Posts Tagged ‘Cemeteries


Seeking a connection…

“Breathing seemed harder in the cemetery, and selfish, somehow…” Sheri Webber



Taphophile: an interest in graves, cemeteries, funerals. Also, a graver, grave hunter, tombstone tourist. 

tapho-photographer and explorer, I suppose. Certainly not the more crass ‘graver’ to be sure. To be one, a label, is far easier than explaining the magic, power, charm and humanizing quality of strolling through a cemetery. Given where I live, Oregon/U.S., the cemeteries are certainly not ancient. They are more of the ‘pioneer’ or settler variety. Yet, the drama of suspected life and the visual certainty of death creates drama’s that touch one as you stroll through a cemetery. I walk away from such encounters feeling more spiritual and more connected to history.



Life’s struggles…

I enjoy discovering the hidden stories of cemeteries, particularly what we would call ‘Pioneer’ cemeteries. Pioneers, in our neck of the woods, were folks that departed the smothering confines of Eastern United States and moved West to explore, to pioneer, the open spaces. Most of this took place in the mid 1800’s in the Pacific Northwest (United States).

Not too long ago, I posted about Marcus W. Robertson. Buried in a small, rural cemetery in Central Oregon in Pine Grove. I noted his apparent heroic exploits to become a Medal of  Honor recipient and then I noted his nephew Earl who died in 1918 in WWI.


Marcus Robertson Medal of Honor Winner SwittersB

While at the cemetery, I had snapped a few more headstones of the Robertson’s family. I decided to see what I could find out about them given the burst of death and apparent grief in the early 1900’s. What I noticed was Marcus’s brother, Robert Earl, had a seemingly sad stretch of life in this rural area. First he lost his wife, Fannie Juliet in 1911 to illness, then in 1915 his two daughters are burned up in the home, which was totally destroyed and then he loses his son, the perviously mentioned Earl in WWI, who as I recalled he died of a dental infection in France, after being ‘severely wounded’.

As one reviews theses events, the mind goes to the magnitude of the events and how they would impact our own mind, heart and health. Normally, when listening to such events on the news, the sound bite hits us, but is immediately gone and purposely abandoned to lessen the impact. But, for me, cemetery history lingers in my mind. In a good way, I think. It makes one look outward beyond the tip of our nose to see the humanity and struggles about us…in the past and before us now. A good thing.   

Below are the grave markers and a few local newspaper snippets…

‘Mrs. Fanny Robertson died last Friday night, August 25, after a lingering illness,…’  Hood River Glacier Journal, August 31, 1911

Fannie Robertson 1911-SwittersB

“Children Burned to Death in Hood River. While their father; worked In the barn nearby, Ruth and Violet Robertson, daughters of Robert Robertson, were burned to death by fire which destroyed their home, near this city. Ruth was 7 years old and Violet was 14 years. Indications are that the children never left their bed, but were smothered and burned without a chance to save themselves. Their charred bodies were found within the twisted and blackened frame of their Iron bed.”  Crook County journal. (Prineville, Or.) May 13, 1915

Robertson girls-died-1915-SwittersB


Earl Roberston 1918 died WWI SwittersB


Photography: Solitude & Poor Recall

Woodland SB

Deep In The Quiet Wood (James Weldon Johnson)

“Are you bowed down in heart? Do you but hear the clashing discords and the din of life? Then come away, come to the peaceful wood, Here bathe your soul in silence. Listen!”

Some of you follow along enough to know I have that fascination with older cemeteries. They are old by Oregon standards. Pioneer parcels that have interesting graves from my perspective. Recently, I have been trying to find a very small graveyard that I recall visiting in the mid 80′s. Even then, it was overgrown and forgotten. No fence, no signs. There was a low wrought iron fence around one grave. Few headstones. Someone had been digging up a grave to steal the contents. The disappearance of a cemetery is highly unique in this area. Here, in this image, I found a parcel of land that seems the same size and look, as I recall it, and I surveyed the area for any signs of graves without success.The search will continue, but probably more via records.



Oregon Cemeteries Research Tool

Headstones 1 SBAlong the way, I have posted re cemeteries we come across either around town or while on the road. There is a historical draw to these sites that often combine with visuals and stories to move the imagination. 

Gothic Arch SwittersB

A few years ago, I became aware of a very old, unmarked cemetery West of Portland. I have wanted to find historical data on this small, overgrown plot of land, but alas I can’t seem to find anything. Yesterday, I came upon a very informative resource that purportedly lists all known cemeteries/burial plots in Oregon (excepting private pioneer burials I am sure). Still the list does not contain the cemetery I am researching, but it certainly has many others that beg additional research and exploration into history. Travel, photography and writing are inspired by cemeteries….particularly pioneer cemeteries.

Heastones 2 SB


Pioneers, Graves, Bureaucrats

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.


Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, Oregon (Historical Gem)

Today, Portland savored a beautiful Fall day. Just warm enough, leaves already falling, squirrels chasing one another amongst the trees of the Lone Fire Cemetery. It is Portland’s oldest cemetery

Within a short time, I came across several stories that would beg more research, more leads to followup. Where to begin? I took photos and they mostly tell the story but a few explanations help too. 

First, I went to a corner of the cemetery I had never explored before. Out of the way, I had always driven by it toward the older portions of the cemetery (although it is all mostly old by Portland standards). I was shuffling through dry leaves and chestnuts, watching some squirrels chase each other around the trunk of a tree. I stopped to take their photos should I be so lucky to capture their swirling chase. They momentarily disappeared from sight so I looked down. Within this 30 acre site, in this off to the side corner was the head stone for my children’s pediatrician. A saint of a man, who died much too young. How amazing I came to a stop atop his grave.

There are in excess of 25,000 people buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery and I happened upon this grave. I looked up and my friends were staring at me.

Such good karma on a warm afternoon. Good memories. A work crew off in the distance lounged in their work truck. Not another living person in view. I was going to say ‘soul’ but opted away from that. I moved toward the opposite corner where I knew the pioneer family, the Stephens, are buried.

The link I attached, provides the start up data re the  Lone Fir Cemetery and the Stephens family. There graves take up a fifty foot swath in the NW corner of the cemetery. The grave of Emmor Stephens (born 1777, died 1846) is next to the above headstone. Emmor was the first burial in the cemetery.

Emmor Stephens Headstone

This monument was to the Stephens’ children and grandchildren. As I circled the monument I counted ten born/died engravings on the monument of young ones. I didn’t think to look if there was a pattern as to year and a disaster of some sort.

Now I know by East Coast/Euro standards this is not too impressive, but by Portland standards it is epic. Realize that just within previous months the Penny Coin Toss that decided Portland’s name had just taken place. These were primitive times in River City.

There was more, but I will save it for another time soon. With in a stone’s toss there were all manner of Portland historical treasures and great photo ops.

As I was leaving the vans and rental rigs were parking nearby and gurneys of gear were being wheeled into the cemetery by some film crew. Grimm perhaps? They have been filming in Portland for sometime. Perfect locale for a cemetery shoot.


Cemetery Spell & Story Telling

Cemeteries, pioneer cemeteries, hold a spell over me. Portland has quite a few designated as ‘pioneer’. Of course, they are not as old as eastern U.S. cemeteries. But, there a draw to them that intrigues and begs so many questions as you walk about.

I have decided to spend more time stopping along the way, whether on the open road or around town, and slowing down enough to study the markers and capture some with the camera that work their way into my imagination.

 For years, I have driven by this old cemetery perched atop a hillside in Central Oregon. Always in a hurry to fish, the hillside begged but I drove by. This day, I pulled off and drove up into cemetery.

What a captivating setting. Rugged and almost forgotten. I walked about the tall, dry grass. There were hundreds of stories here and all the attendant questions.

Below @ “The Past” you can search back to 2008 month by month

July 2020

Please visit MUNCY DESIGNS (click)

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