I happened upon a few notable names during a walk through Mount Hope Cemetery. I had over an hour before the Memorial Day ceremony would begin, so I just wandered down winding roads through fields of headstones.
Many early residents of San Diego are buried at Mount Hope. Among the jumble of names engraved in stone, one can find some of the city’s most influential citizens. Like Alonzo Horton, Kate Sessions, George Marston, Thomas Whaley, Ah Quin, E. S. Babcock, and Robert Waterman. (Not to mention the famous author Raymond Chandler!) But I didn’t have a map. So I just meandered through the hilly cemetery and gazed.
Thousands of gravestones.
Every life different. Every life important in its own way.
Some of the dates indicate long lives, others short. But isn’t it true that all of our lives are short?
Someone asked about my visit–if the cemetery felt spooky. No. The best word that comes to mind is bittersweet. A feeling of both joy and sadness.
Every single name has become a part of San Diego history.
(I did a bit of research for this blog post. Hopefully I got the following information right. If not, leave a comment!)
George James Keating was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1840. He and his wife Fannie, owners of a farming company, eventually moved to San Diego in 1886. Keating made large investments in the city’s booming real estate market. After his death, Fannie oversaw the construction of the five-story Keating Building, which I blogged about several years ago here.
George W. Marston was often referred to as “San Diego’s First Citizen.”
A successful department store owner, he founded the San Diego Historical Society and was a prominent advocate for and planner of Balboa Park. He was a critical force in the establishment of the San Diego Public Library System and Presidio Park.
You can see a sculpture of George Marston on my blog here, and the garden of his beautiful, historic house, which is located in the northwest corner of Balboa Park, here.
Lt. George F. Stockton’s tragic drowning on August 21, 1921 prompted the creation of the City of Oceanside Lifeguard Service. He was pulled out to sea by a rip current. He had served on the World War I ship USS San Diego.
Col. Edward McGurck was born in Ireland. He purchased property on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street in 1876 for $50. In 1887 he developed the McGurck Block Building at that location.
Daniel Brower Kurtz has an important San Diego street named after him. He arrived in San Diego in 1850 and was elected second city mayor in 1851. He also served as a state senator, county judge, and assemblyman.
James Edward Friend was an enterprising reporter and newspaper publisher in the early days of San Diego.
Seeing his name brought a smile to my face. He was a good friend of Bum, San Diego’s Town Dog, and figured prominently in the wonderful book titled The Dog That Belonged to No One. Any young person living in San Diego should read this short book. It’s quite enjoyable, full of history and good humor.
Captain James Friend was also known as a friend and benefactor to San Diego’s newsboys.
You can read about Bum, San Diego’s lovable Town Dog, and see his sculpture in my blog post here.
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The second Memorial Day event that I attended yesterday took place at Mount Hope Cemetery. I had never before visited this history-filled municipal cemetery.
Mount Hope is where many of San Diego’s early residents are buried. It’s hilly and sprawling, with thousands of scattered headstones and monuments. Thousands of names are eternally engraved.
The dignified Memorial Day ceremony was held atop GAR Hill. I learned that G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic. The fraternal organization is composed of veterans who fought on the Union side during the American Civil War. On grassy GAR Hill rest many Union soldiers who fought bravely.
The annual event, I also learned, is organized by both the Sons and Daughters of Union Veterans, and Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. Over a thousand Civil War veterans are buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Yesterday afternoon I stood and watched a moving tribute to those who had fought in the war that ended slavery. Some of the participants wore Civil War uniforms and period dress. History came to life with eloquent words of remembrance, and the singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace. Several speakers recalled the men who fought, their sacrifices, and the triumph of liberty. Our current times were also addressed. It is necessary to stay firm in the defense of freedom.
This year the ceremony honored one Civil War soldier in particular: Henry Neal Fletcher, 4th Corporal, Company G, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He fought for the Union. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary War. From them he learned how freedom was won. He died a beloved member of the San Diego community.
The idea for Memorial Day is thought to have come from the tradition of decorating soldier’s graves in late spring with flowers, a custom that predated the Civil War. During the war, with so many dead, the practice became very common. The tradition finally became formalized, and known as Decoration Day.
On this Memorial Day, atop a quiet hill, I saw many flags decorating the graves of soldiers.
I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!
El Campo Santo, a cemetery located in Old Town, contains many of San Diego’s earliest residents. By walking respectfully among the gravestones, one can learn much about the city’s interesting history and what life was like for its diverse people. Real-life characters buried here include ranchers, gold miners, sailors, Californios, Native Americans, soldiers, politicians, merchants, actors, children and outlaws.
Established in 1849, the graveyard is the final resting place of nearly five hundred souls. Just a handful are shown in this blog post.
I took photographs of grave sites, headstones and many small signs in the “Holy Field” that describe what is known about the deceased. With a little editing, I’ve provided information here from many of those signs, and from a few other online sources.
Melchior, born 1770, died 1867, age 97 years. Very little is known about the Indian Melchior. He was born a year after the arrival of Junipero Serra in San Diego. He was baptized by the missionaries and became a Roman Catholic Christian. During his long life, he saw San Diego grow from a small pueblo to a city.
Thomas W. Tanner was buried December 22, 1868, age 55 years. He ran an acting troupe that performed on the second floor of the Whaley House in December 1868. Tanner’s troupe offered moral, chaste and versatile entertainment consisting of drama, farce, comedy, singing and dancing. Unfortunately, Tanner died 17 days after his troupe opened. He was married to Policarpia de la Rosa and was a native of Baltimore, Maryland.
Anita Gillis was a child when she died. Her funeral is remembered as follows on a plaque by the grave. A funeral procession wound across the Plaza and ended at the old church. The child lay in a tiny white coffin, which rested on a small white table. The cover was off, and the coffin and table were filled with flowers. Six little girls dressed in white with wreaths on their heads carried the table. The priest and two boys carrying crosses walked ahead, the mourners behind. Musicians played the violin and accordion, and boys firing off firecrackers brought up the rear of the procession. She was carried to the church, and the coffin placed under a small white catafalque, draped in Spanish lace and surrounded by candles. A simple, solemn mass was said. She was then carried to the old cemetery and buried with a simple white wooden cross bearing her name erected at the head of her grave.
Juan Mendoza died February 6, 1865. He was the victim of a fatal shotgun blast to the back. The assailant was Cave Johnson Couts, a local landowner and prominent San Diegan born in Tennessee. As the story goes, Mendoza worked as majordomo, or chief steward, on one of Cave Couts’ ranches. Couts claimed that Mendoza had threatened his life and in a hasty act of revenge killed Mendoza in broad daylight. The action violated the legendary “Code of the West” which prohibited “shooting an unarmed man” and “shooting a man in the back”. Couts was tried by jury for his crime and found not guilty. This was received “with much applause” from local citizens since threatening the life of a man, as Mendoza allegedly did, gave Couts the right to stand his ground and kill him.
Honorable Edward Lynch Greene died November 28, 1872, age 38 years. He was a native of Ireland who came to California in 1852 and was a miner for gold. He was naturalized in 1861. He became a member of the state legislature when he was elected to the Assembly from Calaveras County in 1869. He was staying in San Diego at the Era House when he died of consumption. He’d been ill for the past eighteen months. He left behind a young wife, Ann Greene.
Antonio Garra Sr. died January 10, 1852. He was a leader among his people, the Cupeno-Kavalim Clan. He was educated at Mission San Luis Rey and spoke as many as five Indian dialects, as well as Latin. He was one of the foremost chiefs with great power and influence among his people. The Cupeno were considered mission Indians and were subject to pay taxes in San Diego County. Garra, upset by the taxation of his people, helped to organize a resistance movement, comprised of attacks on Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego. Against his wishes, a fatal attack was made on Warner’s Ranch. He was soon thereafter captured. On January 10, 1852 Garra was found guilty of murder and theft, but not treason, as he had never taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. Before being executed by firing squad, Garra said in his last words: “Gentlemen, I ask your pardon for all my offenses, and expect yours in return.” Antonio Garra, Sr. is believed to be buried underneath what is now San Diego Avenue.
Magdalena was an Indian maiden who died on March 7, 1867 at age 21.
Maria de los Angeles was an Indian infant who died September 19, 1867.
James W. Robinson was known as Yankee Jim. He suffered an extreme penalty for stealing the only rowboat in San Diego Bay. He was sentenced to be hanged. He couldn’t believe that he would be hanged until the very last moment. He appeared to think it was all a grim joke, or at worst, a serious effort to impress him with the enormity of his evil ways. He was still talking when the deputy sheriff gave the signal. Yankee Jim converted to the Roman Catholic Church prior to his death, and so was given the baptismal name of Santiago (Spanish for James). His godfather was Philip Crosthwaite, the deputy sheriff who gave the signal for his execution.
Rosa Serrano de Cassidy died February 10, 1869, age 21 years. She was the first wife of Andrew Cassidy (a native of County Cavan, Ireland) who helped establish and operate the U.S. tidal gauge in La Playa (in present day Point Loma). Rosa was the daughter of Jose Antonio Serrano who served under Pio Pico in the Mexican War and was in the battle of San Pasqual. Rosa and her husband owned a rancho in Pauma. Her headstone is one of the few remaining originals in the cemetery. After cracking during an earlier restoration, it was placed flat on the ground in order to preserve it.
Don Miguel Telesforo de Pedrorena died March 21, 1850. Don Miguel was a native of Spain, belonging to one of the best families of Madrid. After receiving an education in his own country, he was sent to London, where he was educated in English. In 1845 he settled in San Diego. He married Maria Antonia Estudillo, daughter of Jose Antonio Estudillo, and the two had four children. They built their casa behind the Estudillo home. It was one of the first framed houses in Old Town, and still stands beside the San Diego Union print shop. Don Miguel became a leading merchant and citizen of old San Diego. He served as a delegate to the State’s Constituional Convention at Monterey in 1849 and became one of the founding fathers of California.
Juan Maria Marron, born 1808, died at the age of 45. He was a ship’s captain before coming to San Diego in the early 1820’s. He was the owner of 13,311 acres called Rancho Agua Hedionda, which extends from modern day Vista to Carlsbad. He became prominent politically when he married Dona Felipa Osuna in 1834. She was the daughter of Juan Maria Osuna, who was the first alcalde of San Diego and the owner of Rancho San Dieguito. During the Mexican-American War, Marron supported the Americans against many of his Mexican friends. He was captured by Californios who threatened to execute him, but he was released, and his rancho was stripped of horses and cattle.
Buried November 28, 1859, age 4 years, Jayme was one of probably thirteen children of George and Bernarda Lyons. Jayme’s father was a native of Donegal, Ireland, who came to San Diego in 1847. He had been a carpenter on a ship that came around Cape Horn from New Bedford, Massachusetts. He kept a store in Old Town, owned a blacksmith shop, and was sheriff for two terms. Jayme’s mother was Bernarda de Villar, the daughter of Lieutenant de Villar, who at one time was the Commandant of the San Diego Presidio.
Bill Marshall and Juan Verdugo were hanged on December 13, 1851. Bill Marshall was an American married to the daughter of a local Indian chieftain. He was a renegade sailor from Providence, Rhode Island, who’d deserted from a whaling ship at San Diego in 1844. After taking up habitation with the Indians, he took an active part in the Garra Indian uprisings in 1851. He and the Indian Juan Verdugo were caught and brought back to San Diego to be promptly tried by court martial. Both were found guilty. The Indian acknowledged his guilt, but Marshall insisted he was innocent. At two o’clock in the afternoon, a scaffold was erected near the old Catholic cemetery, the men placed in a wagon, the ropes adjusted about their necks, and the wagon moved on, leaving them to strangle to death.
Rafael Mamudes was a Native American born in Hermosillo, Mexico. He was a baker in Monterey, a miner in Calaveras County, and made a sea voyage to Guaymas. He owned a little plot of land in San Diego where the old jail stands. Legend has it he made a murderous attack upon his wife. To do penance, the priest gave Rafael the task of ringing the church bells when the occasion demanded. Rafael worked at chopping wood and digging wells. He dug the graves for the people of Old Town. He never missed a church service.
Jesus, an Indian, passed away December 15, 1879, age 25 years. He died of a blow to the head without receiving sacraments. According to the priest Juan Pujol, he was said to be drunk, so he was buried near the gate of the cemetery.
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Warning! Some of the upcoming pics are pretty darn scary! You’ve been warned!
This morning I was nearly frightened out of my wits. I was taking a nice brisk walk up the west side of Balboa Park, enjoying the fresh air and at peace with the world…when I found myself surrounded! I couldn’t escape from silent ghosts rising from the cold ground all around me! A catastrophe! The horror! I had met my doom!
Oh, thank goodness, I realized at last. It’s just the Haunted Trail. You know, the yearly outdoor “haunted house” that’s extremely popular in San Diego around Halloween.
The spooky attraction, which brings in thousands of thrill-seekers on dark Autumn nights, is under construction once again. It’s larger than ever and looks super spooky. I walked around the perimeter and tried to get a bunch of cool daytime photos for you to enjoy. Here they are…
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El Campo Santo (which means “The Holy Field” in Spanish) is a small Roman Catholic graveyard in Old Town, nestled between buildings several blocks south of the State Park. It contains a variety of weathered tombstones and crosses marking the final resting places of many early San Diego residents. It is designated California Historical Landmark #68.
Established in 1849, the cemetery reached full capacity in 1880. Today it is a popular attraction for passing tourists.
Walk about carefully and read the old inscriptions, and you’ll discover pioneer families, soldiers, politicians, small children, Mexicans, Native Americans, unknown people, rich and poor, educated and illiterate . . . buried side by side.
Nearly five hundred people were buried at El Campo Santo. One of the graves belongs to notorious Santiago “Yankee Jim” Robinson. He stole San Diego’s only row boat, and was hung at the site of the nearby Whaley House.
Supposedly all sorts of ghosts, vapors, hovering torsos, spectral figures and weird apparitions have been seen at this cemetery. And supposedly they set off car alarms along San Diego Avenue.
One ghost is said to be a prostitute who was denied burial. Another is said to be Antonio Garra, a notable Native American. As chief of the Cupenos tribe, Garra led an uprising in 1851 against the people of San Diego due to unfair taxation. When finally captured, he was made to stand beside an open grave and executed by firing squad.
If such ghosts do exist, it seems they have one definite reason to be upset! In 1889 a horse-drawn streetcar line was built right through the hallowed cemetery. In 1942 the tracks were paved over with asphalt, creating the busy roadway. Today, according to a sign by the sidewalk, there are numerous graves directly under the street!