This year, Troutdale Historical Society takes annual tour to historic Oregon cemeteries in Salem

Ever wonder where the bones of some of Oregon’s earliest movers and shakers are buried? Or perhaps, you just like the eerie calm of a middle-of-nowhere cemetery and reading names on old gravestones.

If the idea sounds more fascinating than creepy, follow Oregon cemetery historian Stanley Clarke and the Troutdale Historical Society on its 17th annual cemetery tour Saturday, May 18.

This year, the group takes off for three historic cemeteries in Salem, including Salem Pioneer, Lee Mission and Hayesville, and ending with a lunch stop at Shreiner’s Iris Gardens.

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF SALEM PIONEER CEMETERY - Salem Pioneer Cemetery, the largest historic cemetery in Salem, overlooks the capital city and Willamette Valley.The bus trip — funded by Gresham Memorial Chapel and organized by Troutdale resident and Outlook columnist Sharon Nesbit — leaves at 9 a.m. from the Museum Barn, 726 E. Historic Columbia River Highway in Troutdale. The cost is $10 per person, and guests should bring a lunch and drinks, and wear comfortable shoes.

Clarke knows where the bones are buried. He has been researching burial sites in Oregon for more than 50 years and has since co-compiled the Oregon Burial Site Guide, a thick book listing 2,500 places people are buried within the state.

He recently helped solve the mystery surrounding River View Cemetery’s two unmarked graves; it turned out they contained the remains of Brig. Gen. Thomas Thorp and his wife, Mandana Thorp, a volunteer nurse, both of whom died nearly 100 years ago after having served in the Civil War.

Clarke first got started on cemeteries when he found his great-uncle’s birth certificate, dated 1906, but no grave.

After tracking him to a burial site in Troutdale, Clarke eventually found his unmarked grave lost among others at what is now Mountain View Stark Cemetery. He later published the East Multnomah County Cemetery guide.

Tri-cemetery tour

In the 16 acres that make up the Salem Pioneer Cemetery, founded in 1841, visitors will discover the grave of Thomas Kay and his wife, whose descendents are the owners of Pendleton Woolen Mills.

David Logan, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once a lawyer in Oregon, also was laid to rest in this cemetery among other early Salem area folks.

At Salem’s Lee Mission Cemetery, a 15-acre site founded in 1834, early Methodist missionary Jason Lee is buried with his wife along with other early settlers, some of whom are believed to have been present at Champoeg, the site of the first provisional government of Oregon Country.

The last stop on the tour is Hayesville, a half-acre cemetery built behind a church in 1858. Landowners Adam and Lucinda Stevens donated the property and were the first to be buried there.

Clarke, who has served on the board of directors for Lone Fir Cemetery and the Commission of Oregon Historic Cemeteries, said he hasn’t wandered Hayesville much and is excited for the new experience.

“We haven’t repeated cemeteries yet,” he said.

Last year, the Troutdale Historical Society toured The Dalles, where Clarke said there were “fascinating cemeteries.”

So the tour’s participants don’t die of boredom on the bus trip, every year Clarke reads aloud the best of graveyard literature: comic epitaphs. His favorite rests on the gravestone of England’s Jonathan Fiddle.

It reads: “On the 22nd of June, Jonathan Fiddle went out of tune.”

Clarke also likes: “Beneath this stone lies a merry lass, who aimed for the brake and hit the gas.”

“They are a lot of fun,” Clarke said.

Speaking of fun, gravestones, while they went through a “plain” phase, are getting more interesting, Clarke said. New laser technology has allowed people to decorate their loved ones’ grave sites with life-defining pictorials such as sewing machines, fishing rods or grand pianos.

“There is such a variety and beauty in many of the monuments,” Clarke said.

He said people who like history and the art of monuments will enjoy this trip, “They’ll be seeing a lot of the monuments for people who made Oregon history.”

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