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Cemeteries Alive With History

October 29, 1992|NANCY SCHLESINGER

My anchor's cast on a rope Where I shall never rest --1907 epitaph, Julian

Haven of Rest Cemetery

"Your grave is the only piece of real estate you ever really own." --Patricia Lowry, Carlsbad

professor and local historian

The quiet is huge in an old cemetery in autumn.

The wind scours trees planted when ancestors were children, dropping the papery leaves to scrabble along the tombstones. There may be a burst of birdsong or the rustling of a lizard in the undergrowth, but not much else.

Loudest are our mortal thoughts, especially during our annual ruminations on life, death and the hereafter: Halloween (Saturday); the Day of the Dead (Sunday) and All Souls Day (Monday). Observed or not, these cultural and religious rites make fall an appropriate season to venture into North County's graveyards of longstanding.

Far from being morbid, a cemetery visit can be a literal step back in time. A short walk reveals a clear distillation of the people who lived and made local history: Indians, Spaniards, Mexicans, Europeans, farmers, gold miners, stagecoach drivers, real estate tycoons, schoolteachers, chicken ranchers, shopkeepers, children and untold others.

A cemetery also speaks volumes about those of us left behind.

Among the ceramic figurines and silk flowers placed by survivors are tokens both poignant and playful. On an infant's grave at Oak Hill Memorial Park in Escondido, a tiny stuffed bear sits with its faded arms outstretched and empty. At Haven of Rest in Julian, a store-bought birthday card rests against a headstone, wishing the occupant below "a wonderful year and happiness always."

Patricia Lowry of Carlsbad is a confirmed cemetery-goer. An assistant professor in education at the University of San Diego, she has done extensive research on the history of Oceanside's Mission San Luis Rey and its churchyard cemetery.

"People are always fascinated by mortality and the quest for immortality," said Lowry, who plans to be buried at San Louis Rey herself. But she theorizes that the strongest attraction may have to do with the unique part a burial ground plays in the human life cycle.

"The cemetery is the last place you go before you go somewhere else," she said.

Most area cemeteries permit visitors during daylight hours, provided they observe posted rules and maintain a respectful demeanor. An advance trip or phone call to the community's historical society or museum can help serious history buffs put their visit in context.

While North County is dotted with cemeteries of all vintages, the following represent those that are most historic, accessible or just a bit haunting.

Oceanview Cemetery

1500 Block South Hill St., Oceanside The years have made a lie of Oceanview Cemetery. A century ago, the cemetery and the town of Oceanside were young. There was plenty of Pacific to be seen from the green rectangle facing Hill Street.

But as Oceanside grew and the cemetery began to fill with the town's earliest residents, the ocean view evolved into a modern jumble: mobile homes; train tracks; a bowling alley and its neon sign for the "Blue Palette Room"; a transmission shop and the nonstop blur of traffic.

It certainly looked different when the Sibley girls were buried there in 1906. Little Myrtle, 6, and her sister, 4-year-old Lorena, died Feb. 24 of that year and still rest side by side, in Row 13, Space 13.

"Apparently they ate poison mushrooms on some kind of family outing," said Kristi Hawthorne, who is both president of and archivist for the Oceanside Historical Society. "I always think of them when Oceanview (cemetery) comes up."

The burial ground was formalized March 9, 1895, when the Oceanside Odd Fellows Cemetery Assn. filed articles of incorporation with the county clerk. But according to George Hubbard, manager of nearby Eternal Hills Memorial Park, the cemetery was sold about 1930 to an investor named Malcolm Smith.

"He had the land resurveyed, and work began on the mausoleum, but he somehow lost his money," Hubbard said. "The cemetery was essentially on its own until 1953, when we said we would work with the city on it."

Since Oceanview is a non-endowment cemetery with no funding for maintenance, it has been under the unofficial umbrella of Eternal Hills ever since. Hubbard arranges for maintenance crews and irrigation, and honors reservations held by some longtime residents for now-rare burials. Oceanview has seen only one burial since 1991.

Much of the cemetery's upkeep is unofficial, and has been taken on by Oceanside natives Keith and Dorothy Martin, whom Hubbard credits for the graveyard's recent tidiness.

The Martins engage in a constant battle with gophers, grass, and litter to keep up the cemetery not only because they have many relatives there, but friends, classmates and memories as well.

"We have cut back to just three days a week, so we finish up one end and start right in at the beginning," said Dorothy, 70.

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