All too easily overlooked, the Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery is one of the most interesting places in Portland. Located on SE Stark between 20th and 26th, it is Portland’s oldest existing cemetery and has an estimated 25,000 people buried there. It was recognized by National Geographic as one of the top cemeteries in the world to visit, and a significant portion of the city’s history is contained within the thirty-acre area.
Throughout the years the cemetery has changed hands, but is currently cared for by both Metro and Friends of Lone Fir, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and restoring this important piece of the city. Since Halloween is a popular time of the year to visit the cemetery, this weekend Metro and Friends of Lone Fir are hosting the tenth annual Tour of Untimely Departures. For those of you unfamiliar with the tour, it’s a walk through history as you visit the graves of past Portlanders to hear about the different ways they died. It’s definitely something you don’t want to miss, and all proceeds from the event will go to purchase block markers so that it’s easier for people to find the graves of their loved ones. Can’t make it this Halloween? Don’t worry, Lone Fir is a great place to visit any time of year, so be sure to come check out this Portland gem. Here’s a few highlights from around Lone Fir to get you started.
Somewhere in Lone Fir rests Charity Lamb, the first women in Oregon territories to be convicted of murder. On May 13th, 1854, Charity’s husband, a known wife beater and cattle thief named Nathaniel Lamb, was eating lunch and going on about shooting a bear. While he was sitting there, Charity snuck up behind him and swung an axe, sharp-side down, on his head once, then twice. Nathaniel was a violent man, and Charity had already tried to leave him once but was forced to return when he followed behind, threatening to shoot her. A week before she hit him with the axe, Nathaniel had told Charity that he was planning to kill her the following Saturday. She was tried and convicted by a jury consisting entirely of men, and her children were placed in foster care. Although many were shocked and disgusted by her crime, there were some who pitied the battered, isolated frontier wife, including Dr. Hawthorne. He took her into his asylum where she spent the rest of her sentence, and when she died he had her interred somewhere in Lone Fir, although her exact location is unknown. According to an article by Ronald B. Lansing that appeared in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, it was reported that in 1969 parts of the Lamb cabin still stood amongst apple trees somewhere along the Clackamas River, about nine miles east of Oregon City, in a peaceful scene that belies the heinous acts that were committed there.
Next time you crack open a cold beer, be sure to give thanks to George Friederich Bottler, one of the first brewers at The Dalles. In 1856 his brother George Michael opened Portland’s second brewery, which was called City Brewery. When George Friedrich, died, his brother had the tomb built in Lone Fir with a pink marble headstone whose epitaph reads “Gently his ashes shall rest.” The reason the building is considered a tomb instead of a mausoleum is because George Friederich is buried below the ground, rather than above. George Michael had planned to be buried in the plot alongside his brother but died on a trip to his native Germany and was interred in Munich. After George Michael died, his friend Henry Weinhard took over operations of City Brewery. According to Metro’s website, the Bottler Tomb is in need of about $80,000 worth of repairs, and there is now a restoration effort underway by the descendants of Michael Bottler, a cousin to George Friedrich and George Michael. It should come as no surprise that Michael Bottler was also involved in the beer business working as a cooper, which is someone who repairs and crafts brewing barrels. Be sure to keep an eye out for future fundraisers for the Bottler Tomb, as they are sure to entail lots of delicious beer.
The empty field on the corner of SE 20th and Morrison, also known as Block 14, is home to one of the sadder pages in Portland history. The field was a segregated block where the Chinese laborers of Portland were buried. Multnomah County decided that they wanted the site of Block 14 for use as a maintenance yard, so in 1948 they bulldozed the area, exhumed the bodies, and sent them to China for reburial. The funds set aside for their reinterment was embezzled, and their bodies remained in a Hong Kong warehouse for decades, a story which Ivy Lin’s detailed in her 2009 documentary, Come Together Home. Adding to the tragedy surrounding Block 14 is the nearby interments of many of Dr. Hawthorne’s asylum patients, who were buried here if they had no family to claim them. After the county attempted to open the land up for commercial development, a huge community effort started in 2004 to bring awareness to the historical significance of the location, which included commissioning an archeological investigation. After it was determined that there are still unmarked burials on the site, the ground was leveled and the lot was deeded to Metro, which manages 14 of the area’s pioneer cemeteries. There is now a memorial garden being planned for the site as a way to honor those buried there, and every Portlander should plan to come and pay their respects.
Captain Daniel Wright-1873
The grave with the four, towering redwoods at each corner is easily the most visited site in all of Lone Fir Cemetery. The grave’s occupant, Daniel Wright, was a Mason who went down to California during the Gold Rush. When he died there in 1873, the redwood burls were shipped up from California and planted around his grave. Almost 150 years later the trees are an impressive sight to behold. Because of the placement of the trees and the Masonic symbol on Wright’s headstone, many believe the place to hold a unique energy. It’s not uncommon after a full moon to find melted wax, incense, and offerings of narcotics and alcohol amongst the other garbage that’s usually left there. While it’s unfortunate that some visitors are not respectful of the site, take one step into the center of the trees and it’s not hard to understand why so many are drawn there, as it can be quite eerie at times. The air in the center of the trees seems to get dull, thick, and quiet, as if you had just stepped into a phone booth. Sadly, Wright’s headstone has been vandalized and whittled down over the years, and all that remains for the time being is the foundation. If you feel the need to visit this site, just remember that leaving garbage and other worthless things probably won’t win you points with anyone, on this side or the other.
Check out our gallery of additional photos of Portland’s beautiful and spooky Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery.