Editor’s note: I have known Christian for about twenty years now, and seen him grow from a cute kid into an incredible adult with a love of travel and learning rarely matched. He has been posting photos of his local cemetery for weeks, and I finally wore him down enough to write about it. After all, I love cemeteries! I know you’ll enjoy this as much as I do. Click here for all of Christian’s articles here on The Royal Tour.
Once a farm, well outside the city limits of Portland, Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery now lies in the middle of what Portlanders call the Inner Southeast – about two miles from downtown. Founded in the era of westward expansion, surely the pioneers buried here couldn’t have guessed that the cemetery would eventually be host to a bicycle thoroughfare, joggers, family barbecues, and even folks playing Pokemon Go.
The local government, Metro, estimates that about 25,000 people are buried here. However, it’s hard to know exactly how many people have been laid to rest here, since many of the headstones that were once here have returned to the earth – wooden ones have burned down or deteriorated entirely, and some have been destroyed by vandals, overtaken by trees, or even hit by cars.
The name of the cemetery, now partially a misnomer, speaks to its history. Many of those interred here crossed the nation along the fabled Oregon Trail. Thus, the pioneer designation is accurate, but the “Lone Fir” part of the name has become woefully inaccurate in the 175 years since the cemetery’s creation. Once the only tree on the entire acreage, the lone fir namesake tree still stands on the northwestern corner of the cemetery. The original fir now stands along 700 additional trees that have either been planted here in the fertile Willamette Valley soil in recognition of the deceased, or grown from seeds that floated in on the wind.
Lone Fir has a relatively lax policy on how mourners are able to honor the dead. One can plant a tree, erect an obelisk, or hand carve a headstone if they wish. As such, Lone Fir has become a place where histories and cultures are frozen in time. Rarely do tombstones get a new paint job, or get replaced with a more contemporary memorial.
Standing central in the cemetery is the Macleay Mausoleum. The Late Gothic Revival style architecture is commanding, and consistently draws the attention of passersby. The building was originally built in 1877 by Donald Macleay. Born in Scotland, Macleay emigrated with his family to Quebec at age sixteen, and later emigrated to Oregon whereupon he had a very successful career in banking and other ventures. These days, it’s not unusual to see young people who think they’re cool and spooky lighting candles or drinking Rainier here.
Young goths drawing pentagrams on the asphalt aren’t the only Portlanders who drink beer. Portland, Oregon is one of America’s cities with the most breweries per capita and has a taste for quality brews. The Bottler tomb stands in homage to George Bottler. The aptly named Portlander opened Portland’s second brewery, City Brewing. The brewery was eventually sold to Henry Weinhard – a name still familiar to beer drinkers in the modern era.
Whenever I take road trips, I make an effort to see local cemeteries and many of them stand out in my memory. The aggressively quaint cemetery inside Yosemite National Park that hosts Yosemite’s first civilian ranger, and the lavish cemetery in Lowell, MA where many of the nation’s early industrialists rest certainly deserve honorable mention. But my favorite, and the most unusual memorial I’ve ever seen is right here at Lone Fir and belongs to James and Elizabeth Stephens. Their headstone is a relief of the couple, with a straightforward epitaph that reads “Here we lie by consent, after 57 years 2 months and 2 days sojourning through life awaiting nature’s immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe, of which we were first composed.”
Christian Grand is an educator based out of Portland, Oregon. He spends his free time traveling, planning to travel, and talking to other people about traveling whether they are interested in the topic or not. He has an obsession with national parks that ranges from moderate to severe, which many of his friends and family find endearing.
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