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Local Homeless Man Finds Missing 19th Century Headstone

Posted by on January 3, 2013

This article was written by S. Sangye Hawke, a fabulous volunteer on the Evergreen Cemetery Committee. If you are interested in getting involved with the research and groundskeeping work at Evergreen Cemetery, please send an email to evergreen@santacruzmah.org

No one knows when the headstone was taken.  Marie Holmes died violently and in full view of the public on Pacific Avenue on May 5th 1898.  At just 21 years of age, she took her own life with a dose of carbolic acid.  Despite this horrific act, she was mourned lovingly: “Many beautiful floral pieces were on the casket, mute tributes of sympathy from her companions, down whose cheeks the tears coursed.” (Source: Santa Cruz Surf, Friday Evening 6 May 1898)  Marie was laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery with a lovely white headstone, made from fine white quartzite.  Her story in Santa Cruz, however, has not ended there.

In 1927, Marie’s daughter had searched for her and found this headstone. She wrote her grandmother a letter (July 9, 1927: University of Wyoming Archives, courtesy of Phil Reader) which states: “Here is[sic] Santa Cruz she had many friends and was well liked although she called herself Marie Homes, just like Auntie does…..The good people of the town gave her a wonderful Christian burial at the Evergreen Cemetery and it is such a lovely place, tucked into the bottom of a small Mountain, not far from the river and the ocean.

Sometime thereafter the stone vanished.  As with many headstones that were broken or stolen from Evergreen Cemetery, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, it was probably taken on a lark.  With Cemetery records having been burned around 1920, that left the 19070s volunteers who started work to improve the cemetery after decades of neglect with no idea where exactly Marie was laid to rest.

Local historian Phil Reader undertook this task with both levity and seriousness. In 1997 he not only located the site where Marie was interred, but discovered that, like many who came west in the 1800’s, Marie had left previous name and life – in her case including a daughter – behind. An organization called E Clampus Vitae, or “Clampers”, that helps widows and their families, designed and installed a new headstone marker that visitors to Evergreen see today. The fate of Marie Holmes’ original headstone was still unknown.

River Wolf, standing by the roadside where he found Marie Holmes’ headstone.

Then in 2005, longtime local resident and avid hiker River Wolf, while exploring the redwoods in a draw below Bonny Doon Road, came upon a white headstone lying flat on a very steep embankment. He continued on his way, thinking it no more that an interesting found object along a more challenging found trail.

But eventually his curiosity got the better of him.  Who had tossed away this headstone and why?  Mr. Wolf had other things to worry about.  Recently, he became homeless.  While hoping to arrange housing through a personal connection in Oregon, the rainy season arrived, and so River was fortunate to get a bed in the 30 day emergency shelter at the Homeless Services Center.

Through all this, though, River continued to hike, and eventually again found himself on Bonny Doon Road.  Seven years after his first visit, he had to hunt to again find the headstone.  This time he took note of the name and followed it up with a visit to the Santa Cruz Public Library.  Online searches led him to read about Phil Reader’s research, the Clampers’ plaque, the story of Marie Holmes, and the recent efforts by volunteers from the Museum of Art & History to lead a restoration of Evergreen Cemetery. River sent an e-mail to the MAH and then when he heard about the weekly volunteering done by clients at the Homeless Services Center at Evergreen, signed up to help.

“I was beyond thrilled to communicate over e-mail with someone who had found a headstone that may have been missing for nearly 50 years,” said Sibley Simon, volunteer Chair of the Evergreen Committee for the MAH.  “Then when I came out to our weekly workday with HSC volunteers and met River, I was blown away that he cared enough to figure this all out while dealing with being homeless.”

Sibley, River, and another volunteer retrieved the headstone.  “When I was five yards away from it in the woods, I still couldn’t see it – it’s no wonder it’s sat there unnoticed for so long,” Sibley recalled, wearing his signature leather outdoor hat and gesturing in amazement at the steepness of the trail.  Sibley went on to explain that it must have fallen, as if tossed from the road, decades ago.  The stone itself was covered and stained green by moss and water, but otherwise in perfect shape.

Marie Holmes’ headstone now rests in warmth and safety in the Museum’s Archives. Plans to reinstall the headstone are in the works. A great piece of history has been recovered for the future.  Like Marie’s family, we too had searched for her, but her daughter said it best:   “Today Annie and I found where Mummie died.  It was here in Santa Cruz just as you said, but not the way you thought.  A wonderful man at the local newspaper produced a vast number of old copies from their files and spared no expense in finding the exact date…..So it does end well for she is now in heaven like you always said.  So for us dear Grandmother “Pumpie” it is over, it is finally over and we too can look forward to that glorious day.  My love to Auntie, Your Lisa.” ( Source: Phil Reader, University of Wyoming Library Archives, July 9, 1927)

  • http://www.facebook.com/gneier Gary Neier

    An awesome story! Thank you Sangye and River!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kate.clark.758 Kate Clark

    Amazing how so many people are connected to this event and the story that continues from 1898. We each can make a difference in this life!

  • communitywatcher

    Wonderful story. Thanks to everyone involved.