Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Q and A: Mary Miller

by: JIM CLARK, Mary Miller stands with the headstone of J.B. and Elizabeth Stephens at Lone Fir Cemetery. Miller will lead a cemetery tour on Halloween night.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

They say that death is the great equalizer. Mary Miller certainly will testify to that. Or maybe she'll deliver a eulogy instead.

Miller is chairwoman of the board of Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery. Lone Fir, at 2115 S.E. Morrison St., is the oldest cemetery in Portland, full of headstones and markers going back to the 1850s.

A few years ago a group of people decided that Lone Fir needed preservation. Vandalism and ivy - the two nemeses of local cemeteries, according to Miller - had begun to take their toll.

The board's solution was to turn Lone Fir into something of a local attraction. In the past, Halloween night vandalism had been particularly destructive at Lone Fir. So last Halloween the board presented its first 'Tour of Untimely Departures.'

The event will be repeated Halloween evening this year from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Hey, if you can't bring people back from the dead, at least you can bring them back to the dead.

Portland Tribune: So how did this idea of a Halloween night cemetery tour idea come about?

Mary Miller: We decided rather than keep people out, why not invite people in? We thought we'd get history buffs coming, but we had people in bunny suits and pirates. We had an Elmo.

We didn't expect people to be dressed up for the event. But Portland is weird, and it makes sense people would embrace a green space like a cemetery.

Tribune: Would you call the evening heartwarming?

Miller: We had goths and senior citizens equally happy sitting next to each other. Only a cemetery could do something like that.

Tribune: Some of your favorite places in the cemetery?

Miller: One of the funniest things is we have a lot of little chickens in the cemetery. These aren't sacrifices, they're live chicks. From time to time you'll see a funeral taking place and you'll see all these baby chicks walking by.

Tribune: Ever get spooked?

Miller: At night we have a phenomenon called balls of light. You think you see things in a cemetery, but what's happening is some people leave pinwheels at the graves and we have two major streets, Morrison and Stark, on the sides. So when a car goes by at night it hits the pinwheels and shoots light all over the cemetery. It could be ghosts, or it could be the headlights and pinwheels.

Tribune: Of all the possible volunteer activities you could be doing, why a cemetery?

Miller: If you volunteer at Lone Fir you won't get any backtalk. It's definitely a quirky group of people who want to get involved.

When I tell people I'm board chair of a cemetery, they say, 'I love cemeteries.' Like it should be a shocking or a shameful thing that they love them. Who doesn't love cemeteries? It's a great place to get a little spooked and a great way to put your problems in perspective.

Tribune: And how do you do that?

Miller: I like to read epitaphs.

- Peter Korn