some kind of revenge wanted, and as the Yakimas had all returned back to their land, the Cascades were the only Indians to take revenge one, even though they were innocent. Of course most white people at that time did not like Indians and did not trust them, so of course most of the locals were none too squeamish to get rid of them. Margaret claimed she witnessed the hanging, or at least at some point she claimed to have seen them hanging. Felix was away at the time and when he returned a day or two later he was sorry to hear about the hangings and told the locals that those Indians were all innocent and it was wrong to hang them. At least that is how history has left the story for us. There were also some sordid details a few days after the Yakima attack. There was a friendly indian and his wife and children and they were travelling by boat on the Columbia River near Shepherd's Point. It is said that Samuel Hamilton with some other local men, but not Felix, captured these Indians and their children and raped the woman and then killed them all, children included, in a very cruel way, by strangling them and chopping off their heads. Lt. Philip Sheridan (he later to be famous in the Civil War) was there serving as the commander of the force that had chased off the Yakimas, and Sheridan claimed it was Hamilton and some others whom he named go after the two indians who were then found murdered shortly thereafter. But of course this was hushed up and Sheridan declined to press charges and consequently never spoken of again, so no one prosecuted Hamilton and the others, but it is a sordid story and a sad comment on the history of the area.”8

The sorry story in my research of similar graveyard histories is that it is always the same: the perpetrators rarely see punishment which instead is meted out to the handiest person. Blame is always collective.

1 I’ve covered most of this story in previous blogs, so it may seem familiar. To an extent, I’ve plagiarized myself. The new material primarily concerns the “massacre.”
2 James Windsor, Draft, Iman Family Notes (with footnotes and editing by Steve Iman)[http://www.imanfamily.net/skamania/windsor.html].
3 Ibid.
4 Mea culpa for not having noted the references for this information. A case of casually reading through the Net for other information, reading this, and filing it away in my memory bank only to not be able to find the source when I went looking again. You’d think I’d learn.
5 Philip Sheridan as recorded in History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington.
6 OHS 929.379272; R 179 cem. Ramsey, D. G., Skamania Co. WA Burial Lists.7 Another lost reference. I searched and searched but have yet to refind this memoir online, but I know it’s there. Trust me.
8 James Windsor; Op Cit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Celestials

Lone Fir Cemetery

In Oregon’s formative years when she was learning to fly with her own wings, some surprising groups of people helped shape the future. In their day they were significantly important and often times made up a considerable portion of the population. Take the fur trappers, for instance. Instead of being rough and tumble mountain men from Appalachia, or wherever, they were more likely to have been mixed Indian/Euroamerican people known as Métis; and if not them, then East Coast Indians. Even more unlikely is that a third of the trappers were Hawaiian. Trapping crews were most often shipped west around the Horn, which required (in sailing days) a swing past Hawaii if one wanted to reach North America. It was closer and cheaper to fill up ones crew with Hawaiians than to drag people from the East Coast. Exactly how those Hawaiians accommodated themselves to snow-bound Cascade winters is unknown. There are still Métis around who remember their role in settling the territory, but I’ve never met a Hawaiian who knows anything about the trappers. They simply disappeared.

The Chinese, on the other hand, played an enormous role in civilizing the West, and they haven’t disappeared. Even though many of the early arrivals have. They disappeared, not because they were forgotten or laid in unmarked graves, but rather because the Chinese government paid to have their bodies exhumed and returned to China—men only, thank you. Apparently this process was repeated several times at twenty-year intervals.

The Chinese were particularly active in mining camps, not merely as cooks and launderers, as the movies imply, but as the miners themselves. At times, for example, a third of the miners in Canyon City were Chinese; while in Golden, Oregon, when the entire town packed up for a new strike, their places were filled with Chinese who only had to give the claims back when the whites later returned because the new strike didn’t pan out. At times, Chinese were eliminated with “extreme prejudice,” as it were.

Yet nobody else wanted their people back. The Finns never sent to bring their children home from Astoria. Missouri never called for the return of her sons and daughters gone on the Oregon Trail. The English never brought their ex-pats back to Camelot. Only the Chinese.

Chinese Cemetery - Baker City, OR

That this happened in Portland has been news for some time, and there are plans afoot to memorialize those Chinese, as well as the women and children who were left behind. And that it happened in Baker City is well known because the historic Chinese cemetery in that city is bolted next to the freeway and marked by a sign board; a small pagoda; and a tiny, stone one-room prayer house with a tin roof. Aside from those amenities, what’s most noticeable are the holes pockmarking the surrounding. Whoever did the exhumation forgot to fill them in.

What’s surprising is how extensive the exhumation practice was. Besides Baker City and Portland, it happened in Astoria, Coos Bay, Albany, Ontario, Ashland, Corvallis, Roseburg, Pendleton, and The Dalles. Whatever else, that can’t have been cheap; even if you used Chinese labor.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It Coulda Been

Forest Lawn
Photo: LuisAHHH!

In 1917 a thirty-six year old man from Liberty, Missouri, Hubert Eaton, took control of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, and rechristened it Forest Lawn Memorial Park. The American cemetery would never be the same. Mr. Eaton’s singular achievement was to remove death from the cemetery. It was not without precedent. The very word “cemetery” was promulgated in preference to “graveyard” for the same reason a hundred years earlier; so, to replace “cemetery” with “memorial park” was continuing a time-honored, euphemistic tradition. Only sex provides as many linguistic deflections as does death.

Forest Lawn
Photo: Striderv

Eaton went further, though, than merely changing the name; he went on to ban the most potent symbol of the cemetery, the tombstone. Eaton insisted that all markers in his cemeteries (he eventually took over/created others) be flush with the ground. When Hubert said “lawn,” he meant “lawn.” That it is much cheaper to mow a flush lawn than to squirrel around a forest of headstones didn’t hurt, but it may have been more important to Eaton to eliminate the perception of death in his cemeteries than it was to save money.

If Hubert Eaton would have confined himself to eliminating the presence of death in his boneyards, this story might have ended a lot differently, but like many people, he had a vision he felt the rest of the world deserved to share. A devout Christian, he populated the edges of his lawns with oversize reproductions of statuary from around the world. Findadeath.com assesses the situation succinctly: “Somewhere along the line, someone convinced this guy that he had good taste.” He even went so far as to build a wedding chapel on the Glendale grounds and began offering weddings in a form of cradle-to-grave service. It worked, just ask Reagan, the Acting President.

Forest Lawn
Photo: davewetsprocket

No cemetery since Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, changed the landscape of American cemeteries the way Forest Lawn did. Almost overnight, virtually every cemetery in the country became a lawn cemetery. Thousands of little stone forests became surrounded by low, lumpy fields. New cemeteries were inevitably named “memorial parks” and were lined with Christian gods and demigods. Landscaping was rarely unified or thoughtful. The tradition of elegance begun with Père Lachaise was abandoned for the streamlined hucksterism of Southern California. Only the Veterans Administration with their necklace of National Cemeteries has invested heavily in dignified landscaping. There is no American standard of good cemetery design, and furthermore, it’s not a topic of public discussion. How could one possibly influence cemetery design? Isn’t that like asking how could one influence car design? Or bridge design? Or rocket design?

Park design?

Photo: danielvirella

Three years before Hubert Eaton showed up in Glendale, Sweden announced a competition for the design of a new cemetery for the City of Stockholm. Two young Swedish architects, Gunnar Apslund and Sigurd Lewerentz proffered the proposal for what became in 1994 a World Heritage Site: the Woodland Cemetery, Skogskyrkogården. Unlike the disjointed American lawn cemetery divided into discrete, unrelated “gardens” designed to pull ones thoughts away from death, Woodland Cemetery was conceived of as an aesthetic unity whose scale, elements, and plantings are constructed to guide the mourner through the reflective stages of the circle of life. Trees lining the path to a chapel change from birch to fir as the passage darkens and ones thoughts condense. Woodland celebrates death with a Nordic sobriety, but it doesn’t shy away from it. It does not deny death.

Photo: Johan Rubbestad Lilja

It is, perhaps, unfair to compare Forest Lawn with Woodland which has more in common with the VA cemeteries, as they are both public entities, they don’t have to make a profit. Even a non-profit has to turn a profit, unless it has a tax base. Woodland makes use of its largesse by incorporating expansive lawns that really are lawns, they don’t contain graves. Those are mainly confined to the woods proper where uprights are welcome. Headstones here are not uniform, but they are all of a modest height and design; the theory being that there is equality in death. And while the private expression of religion is acceptable, despite Lutheranism being the state religion of Sweden and despite the open entry sward being dominated by a massive granite cross, Woodland is officially non-religious. Its pocket guide says the cross “is not intended to represent a symbol of faith, but rather a symbol of the circle of life and death.” Works for me.

Photo: Roy van der Zwaan

One of the more dramatic and photogenic features of the cemetery is a “meditation grove” atop a gentle rise in the center of the entry sward. A stairway ascending to the grove is slowly rendered into lower and lower steps to ease the climb. In typical Scandinavian thoroughness and with a refined sense of line and proportion, literally no step is left unplanned. As much as any cemetery in the world, Woodland is the leading example of what can be done to a cemetery. Woodland proves there can be death with dignity.

Photo: j.meunier

Fast forward to 1994, the year Woodland Cemetery joined UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Far to the south of Stockholm in the countryside of Catalonia, a cemetery by another pair of architects, Enric Miralles and Carmen Pinós, also winners of a competition, opened after ten years of construction: Igualada Cemetery. It hasn’t been named a World Heritage Site, yet, but it’s young. Its day will come.

Photo: jgeis

Named for a nearby village, Igualada exposes Catalonian sensibilities and reflects the Catalonian landscape. This is definitely not Sweden; the harsh aridity of the climate is not mitigated by moistening fogs and persistent drizzles. The deep pile and verdant vistas of receding greenscapes and somber forests are replaced by walls of loculi and gabion. Instead of ascending hills, one descend into valleys. Instead of trees, the entrance is guarded by cor-ten beams rusting askew. Interiors have the sense of having been carved out of the mountain rather than enfolded in the forest. It is a more strident nature than Woodland, yet it’s in the Woodland mold of using nature to express its purpose.

Photo: marcteer

Burial customs differ from Catalonia to Sweden; the Mediterranean speaks a different language than does the Baltic. The dead are not interred permanently in the ground, but are instead stored in walls of loculi five tiers high, which are leased in renewable, usually, leases; but which, again usually, are, eventually, allowed to expire, after which the bones are removed to an ossuary and the loculi are reopened for leasing.

Photo: Velcro

The dominant materials of Igualada are stone and concrete. Sometimes, as in the slanting loculi walls, the concrete is amazingly ephemeral; whereas interior spaces have the cool depth of massive blocks and shafts of light. Using gabion walls to define landscaped space was an interesting choice. Gabions are walls made of wire mesh enclosing rock, broken concrete, etc. Their life span is dependent on the integrity of their wire mesh. One is tempted to imagine a Mayanesque future of crumbled gabions sliding through ruptures in the wiring like rock rivers pouring from the mountainside. The cemetery is designed to pull the visitors through the natural environment and cause them to contemplate the circle of life. In that it repeats the goals of Woodland.

Photo: marcteer

How different from Forest Lawn whose very purpose is disguised as a theme park. How appropriate that Forest Lawn should be brought to us by the land that brought us Disneyland. Most likely Igualada, like Woodland, is a municipal cemetery. One can hardly imagine a commercial cemetery lavishing that much attention and cost on landscaping. Cemeteries used to be a civic prerogative in this country, but it’s been a long time since any town I know sponsored one. We can’t even count on the Mason or the Odd Fellows, anymore. Ah well, we still have the VA.

But what if next time the city decided to put together a new park, it doubled as a cemetery. Might even help pay for it, no? Just a thought…

Photo: Velcro


My thanks to my fellow Flickrdicks for providing the evocative photos of Forest Lawn, Woodland, and Igualada. Feel free to use my photos of, oh, say, Milo Gard. Or what the heck, Logtown.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fried Egger

I’m perhaps two-thirds through doing an inventory of interesting markers at Lone Fir Cemetery, the major pioneer cemetery here in Portland. Yesterday unearthed these two gems. The carving of the drowning man is easily the second most famous carving in the cemetery after the relief carvings of the Stephens. It’s pretty well known.

Fried Egger, on the other hand, was new to me. Hear tell his brother was a poacher.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Mount Calvary Cemetery (Portland, OR)

Mountain View Cemetery (Oregon City)

The only serious bunch of cemetery aficionados I’ve run across is the Association of Gravestone Studies, (AGS) out of Greenfield, Massachusetts. If the truth be known, they’re a touch academic, but they’re harmless for all that. They put out an electronic newsletter, a quarterly bulletin, and an annual journal with articles such as “The Tombstones of the English East India Company Cemetery in Macao: A Linguistic Analysis” (Markers XXVI, John P. O’Regan). Given the nature of the beast, their annual meetings are in the East, but their long-time editor, inspiration, and mentor has been a fellow from the Willamette Valley, Richard Meyer, so the West has had at least some presence in the organization. The current Markers editor, June Hobbs, hails from Oklahoma, so the West still maintains a tenuous toehold in the group. I have only been a member for a couple years and have yet to meet another. For me joining was A) a way to support what the group was doing, and B) subscribing to the bulletin and journal. My money has been well spent.

Given the locus and academic composition of of the association, it’s not surprising that its focus is on antiquity and esoterica. It’s not that the modern world doesn’t exist; it’s that is has, for some reason, less draw than the past. Part of that reason, aside from the composition of its membership, is understood in the name of the organization: The Association for Gravestone Studies. It, pointedly, is not an association for the study of cemeteries, even though the study of the one is inseparable from the other. (There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent academic association devoted to cemeteries. If there is and I’ve missed it, please inform me.) It is, necessarily, a question of emphasis.

IOOF #110 Cemetery (Fossil, OR)

What that means, practically, is that their publications don’t have the range that I’d wish; nor do they cover, as thoroughly, modern practices and the sociology and geography of cemeteries. Mind you, this is not a fault but a result of their focus of interest. Fair enough. Other people do write about cemeteries, and each issue of Markers ends with “The Year’s Work in Cemetery and Gravestone Studies: An International Biography,” a thorough scouring of the available literature. Still, Markers itself remains, arguably, the best current (American) writing on cemeteries.

You don’t have to take my word for it, nor do you have to join the Association, to see for yourself. All back issues of Markers (2008 and before) are available online at the Internet Archive through the University of Massachusetts’ website.

That’s where I found Annette Stott’s informative article, “The Woodmen of the World Monument Program”, in Markers XX. It is, to date, the only detailed study of WoW monuments I’ve encountered (which certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t others). Stott examined the files of the Pacific Jurisdiction, which is what the western branch of WoW is known as, in Denver, and pried from them a wealth of interesting information, including copies of the sample pictures send to the plethora of stone carvers who actually executed the works. That plus financial information on the amount, kind, and method of distribution of monetary contributions WoW made towards members’ markers clarifies why virtually no two of them are identical.

Laurel Grove Cemetery

Stott also brings to the table significant data on the early history and function of the Woodmen of the World (including its outgrowth from the Modern Woodmen of America). In their first iteration they were a much more complete fraternal organization in the Masonic/Odd Fellows tradition, hosting, among other things, annual cemetery clean-ups and unveilings of new monuments, complete with parades and marching bands.

WoW monuments were not without controversy, Stott points out. Some people saw them as blatant advertising, particularly since the WoW symbol was, generally, so prominently displayed on their tombstones; and some cemeteries attempted to ban the symbols outright, with little success. Although, since both the Masons and the Odd Fellows decorate their tombstones with their symbols, not to mention religions with their symbols—every bit as much advertising as the WoW symbol—why the Woodmen should have been singled out is unexamined. Were the Woodmen, for example, the only organization, other than the U.S. military, that contributed towards a member’s marker?

Ilwaco Cemetery

From inception, apparently, two types of tombstones were authorized: the iconic faux stump, or a more formal pedestal surmounted by a cloth-draped urn. I have nearly 400 WoW photos on Flickr and have yet to find a WoW cloth-draped urn, but the collection contains photos of a large diversity of other styles beside faux stumps. It needs to be ordered by type of monument and date. (It’s online; feel free.) Even though I try to be diligent in capturing images of all WoW monuments I encounter, because many of them are not as distinct as the stumps, many, inevitably, get missed. Unfortunately, other than the draped urns, Stott ignores the history of other designs. It’s tempting to ask what old files still exist at WoW offices?

Annette Stott opened the door to a prominent room in our cemeteries. She’s showed us where some of the treasures are hidden. Someone should come by and turn on a couple lights. There’s more there; I know there is.

Sparlin Cemetery

Friday, June 10, 2011

Up and Running

Photo: David L. Minick

It makes me nervous. I don’t like reporting on could bes, wanna bes, maybes, and mights. I don’t like to toot a horn that hasn’t been made yet.

That would be Mad As the Mist and Snow , my lighthearted romp through the fields of the dead. In an unusual turnaround, the publisher, Ashland Creek Press, contacted me, not vice versa, and asked if I was still interested in publishing a book. I was still interested.

Initially we’d hoped to have it on the shelves by this coming Halloween, but that proved unnecessarily ambitious. Sometime this winter seems more likely, though we’re fairly well along. The publisher discovered me through this blog; hence the book is text driven, though there will be some photos. The bulk of the book are profiles and stories connected with some 235 Oregon cemeteries, perhaps a third of the population, divided into eighteen geographical regions. Most of the stories are hidden away on Flickr somewhere, but this will make them much more accessible.

The opening chunk of the tome, “Deep Thoughts,” are fifteen or sixteen modified essays from this blog. Again, while they’re all currently available in some form at this site, they’ll be much more convenient to find in the book and, hopefully, make a more coherent read.

The center of the book, “A Word Before You Go,” is an extensive selection of epitaphs from the DeadManTalking database of better than 1700 epitaphs. Most of those epitaphs are posted with their associated photo on Flickr, but finding them and making any order out of them would be a gargantuan task, without access to the database. The selection is arranged into a dozen separate (if overlapping) categories and is a broader than customary look at a region’s parting words.

So, does that qualify as an excuse for not having written anything here in forever?

We certainly hope so.

If you’ve been watching me on Flickr, you’ll have noticed a slowdown there, as well. There are many factors involved in that from weather, to proximity to cemeteries that I haven’t been to yet, to being in the middle of shooting all the interesting stuff in Lone Fir here in Portland. God only knows how long that will take me to finish. Not to mention “the book.” That’s taken up time.

The good news is that I’m getting a lot better on the banjo, though it’s still unlike any banjo you’ve ever heard. Think of it as rock an’ roll rhythm banjo. You know, Beattles, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen. Leonard Cohen?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Last Writes

The following is draft 1, section 1 of an extended piece I'm doing on epitaphs. We've had a publisher sniffing around about publishing Mad as the Mist and Snow, which has prodded this effort. Keep watching. Hopefully, we'll test out more sections in the future.

Getting in the Last Word

It’s your last chance. Your absolutely last chance to say anything to the world. Amazingly, many—perhaps most—chose to ignore it; they say nothing. Not just the people who cremate themselves and get stuck on mantles or dumped into rivers, but many people who opt for cemetery burials are happy enough to settle for names and dates only, please. To be sure, lawn cemeteries and columbaria limit the opportunity for expression, but even folks purchasing uprights are often as not satisfied with “Never forgotten.” Oh yeah? Then how come there are no flowers on your grave, huh? So, thank God for all those folks who take one last chance to get in a piece of advice, a bon mot, or a simple little flippancy.

Epitaphs come in all shapes and sizes dependent upon whim and financial wherewithal. They cover the gamut of human expression. They have changed through time. As in all phases of cemetery adornment, the epitaph has undergone a great expansion in its role as a reflection of the deceased. I haven’t in this initial parsing selected for historical distribution of epitaph styles—I’ll leave that for another time—but even so I ended up with eleven categories; and that’s with leaving the vast majority of the collection undistributed. I have mostly ignored, for example, home-grown poetry and poetic allusions. No “professional” category. No tributes. None, in other words, of the categories which hold the largest number of exhibits.

Of the resulting categories, some I fairly well ignored, but of what was left—the easy pickings, as it were—there were plenty of nuggets. The Bible, needless-to-say, provided a good number of epitaphs. Certainly no other book is in the running. Shakespeare as a lump comes in a measly second place; although, all in all, more people choose non-Biblical quotes than Biblical for their tombstones (42 to 30, in this case), not including six for the Bard.

A few categories should be wiped out or merged, but the big ones stick out like ill-packed suitcases with all manner of wardrobe trailing from their seams. If one surfs the Net in search of epitaph collections, one finds there are, essentially, only two categories out there: celebrities and humor (if humor can contain the bizarre). Rodney Dangerfield’s “There goes the neighborhood” is a classic example of a tombstone covering both. What differentiates people who write amusements on their headstone versus those who offer uplifting advice or tout their glories is well beyond this humble researcher and appears to present some research difficulties. In this glance at the last writes, we’ll cast a broad net.

Indeed, one of the first difficulties is in determining who wrote an epitaph: the deceased or the survivors? In some cases, such as where the erection of the tombstone precedes the death of the future occupants, it’s usually evident that the epitaph is the choice of the pre-deceased (can I say that?). Likewise, monuments erected long after a person’s death are usually inscribed with words of the monument erectors, not the person being glorified. In between are a lot of gray areas. For the most part, though, I think people choose their own epitaphs. At least the ones in this collection; and I suspect this collection would be mimicked across most of the country. I think people like to feel they have at least a little bit of their death under control; that it’s their death and not that of an unknown undertaker or priest. All of us, I think, feel a touch like William Hurt’s mother, Claire Luce (1923-1971, Fort Harney Cemetery) , whose sarcophagus reads: “Don’t coddle me into the grave. I’m/ Going to march into it. I’m a man,/ After all.” We want the memory of dignity.

Whoever writes an epitaph, it remains a way for the deceased to speak from beyond the grave, to maintain contact with the living. Once a sentiment is chiseled into stone, one can have reasonable hopes of it surviving for a couple hundred years, whether it makes sense or not. If you have something to say, this is the time to say it.

A small word of warning:

The epitaph database doesn’t stop at the Oregon border. For that matter, neither does the photographic database, but we won’t get into that. But when I sifted the database for epitaphs fitting the categories of interest, I just took them as they came sans regard for origins, provided they came from the Oregon Territory; I’ve eschewed Texas and Wisconsin. I didn’t think you’d want to miss a side-slapper just because it came from Weiser. Think of it as a nod to the cultural unity of the Territory.

Die Laughing

The line between humor and inexplicability is thin. It’s hard sometimes to tell if one is laughing because an epitaph is funny or because one is wondering, “What the hell?” (Which is precisely what Glen Meyers [1980-1999] of the aforementioned Weiser, Fairview Cemetery, ID, said: “What the hell…?,” which he preceded with “Where the sidewalk ends…/ True life begins.” Mr. Meyers was fond of ellispses.) Humor can be intentional—“Gone for the bait” (Mildred Long, 1931-1993, Cliffside Cemetery); inadvertent—“Stan Shattuck was/ hung by mistake” (IOOF Cemetery, Coburg); or ambiguous—“They said she was too different/ and she wrote too many tunes” (Alice Spear, 1923-1989, Coos River Cemetery). It can be gentle—“Raised four beautiful daughters/ with only one bathroom and/ still there was love” (Theodore, 1931-2008, & Nedine, 1932-1997, Barnhouse, Mitchell Cemetery); or irreverent—“I’m going to miss me” (Porter Payne, 1921-2005, Union Cemetery, Union).

In some cases it takes two to make a joke. Couples coordinate their epitaphs. Herman (d. 1986) and Agnes (d. 1992) Baxter, buried in Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery, joined their thoughts in death:

His: “On the Highway to heaven”
Hers: “Drive like hell and you’ll get there.”

The Lehmans of Havurah Shalom, Seymour (d. 1990) and Edith (d. 1994) supplied their own couplet:

His: “You’re on your own”
Hers: “Not any more”

Sometimes funny borders on patronizing. What are we to make of Mary Ogden (1920-2000, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Dayton) who leaves us with “It’s your mother”? Don’t we feel she’s still standing over us watching our every move? Is our curfew still in force? Surely she’s friends with the anonymous person in Coles Valley Cemetery, who pontificates, “Blessed are those who clean up.” Avoid their coffee klatches on Monday mornings. In such cases, the epitaph slumps towards the kvetch. Consider the lament of Edith Porter (d. 2000, Kesser Israel Cemetery): “I have three wonderful sons, It’s too bad you couldn’t keep me a little longer.” Guilt from the beyond. Or the more general observation from Gertie Bunnel (1912-1983, Estacada IOOF Cemetery): “Who should live so long”? Or the anonymous grumble from Lone Fir, Portland, “This wasn’t in my schedule book,” which isn’t dissimilar from Jan Peckam’s (1946-1999, Union Cemetery, Cedar Mills) irritation: “It’s always something.” How about the light-weight puffery of Patricia (1928-2003, Lone Oak Cemetery, Stayton): “I’d rather be shopping at Nordstoms”? There are two other “I’d rather be shopping[s],”—no Nordstoms—in the database. Tombstones mentioning corporations are uncommon but not unheard of. Robin Boon (1913-2004, Aumsville Cemetery) brings us another example: “With the Lord, enjoying a good cup of Yuban.” Does Yuban know they have this free advertising? And is Robin so sure she’s drinking it with the Lord? There may be more hot water elsewhere.

One of the more entertaining and quizzical “corporate” epitaphs doesn’t even mention the company or product. All it gives us is the first line of its advertising jingle, one that has already disappeared from the media world long ago. Eino Kangas (1932-1994, Union Cemetery, Union) keeps Alka-Seltzer alive with:

Plop plop
fizz fizz
Oh what a relief it is

Advice doesn’t necessarily come in the form of a kvetch. The Dohrns of Ocean View Cemetery Richard (1940-205) and Colleen (b. 1941) urge us that “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first”; and Mathew Beecher (1952-2001, Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church Cemetery) quotes Yogi Berra, who opined, “Always go to other people’s funerals. Otherwise they/ won’t go to yours.”

Epitaphs are, of course, as much a reflection of popular culture as anything else. Just because one is going to be dead forever doesn’t mean their sentiments can’t be topical. Arguably, the currently most popular epitaph flippancy, “I told you I was sick,” can be found in our locale on Gloria Martin’s (1926-2002) grave in Robert Bird Cemetery. Indeed, the catch phrase is a popular resource for epitaphs. Charlo (love that name) Dick (1953-2006, Brainard Cemetery) uses a line I’ve seen attributed to an atheist, although I wouldn’t go that far: “All dressed up and no place to go.” Dawn Vocé (1954-2004, Stearns Cemetery) leaves us with the amusing but ambiguous “You put your right foot in”; while Kristie Pergin (1976-1992, Woodville Cemetery) assures us that “The phone must be for you.” What do all these people mean? If you want ambiguous, ponder Barbara Lockwood (1944-2007, Joseph Cemetery): “Barbara stopped here.” Timothy Wilke (1973-2004, Finley-Sunset Hills Cemetery) summed it up best: “Don’t cry Mom/ I’m fine/ It’s only money.” And in case you think you escaped, Arthur Conrad (1947-198, Mountain View Cemetery, View, WA) leaves us with a cheery, “See you soon, maybe tomorrow…”

Patriotism is rarely amusing, but loyalties can put a smile on ones face and they certainly speak to regionalism. David Williams (b. 1922, Phillips Cemetery) may be buried in Portland exurbia, but his heart remains “For God, Country, and Old Wazzu”; Wazzu being the affectionate handle for Washington State University. Other epitaphs evoke the spirit of place indirectly. The epitaph for Claude (b. 1922) and Frances (1923-1998) Friend in Scottsburg Cemetery could have come from anywhere, but its sentiment is surely rural and even forested: “Tried to leave the woodpile a little higher than we found it.” Trees come into play in the epitaph for Jim Everts (1940-1999, Aumsville Cemetery), whose epitaph, “Tree hugger/ ‘left town’ 1999,” implies a conservationist bent. And this anonymous epitaph from Long Creek Cemetery which covers place, profession, and family

Here lies a town girl who became
a ranchers [sic] wife and right hand
A passionate mother. A lover of
A promoter of womens [sic] education
and a shopper
Knew I would be asked
Yes Honey I will get the gate

I’d be remiss if I finished this section without mentioning another anonymous soul, this time from Condon Cemetery who moved right into the denial stage: “Do not disturb/ Taking a nap”; unlike the realist Fred Barnes (1913-1993, Ridgefield [WA] Cemetery) who admitted:

I have made many trades in my life,
But I think I went in the hole on this one.

Yet if one wanted regionalism, ambiguity, poetic allusions, and humor all in one package, one could do worse than visit Edward Nielsen (1961-1997, Bay Center Cemetery, WA) whose epitaph reads, “On the edge of passing days”; yet continues on the back of the stone to read:

I rather thought Paradise would be like a library

Times Arrow
Decendant [sic] of Chief Huckswelt
Weelapa Tribe of the Chinook’s [sic]

Death will always come out of season