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O.C. Sights

In O.C., Serenity and a Spirit or Two

John Wayne and 'Flo-Jo' rest in county cemeteries, which also are final home to monsignor, Eskimo Pie inventor.

October 12, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County has nowhere near the number of celebrity graves found in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, which are home to the final resting places of many Hollywood stars.

But there are a few notables, and maybe a ghost or two, who have made Orange County their permanent residence: President Richard Nixon, buried at his Yorba Linda birthplace; pop stars Eddie Cochran and Karen Carpenter at Forest Lawn in Cypress; guitar maker Clarence Leo Fender and aviator Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana; and "the Duke" himself, John Wayne, at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach.

And some lesser-known ones: Charles Dickens' longtime bookbinder, the inventor of the Eskimo Pie, and John Wayne's German shepherd.

But this relative absence of celebrities might be what gives Orange County cemeteries qualities rarer in Los Angeles: peace and solitude. For the most part, hearses in Orange County are reserved for the deceased--not for morbid camera-toting visitors who tour by hearse in L.A.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano is home to the oldest known cemetery in the county. Although there are only a dozen crosses and two monuments in the tiny graveyard behind the Great Stone Church, many more people are buried there, including the 40 Juanenos who died when the building collapsed during an earthquake in 1812.

A large monument marks the grave of Msgr. John O'Sullivan, who was responsible for much of the mission restoration during the early 1900s. Nearby is the grave of Jose Antonio Yorba I, who died in 1825 and was a member of the Portola expedition. Guided tours of the mission include the cemetery.

Tours of the equally tiny Yorba Cemetery Historic Site at Woodgate Park in Orange County are also available. Reservations must be made three weeks in advance: (714) 528-4260.

At Avenida los Cerritos and California 74 is another mission cemetery, this one closed to the public and dating to 1847. Jose de la Cruz, reported to be the last full-blooded Juaneno, is buried there, as are Civil War veterans and mission settlers, said Gwen Vermeulen of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

A ghost called "The Lady in Mourning" is said to visit two graves during the day each Halloween. According to tales told by the late Paul Arbiso, the mission's bell ringer for 42 years, a woman dressed in white appears at the cemetery gate, goes to two of the graves, puts her head in her hands as if crying, then disappears.

Another old cemetery is El Toro Memorial Park, officially founded in 1896 with the burial of Louisa DeLong. Her sister, 20-year-old Maude Simmons, was buried there the previous June. Louisa's husband, James, was El Toro's first section foreman, in charge of the workers who repaired the railroad lines between Irvine and San Juan Capistrano. The marker is easy to spot; it's a stone obelisk about 6 feet tall.

With its sloping hills and gnarled old oaks, the Lake Forest cemetery--along with Holy Sepulcher near Irvine Regional Park--is one of the most picturesque cemeteries in Orange County and a pleasant place to reflect and remember, even if your loved ones are buried elsewhere.

It's also a good place to teach your children about county history. A brochure is available at the cemetery office, listing the names, brief histories and grave sites of many of Orange County's settlers. Olympic gold medal runner Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith Joyner and Charles Kent Nelson, the aforementioned Eskimo Pie inventor, are included in the guide. Flags once marked the route, but now those wanting to take the walk must search for the sites using a small cemetery map available at the office.

Sam Randall works in the office as general manager of the Orange County Cemetery District, to which El Toro belongs. The Anaheim and Santa Ana cemeteries, founded in 1867 and 1870, respectively, also are part of the district.

In his 12 years on the job, the only ghost stories Randall has heard are the many and conflicting reports of El Toro's ghostly guardian.

"There's always the stories of people spotting 'the Lady in Blue' going through the night," Randall said. "We're not sure who she visits. Some say she's buried here, and some say she's buried somewhere else and comes to visit her husband."

Most visitors will probably never see her; district cemeteries are closed between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Those seeking more unusual stories can join the third annual tour of Santa Ana Cemetery and the adjoining Fairhaven Memorial Park, sponsored by the city's historical preservation society.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 21, tours will be led every 20 minutes by period-costumed guides who will point out the graves of Orange County's politicians, actors, Civil War veterans, aviators and that of George Drury, Dickens' bookbinder.

Among the tidbits given on the tour is the Santa Ana Cemetery's original location: under the present-day Santa Ana Public Library. Despite "Poltergeist"-inspired rumors, Randall said records show that all of the 12 or 13 burials were moved to the present location in 1874.

Tours are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10 for children, and free for those younger than 10. Information: (714) 547-9645.

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