Graveyards and their gravestones offer some great history lessons and serve as prompts to explore more. At Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery, recently, I had three lessons worth mentioning. Read more
In my innocence, I thought the only requirement for burial in a cemetery was that you had to be dead. I thought anyone could buy a plot anywhere they fancied and be buried there. Granted, I had factored in that to be buried in say, a Jewish cemetery, I’d have to be Jewish. Or in a Catholic cemetery, I’d have to be Catholic. And after I sat and thought about it for a while, I went even further and reckoned that some cemeteries might even be reserved for residents of the parish or village, town, or city in which they sat. I’d simply assumed that to be buried in a military cemetery, I’d have to have served. But hey, I’ve been wrong before, as I learned on a trip to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
Given the history of Irish immigration to the USA, it shouldn’t have surprised me to find old graves of Irish immigrants in El Campo Santo, a tiny cemetery in the heart of San Diego’s Old Town. What did surprise me though was that they hailed from the lesser known counties of Cavan and Longford. I don’t think I ever met anyone from Cavan until I went to Alaska. Established back in 1849, this physical history book is a rarity in that beside some of the graves it gives a short bio of some of those interred.
Driving down Peart Road in Casa Grande, we spotted a sign marking Weaver Pioneer Cemetery. It was surrounded by a wire fence, and the main gate was locked. Apparently, the local Historical Society has the key and is only too happy to loan it out, if you want to visit. But we weren’t organised. We made do with peeping through the chinks in the fence.
The old family cemetery was deeded to the city of Casa Grande by the Weaver family back in 2006 to make sure it was preserved. Each grave is numbered, and unlike larger cemeteries like Evergreen Memorial Park in LA, it is well mapped. That said, there’s only a handful of graves to navigate, so it was a much easier job.
Arthur Leslie Elliott was the first Anglo baby born in the city back in 1883. He lived to be 90 years old. Three-year-old Jessie D. Philips seems to be the longest resident. He died in 1896. Diane Loy has catalogued Weaver Pioneer Cemetery for the United States Cemetery Project.
Worth a visit if you’re in the area. I’ve forgiven the typo…
110 West Florence Boulevard, Casa Grande, Arizona 85122
Email – [email protected]
I’ll admit to being confused. When we stumbled on this cemetery, we knew we were in the vicinity of Chuichu, but when I went to find it on a map or learn more about it, it seems that it’s known as Cocklebur Cemetery (according to Google Sky), and Chuichu South Cemetery or Southside Cemetery (according to which obituary you read). And although not far from Chuichu West Cemetery, it’s in a different city. [The term city in America doesn’t quite mean the same as it does in Europe.] That said, the graves seem to be in two sections so perhaps each has its own name but so little is written about either of them that it’s hard to figure out.
Like Chuichu West, those who lie within the boundaries of Chuichu South Cemetery are mainly Tohono O’odham. But their graves tell stories. Not by their tombstones or crosses but by what’s been left with them to accompany them on their journey.
Douglas Frederick Rubio died in November 2017. He was buried at sunrise. The baseball, the guitar, the miniature football on his grave all spoke of what he loved while alive. And according to his obituary, he loved listening to all kinds of music, his favourite baseball team was the Chuichu Reds, and he was also a Cardinals fan.
Bradley Michael Norris had a dream – he wanted to graduate high school and then go to college to be a small business major. The epitaph on the back of his gravestone is a reminder to us all. His obituary speaks of ambition and dreams, a strong sense of community, and a love of chicken scratch music.
The social dance music of the native people of southern Arizona, waila (also known as chicken scratch) is a hybrid music style in which polkas, cumbias, two-steps, and other old world dances are given a Native American twist.
The graves made for some interesting stories. They reminded me a lot of Liz Handy’s five-object self-portrait. And it was here that it dawned on me what I’d found so odd in Chuichu West: the body seems to face the cross with the details of who’s buried there on the back side of the cross. Imagine if you tilted the whole grave forward, the body would stand on the cross, which would be face down in the ground.
With so much biographic detail missing, the size of the crosses seemed to relate to age. And their placing, to families. A particularly heart-wrenching grave was that of a child who died the day he was born. His family still bring birthday presents.
The only gate to the cemetery, other than the one leading in from the main road, has an upside-down horseshoe pinned to the top, a sure sign that for those lying inside, their luck had finally run out.
It’s a beautiful place, a simple testimony to full lives lived in a community of people who care. A haunting reminder of the juxtaposition of life and death.
When we went looking for the Chuichu West Cemetery in Casa Grande, we didn’t quite know what we’d find. We lucked out. As the GPS directed us away from the city and into the desert, we were soon on reservation land. The Tohono O’odham (Papago) are a Piman-speaking American Indian tribe living in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. There are four reservations in Arizona with a combined acreage of over 2.8 million. We were on Ak Chin (1912).
The bright silk flowers stood out against the green-spotted browns of the desert, their colours providing a sharp contrast to the simple white crosses. Walking around Chuichu West Cemetery I wondered at the obvious Catholicism but further reading tells me that
Although many Papagos became Catholic in the eighteenth century, having clustered around Spanish presidios and missions to escape the Apache, it was a Catholicism heavily mixed with traditional beliefs.
In addition to statues of Our Lady, the crosses, and the rosary beads, other symbols dotted the graves in Chuichu West Cemetery. The man in a sombrero next to a cactus might well be a hat tip to their Mexican brethren. But it was the Man in a Maze image, the Tohono O’odham emblem, that fascinated me.
The man entering the maze has only one path he can travel – life and all it entails.
The Man in the Maze design symbolizes experiences and choices we make in our journey through life. The center of the life symbol is your goal in life. There is a dream at the center and you reach the dream when you get to the middle of the maze. Upon reaching the center of the maze you have one final opportunity (the last turn of the symbol) to look back at your choices and path, before the Sun God greets you, blesses you and passes you into the next world.
At the entrance of the maze, the figure of the man represents birth. The white path is the journey through life with all its ups and downs. Life lessons are many and include observation, independence, and truth. It’s the symbol of life for the tribe, one I hope has not been lost.
Few of the graves had names or dates that were decipherable. But all had flowers and most had cans of coke and bottles of water. Unopened. The few that had names were difficult to research. I did find an obituary for Hugh James Antone, who was born in Toawa, AZ and served in the Army during WWII. Antone, a labourer by trade, received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign and Good Conduct medals and the Distinguished Unit Badge. Buried here in Chuichu West Cemetery, he was a member of St Augustine Church.
We had passed St Augustine’s on the way in and stopped there on the way out. Billed as a typical village church, it dates back to 1912. Sadly, like most Catholic churches around the world, it was locked. A peek in the opaque part of the stained glass window in the door showed that the seats faced each other and not the altar. It made for a much more welcoming environment and gave it a friendlier feel. That set me thinking. Perhaps the best sort of religion is a religion that is a blend of many beliefs. I like that the Tohono O’odham are welcomed by the Sun God at the end of their days and love the fact that their church offers a sense of community. I’d very much like to go to mass there one day.
Arizona has been having unseasonable weather. It’s been raining. A lot. Which seriously interfered with my cemetery walk around Williams Cemetery in Williams AZ. The red clay had turned to muck and it was impossible to avoid being sucked into the mush. Perhaps though, it was the town’s way of making sure I’d come back.
I was so taken with the town of Williams AZ that I nearly forgot to check the cemeteries. Patty Williams, wife of the lovely Buck, set me straight. And I’m glad she did.
Williams Cemetery lies just outside the main drag. It used to extend down to 9th street, where most of the Chinese railway workers were buried, but that land was reclaimed and they’ve all been moved. Somewhere.
The cemetery is not maintained by the city. Each family is responsible for their plots. The city, as a courtesy, will plough snow. This explained the mud. That’s it. It’s supposed to be haunted and many of those commenting on a Haunted Places website say they’ve experienced strange things.
We stayed at a hotel next to the cemetery. That night our lights were off and flickered on, and the next day we heard a man very clearly say hey you girl.we instantly packed our stuff and left! On the way out I noticed we were next to a cemetery and thought it was strange so I decide to take a picture to show people it was next to a cemetery. Mind you the cemetery was seen from where I was standing and no people were in the cemetery but when I looked at the photo later you could clearly see a man standing in the photo looking down at a grave.
It has its fair share of quirky, too, a far cry from traditional European cemeteries that are manicured to within an inch of their lives. But it added to the rustic feel, the sense that we were on Route 66 and back in the day when life was less ordered, less precise. Too late, I found a full list of residents.
There are quite a few former service men buried from any number of wars. Other headstones are hand carved and the borned threw me for a bit. It’s a historical place home to the only serviceman in the USA who got both a medal of honour and was court-martialed in the same war. But the mud proved too much. We never found him, despite directions that said he was close to the war memorial.
If you want to get the most out of your visit, pick a dry time. Or bring wellies. Take the time to read and wander and get a feel for days gone by. It’s a lovely spot.
After the pomp and ceremony of Hillside Memorial Park, stepping into Evergreen Memorial Park was like stepping back in time. The oldest of the Los Angeles cemeteries, it has plenty to say about yesteryear and says it in ways that would raise an eyebrow today.
Evergreen Memorial Park opened its grounds in 1877 and is LA’s oldest cemetery. Today, these 60 acres are home to some 300 000 graves that chronicle the history of the area. The best maintained sectioned tells, too, of those who are still living: relatives of the Japanese-Americans of the 442 Regimental Combat Unit who fought for the USA during World War II.
I noticed that the markers for children’s graves were topped with a lamb, something I’ve not seen before. They were also smaller in size and for the most part, moss-covered and long-forgotten. Sad, really, to see what happens when the living die off or move on.
There’s an entire section for deceased members of the Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association, but unfortunately few of the markers said what the person did. A missed opportunity there to get creative, but perhaps back in the day, being dead was as good as being done.
Some of the notables, like John W. Bixby, get a special mention in the history of the cemetery. A native of Anson, Maine, Bixby came to LA when he was 21. His family apparently, was behind the development of Long Beach and they’ve lent their name to Bixby Park. Others, like Frank Breed, give cause of death, one line that conjures all sorts of possible stories. There’s a fascinating slide show of the whole place on this site.
But again, there was no map, no indication of who was buried where. The adjacent Potters Field, the only place Chinese bodies could be buried in the county for the longest time, was closed. Unlike the privately owned Evergreen Memorial Park, it is owned by the county and they don’t work on Sundays.
My favourite of the new markers says so much about the man buried underneath. The combination of film, fishing, and firearms made be laugh out loud. The addition of the Royal Flush had be thinking this chap would have made a good cowboy.