The Jacksonville Cemetery, Oregon

Posted on
Aug 8, 2012

Yesterday, I noted that I was freaked out because the Touvelle House was right next to the Jacksonville Cemetery, and the risk of encountering zombies was therefore very high.

I hope you all realize that I was joking. I am well aware of how ridiculous a statement like that sounds. We all know that if a zombie apocalypse does occur, it will be because of some strange, mad-made virus that will spread quickly and indiscriminately – like lice through a kindergarten class. It will have no impact on the dead (who will be envied for having been spared the plight), but it will turn the living into mindless, cannibalistic monsters.

Obviously.

But there’s no way the virus could somehow bring the deceased back to life. That’s crazy talk.

And so, despite my all-consuming fear of zombies, I have no problem with cemeteries. I actually quite enjoy them. I find them peaceful and quiet, and really nothing to be afraid of. It’s something I got from my mom. She’s always been fond of graveyards, even when she was a little girl.

As she often says, “What could possibly hurt you in cemetery?”

Certainly not this wittle fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar.

Though the entrance to the cemetery was right next door to our B&B, we had to walk uphill to get there.

This view, looking down, doesn’t make it seem all that bad. But let me tell you: this gentle slope, in the summer heat, whooped my butt.

Looking back down from whence we came. I swear, it was much steeper at the time. REALLY.

Up at the top it was, forgive my pun, dead still. A hot breeze would blow through the weeds every now and then, and cicadas would occasionally buzz.

The quiet was both peaceful and oppressive.

The first official burying in Jacksonville Cemetery happened back in 1859, so while it’s a great deal newer than some of the graveyards we’ve visited back east, it remains one of the oldest cemeteries in Oregon. Many people first came out west in the 1850s during the Gold Rush, and there are quite a number of pioneers buried in the cemetery. It remains a functional, as well – some of the tombstones were from this year.

The older graves mark a world clearly different from the one we now live in. It’s hard to imagine a woman today having her husband’s first and last name on her tombstone, and just her own first initial.

It seems that Jacob outlived her, though, so she might not have had a say in the matter.

Many of the graves we saw were for children.

This one was heartbreaking.

Some of them died on the same day of their birth, before they were even named.

A few of the tombstones are even older than 1859. They comprise a handful of graves from around the area that were moved (along with the remains) to Jacksonville Cemetery after it opened.

Rand and I were fascinated by this one. It reads, “Silas J. Day, Pioneer of 1852. Indian War Veteran.”


The vagueness of that last phrase caught our attention. We had no idea what “The Indian War” referred to. Apparently it could have been any number of battles that happened between Native American peoples and settlers before and after the Revolutionary War (based on Silas’ date of birth, the war that he fought in must have been after). Given his geographic location, Silas likely fought in the Rogue River War which was … well, kind of ridiculously heinous. Native Americans were slaughtered in hopes of inciting them into a war … so that out-of-work pioneers could find employment as soldiers.

Yup. They started a war against Native Americans because they were OUT OF WORK AND NEEDED A PAYCHECK.

It’s strange to see something like that imprinted on a grave. 150 years after the fact, it doesn’t seem like something you’d want to brag about. But history, I suppose, is all about context. There are no doubt headstones being erected now that will shock or confuse people in another century and a half.

The older parts of the cemetery are divided into large sections based on religion or affiliation. The Catholics are right up against the Jews (“Just like you and me!” I told my husband), and they both border a group called the German Order of Redmen (you can see the entire layout online, but be warned: it’s a PDF). The areas are denoted with signs.

There’s an area of the cemetery called Potter’s Field that I would have liked to have visited, but didn’t learn about until after we got home. Apparently Potter’s Field is where you were buried if you couldn’t afford a gravesite or, because of your ethnicity or race, were prohibited from buying one.

To recap: if you were poor or not white, you weren’t allowed to mingle with the upper crust, even in death. Damn. That’s some serious segregation.

And in the end, it’s downright absurd. We’re all the same, and we all end up the same. All the stuff that can hurt and harm us is up above ground (except for carniverous mole people). I wonder if that’s why my mom likes cemeteries so much. Because they’re peaceful. Because they put everyone on even footing. Because despite the differences and hate that plagued us in the waking world, we all end up together.

And as we walked back down to town, I thought back to what she always says.

“What could possibly hurt you in a cemetery?”

Nothing. Really, nothing at all.

Leave a Comment

  • CatCatAttack

    Not to add something to your list of fears, but some caterpillars are EVIL!.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddleback_caterpillar

  • tim

    “There are no doubt headstones being erected now that will shock or confuse people in another century and a half.”
    Not only headstones but society in general – LOL

    Great blog! Thanks for the smile I have after reading it.
    I’ve always been fascinated by the “old” sections of cemetaries

  • Melissa

    Carnivorous mole people is why I am getting cremated!! I am not food…personal preference.

    My parents bought a house when I was 17 years old. There is a cemetery behind it. While they laughed about our QUIET NEIGHBORS, I replayed a scene from “Poltergeist” in my nightmares!! Houses built near cemeteries should not have basements!! 8*)

  • Mark Davidson

    J. Ellen is probably used because Ellen was her middle name, and it was the name that she always used and everyone knew her by. Like “J. Edgar Hoover”. If they had put Jane E. or Janet E. or whatever it was, everyone would have been confused.

  • Stef

    I find cemeteries peaceful, especially the older ones. And the bits of information on the tombstones can be fascinating. One tombstone has stuck with me ten years now – it was for a woman who died at 24 in the early 1900s. On the lower corners of the stone were the name and dates of her twin sons, born when she was 16. One died at 5, the other at 19. The fascinating bit is that nowhere was there mention of a husband, and no other stones in the tiny cemetery had the same last name. A young girl having out-of-wedlock children in that time…do I pity her hardship or salute her strength? Maybe a bit of both? I wish I knew her full story.

  • Elizabeth

    When we lived in Anchorage, twice a year there was a local theatre group that would tell stories in the cemetery about the residents buried there. It was very interesting, because you got to hear stories and reenactments about some of the most famous and infamous Anchorage residents.

    My son loves cemeteries and would beg to go walking in the downtown cemetery whenever we went for a walk. He would run around, clearing leaves and overgrown grass from the flat headstones since the caretakers didn’t seem to be doing so. Some of the markers had almost been grown over! During one of the story telling evenings at the cemetery, my son got really upset because he thought people were not being respectful enough as they walked through the cemetery, especially over the graves of children. He was about 6 at the time and I had to try to calm and explain to him that there was a lot of people and no one was trying to be disrespectful by, in his words, “walking all over the baby graves”.

    He still enjoys the quiet of the cemetery and loves to visit them whenever he can!

  • Cemeteries are always a nice stop on a trip – they provide an interesting historical record – we have a preference for cremation but I often wonder how that now very prevalent preference might be robbing the future of this subtle record of our “passing”. I just visited one near our home that is particularly quiet and lovely where one of our prime ministers was buried – in a shockingly demure and humble way. No fancy shmancy tomb. I also LOVED going to the three bg cemeteries in Paris if you ever go … you’ll have – excuse the pun – died and gone to heaven.

  • So this will probably make me sound ULTRA creepy, but I saw your husband walking the streets of Seattle today! I work in the Belltown area and I was walking to Starbucks on 1st avenue and I recognized him from your blog! At least im 99% sure it was him… If he wore a red short sleeve button up shirt today, then it was him. He was walking with another guy and they were talking about “advanced technologies”. I wanted to say hi and tell him that I read your blog but I was afraid that I couldn’t do so without sounding like a creepster. Anywho, I suppose this is my belated “hi” to Rand!

  • Please forgive my impertinence, but the history buff in me must point out that the Revolutionary War took place several decades before Silas was born. Did you mean to say the Civil War?

    Great article otherwise 🙂

    • Everywhereist

      Maybe you misunderstood me? It said Silas fought in the Indian War, which I noted could be any number of wars before and after the Revolutionary War. But based on Silas’ birth date, the Indian War that he fought in must have been after the Revolutionary War.

      • HA! Clearly my caffeine hadn’t kicked in yet this morning when I first read this post. Sorry! It makes perfect sense now. (As all your posts do – I should never have doubted.)

  • Jenna

    I went to the cemetery where my family members are buried to pay my respects. I got lost trying to find the person I was looking for. Out of frustration, I stopped and did a 360 scan, looking for a landmark or something that could jog my memory. As I took my first step forward, my last name on the tombstone below caught my eye. I was dumbfounded to see that I had stopped wandering on my dad’s fathers grave (he died 15 years before I was born and I didn’t know he was buried there). The feeling of looking down on his grave was something I will never forget, was it a mere coincidence? Was it the universe trying to tell me something? It still boggles my brain to think that out of ? a million plots in the place I happened to stop on my dad’s father.

    Also, I did a geocache in the old union cemetery in redwood city, ca. It was fascinating to read the headstones there and I was equally heartbroken about the infant mortality rate.

  • jaya

    I am from a different continent and new to your blog, but enjoy them a lot Burial grounds are peaceful but the areas close to them have contaminated and oily underground water !!

  • CindyK

    Awesome post… You are right… in the end we are all worm food….. Worms don’t distinguish between whatever ever silly labels we give ourselves.

    I, too, love to go to cemeteries. I don’t indulge this nearly as often as I would like, but in the past I had many wonderful visits to very old cemeteries.

    One that sticks in my mind after reading your post, was the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg, VA. (http://www.simplyfredericksburg.com/visit/cemetery/cemetery.shtml)

    I remember being humbled and in awe of the history as I was walking through this site. It was truly amazing. I took a picture of one headstone in particular… it was for a white woman who died in the late 1800’s…. and it was in the far corner if a remember correctly….. and the epitaph read “For a quarter of a century, a teacher of colored youth.” I just remember thinking Wow….. she had balls to put that on her gravestone, in a confederate cemetery … how awesome is that?!

  • nancy

    Congratulations on your correct use of the verb “comprise”!

  • kokopuff

    My 16 year old daughter and I love going to old cemeteries when we are on vacation. You’re right, they are peaceful and cause you to reflect on your own life, in a good, non depressing way. And may I just share with you my extreme happiness that you have never used the word “comprise” in a grammatically incorrect way? In that regard, you are ahead of the WSJ, NYTimes and just about every fiction writer in the world.

  • Elizabeth

    I have a love-hate relationship with cemeteries. One the one hand, you can visit and remember the dead, but on the other, they are the embodiment of selfishness. I grew up in Mexico, close to two graveyards, in a culture that welcomes talking about death. Let’s just say that I have had my funeral planned and revised for over 13 years, and I am in my early 30’s. I am mentioning this because death, cemeteries, and funerals were things that were part of our normal conversation at home.

    “Liz you just had a car accident, how long should we keep you in the machine?” my dad would ask in a pop quiz style during dinner or breakfast. Needless to say, as a kid, I thought long and hard about death and its accoutrements, and so I began to notice things like how much space cemeteries take from the neighborhood, or even worse, El panteon Jardin (the nice looking one), had only 15 vacancies left in 1992, which meant that my mom was probably not getting her wish, and cemeteries get FULL, where are we going to bury the rest of the people? is it ethical to remove graves after a certain amount of time to make wave for the more recently deceased? do we just keep building more and more cemeteries?

    I for one will be cremated. That is of course, if I do not turn into a zombie.. brainzzz

  • Lemia

    Geraldine,

    I thought I was the only one that liked going to cemeteries and hanging out. I guess I am not alone. Two years ago I shot a couple of rolls of this cemetery out in Brooklyn:

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100118706642739.2747528.819171&type=3&l=955cf62eea

    Have you been the European graveyards? They are AMAZING.

  • ring stafford

    I bet J. Ellen had a horrendous first name like Jo-Linda or Jezebel or Jocasta and didn’t want to be saddled with it for all eternity.

  • Beth Weese

    Moravian graveyards have flat tombstones that are all the same to show that no one is above another in death. I recently visited the one in Old Salem, NC, and this post reminded me of it. It is a lovely sentiment.

    (I realize that this comment is not timely in relation to the date this was posted, but I am just getting around to catching up on reading one’s I missed.)

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