multomah park 1888
Multnomah Park Cemetery

I enjoy exploring cemeteries. The older the better, and as I have said, most cemeteries in my neck of the woods are not that old…founded 1850’s to 1880’s….the pioneer ones that is.

Yesterday, my wife and I stopped off at the Mulnomah Park Cemetery in SE Portland. It was founded in 1888. I had previously observed older grave markers while driving by. One of the things I enjoy are the small markers that seem forgotten or are brief notations to brief lives…like the collage of markers above from that cemetery.

When I got home I thought I would further research the Pioneer Cemeteries in Multnomah County (Portland, OR metro area). I was saddened to find that the overseeing government agency “Metro” had been selling off old, previously purchased  plots and in the process of digging ‘new’ graves were digging up old graves and dumping the remains in a field ten miles away. These disturbed graves were inside the cemetery we had visited early that day.

A citizen had come across the bones and markers while exploring with a metal detector. The police launched an investigation which eventually pointed back to Metro and of course the ubiquitous denials and ‘we had no idea’ comments so typical of all levels of government today.

“…the company uses a backhoe and puts a spotter on the ground to ensure other graves are not disturbed. On occasion, though, it’s inevitable. Concrete liners for caskets did not come into use in Oregon until the late 1970s or early 1980s; before then, caskets went straight into the ground. The passage of time, Fox said, disintegrates unprotected caskets.”

“Metro has acknowledged that nearly 700 unoccupied graves were resold to modern buyers in violation of state law that governed the sale of abandoned burial plots.” 

“Last year, the Legislature approved a statute that will aid Metro in its search for the descendants of the original grave owners. The law says if a cemetery authority hasn’t had contact with a plot owner for 75 years and can’t find the owner or descendants, the grave can be declared abandoned and reclaimed.” (Additional Info Here & Here)

Portland cemeteries are not exactly overflowing with graves, save the Willamette National Cemetery, which receives the remains of veterans and their spouses. This whole issue of unused Pioneer burial sites, poor record keeping, revenue generation and sloppy oversight probably goes on all around the world, but with all the back slapping Metro does on how great they manage Pioneer Cemeteries like Lone Fir, they sure were egregiously sloppy here. 

dump siteI watched a home made, shaky video by the man who helped dump the remains. I recognized the dump site and went out there today to look around. Upon arrival, I could see the whole area is now cordoned off with fencing to protect the area I suppose from people like me. I stood upon a post and took a shot into the fenced off area where the mounds of earth are still visible.

These situations challenge many of our beliefs we just take for granted about burials, respect, security and heritage.