For honoring the dead, there’s no better place than at the cemetery – something the volunteers who contribute to the Siskiyou Cemeteries Project know well.

Halloween has long been considered a time of celebration and superstition. Celebrations on Oct. 31 are a blend of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic religious rituals and European folk traditions.

While we trick or treat, carve jack-o-lanterns, don  creepy costumes and attend festive parties, Hallow’s Eve is also a day to remember the dearly departed.

For honoring the dead, there’s no better place than at the cemetery – something the volunteers who contribute to the Siskiyou Cemeteries Project know well.

Over the last five years, Project volunteers have visited nearly every grave in Siskiyou County in order to create an online searchable database.

The effort was begun by Steve and Laura Melton, and was later taken over by Mount Shasta resident Mabel Grubbe.

When retired Sisson Elementary teacher and local history buff Nancy Harmon heard about the project, she asked Grubbe if she could help.

Harmon recruited several people to help her gather information from the sprawling Mount Shasta cemetery, including Leslie Marconi, Donna Brooks, Dawn Dawson, Barry and Mary Anne Barnes, Loretta Benkosky, and Erika Evangelist.

The volunteers spent months at the cemetery visiting every grave, painstakingly recording information on the stones, including names, dates, notations and symbols.

“Even those without tombstones were recorded,” Harmon said, with help from cemetery records provided by cemetery manager Bob Quillin.

When every known grave was documented, Harmon compiled a detailed list and accurate maps of the gravesites.

This database is now available online at a Rootsweb website maintained by Ronda Hammer, a fellow Project volunteer from Yreka, Harmon said.

The history of Mount Shasta Memorial Park

The oldest tombstone at the Mount Shasta cemetery is that of JH Deetz, who was born on Sept. 3, 1823 and died on Sept. 30, 1885.

Though his small marble gravestone is the oldest in the cemetery, it probably isn’t the oldest burial, Harmon said.  Deetz’s grave was actually moved from its original location at a private family plot on what is now North Old Stage Road, she said.

Other old tombstones include Eunice Eugenie Arnett, who died March 6, 1885 and Webster Cox, Frank Persons, Gyda Eugenie Klouman and Florence Cora Lambert who all died in 1888.

It’s unknown when people first began using the area as a cemetery, but we do know that at first, the area was composed of several cemeteries owned by various fraternal organizations, including the Freemasons, Knights of Pythias, International Organization of Odd Fellows and the Eagles.

Members of the organizations and their families were buried there, explained Quillin.

It wasn’t until 1997 that the park came together as one cemetery, he explained. Though the cemeteries were combined, the names of the gardens were maintained, he added.

Though it’s not clear exactly where, Quillin said there are Native American and Chinese burials somewhere in the western end of the cemetery, though there are no surviving grave markers to show their exact locations.

In addition, there was once an indigent section, where people who had no money were buried. These graves also have no markers, he said.

At last count in 2002, there were over 7,000 burials on the books, Quillin said. However, when he took over the park from the previous owner, he was told there were more than 10,000 graves.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many burials are there because there was a fire at the cemetery which destroyed records, he explained.

Mount Shasta Memorial Park is 26 acres, and only 14 acres are currently in use, Quillin said. If burials continue at the same rate as they have been over the past 10 years or so, he estimates there’s enough room there to last for 250 to 300 years.

Donna Brooks remembers

Mount Shasta historian Donna (Kohn) Brooks was born in Mount Shasta in 1917 when it was still called Sisson. Brooks has lived here her entire life, and knows quite a bit about the local cemetery.

“The Sisson family is buried near the road by the office in the grove of trees,” Brooks said. “The headstones are so different from today’s.

“Some of the old gravesites had iron fences around them,” Brooks remembers. “Bud and Donna Kohn used to pick catpaw flowers that grew there. The Memorial Day program used to be held across from the Kohn plot before the circle area was opened. Uncle John built a little cement fence about 18 to 24 inches high, and people would sit on it during the program,” Brooks said.

Death notices were posted on the light poles, and Dan Carlton the blacksmith on Chestnut and Castle Streets built coffins, Brooks said. Funeral processions followed the hearst to the cemetery.

The Chinese cemetery was located on the west side of the cemetery, Brooks remembers.

“Chinese funerals had red streamers and they took food to the gravesite,” said Brooks. “Many rented carriages from Grandma Kohn and when the were returned they’d still have red streamers attached.”

Brooks’ daughter, Dawn Dawson, said she and her mother both thought the project was fun and “a worthwhile thing to do.”

“Mom found the graves of several people she’d lost track of over the years,” Dawson said.  “I enjoyed hearing stories about many of the people whose graves we were cataloguing.”

Fellow volunteer Leslie Marconi, a teacher at Mount Shasta Elementary School and lifelong Mout Shasta resident said she originally became interested in the Siskiyou Cemeteries Project as a result of the third grade’s local history curriculum.

“We kept being encouraged to use primary sources,” Marconi said. “We started taking the kids on a field trip to the cemetery so they could see the people they were learning about were real people with real families.”

An ongoing effort

Along with Mount Shasta Memorial Park, documentation has been compiled on every Siskiyou County cemetery, large and small, including Dunsmuir, Lincoln Heights and Winema in Weed, McCloud, Edgewood and many more.

All of it is available online.

Work is currently being done to include photos of each cemetery. Eventually, Harmon said, Grubbe hopes to include photos of each and every individual tombstone.

The last leg of the Mount Shasta cemetery’s documentation was completed four years ago. Another visit must be made next year in order to update records with new burials, Harmon said.

If you are interested in volunteering with the project at Mount Shasta or any of the cemeteries, contact webmaster Ronda Hammer by emailing gen_nut@yahoo.com.
The Siskiyou Cemeteries Project can be found online at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~casiskiy/index.htm.