Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oakland's Cemeteries - St. Mary's turns 150

You'd expect plot 1 in a cemetery as old as Mountain View Cemetery to have a lot of history, and in that regard, it doesn't disappoint. It's the resting place of a number of people who were instrumental in the shaping of the early town of Oakland, like Solomon Alden, John McElrath, Moses Chase (the first American citizen to settle in Oakland), Enoch Pardee and George Pardee, Jane Waer (the first burial in Mountain View) and many others.

While Mountain View is the biggest cemetery in Oakland, it wasn't the first. It's not even in the top 3. The first cemetery was the Oakland Cemetery, near where Laney College is now. When it was started in 1852, Oakland was a brand new town, and the location was out of the way. But Oakland was growing rapidly, and within 5 years the cemetery was in the way of expansion.

The larger Webster Street Cemetery was started in 1857, but it barely lasted 10 years. Mountain View Cemetery was founded in 1863, but the first burial didn't take place until 1865. Burials stopped at Webster Street in 1867. In preparation for development, most of the remains were moved from Webster Street to other cemeteries. The 'most' part makes it unsurprising that in 1877, an excavator accidentally hit one of the remaining coffins and spilled the contents: "the left hand and arm nearly to the elbow protruded from the ground, the hand drooped over gracefully from the wrist. Portions of the coat and vest were visible, as were the outlines of the face, but over these still rested a coating of fine earth."

The third cemetery to open in Oakland was Saint Mary's Cemetery in 1863. This Saturday, Saint Mary's will be celebrating its 150th birthday with a ceremony and tour. It's a great chance to learn more about this smaller neighbor of Mountain View Cemetery, and learn some Oakland and California history in the process.

Lots more pictures from Plot 1 in Mountain View Cemetery:

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