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Spotlight: Yorba Cemetery

October 29, 1988|Clipboard researched by Susan Greene, Dallas Jamison and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times. Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Location: Woodgate Park, 6749 Parkwood Court, Yorba Linda Description: Established in 1858, Yorba Cemetery is recognized as the oldest private cemetery in Orange County, predated only by the mission graveyard in San Juan Capistrano. The 1-acre cemetery is surrounded by a hedge and iron fence and is set in a small community park amid condominiums. History: The cemetery was established by Bernardo Yorba, son of Jose Antonio Yorba I, a Spanish soldier in the Portola expedition of 1769. It is on the site of the Rancho Canon de Santa Ana, a 13,328-acre ranch granted to Bernardo Yorba in 1834. In 1858, not long before his death, Yorba deeded the plot to the Catholic church, and family members were buried there until the 1930s. Bernardo Yorba was originally buried in Los Angeles but his remains were moved to Yorba Cemetery in 1923. Over the years, the cemetery fell into disrepair and was severely vandalized. In 1967, the county accepted a deed for the land from the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 1976, the cemetery was opened to visitors along with adjacent Woodgate Park. Restoration: County park ranger Mike Miniachi is in charge of the cemetery's restoration. To date, he has concentrated on measures to protect the site from vandals. Research and restoration efforts so far have included mapping the known grave sites, removing the ground cover (three previously unknown grave markers were uncovered) and using old photographs to create replicas of two missing tombstones. Repairing and righting the many toppled tombstones will be undertaken eventually. Miniachi hopes to find more photographs and more family members to interview as the restoration process continues. Ghosts: The Pink Lady is the subject of one of Orange County's best-known ghost stories. Legend has it she is the ghost of Alvina Yorba de los Reyes, a member of a pioneer California family, who died in a buggy accident in 1910. Alvina is said to rise from her grave at midnight of June 15 in even-numbered years, still dressed in the flowing pink gown she wore when she died, glide along the Yorba Cemetery tombstones and kneel at the graves of her children before returning to her own. Miniachi is skeptical, though. "I've been out here all night many times and I've never seen any ghosts," he said. But, he added, "it'll always be part of the folklore of the site." Tours: No longer open to the public because of vandalism, but group tours can be arranged. Call (714) 637-6950 to arrange a tour or to offer historical information or documents relating to the cemetery.

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