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Excavating Evergreen History with Sangye Hawke (Guest Post)
Posted by Elise Granata on July 17, 2013
By Sangye Hawke
Ever found something old in your backyard? Or perhaps on a camping trip, you found a clay pottery shard, an old bottle, or perhaps an arrowhead?
Discovery is an exciting feeling, especially when we think we’ve found an object that is part of some past mystery. Our imaginations go wild with ideas of what this small fragment of history can tell us. Well, archaeologists and paleontologists would agree with you. This type of feeling isn’t limited to dinosaur bones, pottery shards, or mummies. Anything that tells a story from the past is an ‘artifact’.
That’s what makes Evergreen Cemetery so fun. Evergreen’s first burial was 1850. Less than a thousand people made up the region we know as Santa Cruz. Who were they? We can find written explanations, read old newspapers, and find books about our town’s history. But what about all the other people who lived here, people who struggled, worked hard, escaped a past, or just lived every day lives? In fact what WAS it like then, without electricity, plumbing, or decent medical care?
Some of the records about Evergreen in its ‘early’ days have been lost. In fact, all the records about Evergreen burials were burned in 1922. So when we find something during our restoration efforts, such as a headstone we thought lost, we feel a bit like archaeologists on an important dig.
Gary Neier, Evergreen Cemetery Archive volunteer, found a piece of a polished granite stone entombed within a tree root (see photo). The granite’s inscription matched a nearby 93 year old monument,( now not so shiny) . This find, nearly new in state, raised intriguing questions about how or why it had been broken off.
Location and preservation of gravestones can be our only link to the history of Evergreen. Often the headstone is all that remains of a person’s death record. Birth and death dates, memorial art such as a rhyme, notation, or birth locality, are all clues to a possible famous (or infamous) person of the era. When retrieved, this vital data creates history all its own. Sometimes you are able to locate living descendants! When they see how excited you are, they too, become revitalized and reconnected.
Sometimes we find other wonderful objects like a bottle from 1880, with its cork still inside! This ink bottle was found near our Chinese section. It makes one wonder what document was written with this ink, or perhaps, was the bottle a memorial offering of some sort, left at another burial we haven’t located yet?
Recently the MAH staff gave me a wonderful ‘excavation kit to aid in these efforts. Replete with brushes, tape, a small level, and an ‘ice pick’ style probe, (all contained in a cool carrier bag,), this kit makes me feel like I am ready to go on an adventure. Explorations like this increase my resolve to keep looking for that little gem of history entombed beneath the dirt of Evergreen. Want to join me?
©2013 Sangye Hawke