hilltop cemetery
Everybody lists this as Cemetery Hill Cemetery, except the entrance sign, which calls it Hilltop. It was once an Odd Fellows cemetery, currently owned and maintained by Polk Co. as a unit with the Buena Vista Cemetery.

It remains an active (more so than Buena Vista) and cared-for cemetery. There are benches here and there, a porta-potty, awning shelter tents, and new graves. It’s goodly sized for a rural cemetery—possibly a half dozen acres—mostly unwooded, though with a large central oak. Even with its size and age and maintenace, it wouldn’t be worth a detour were it not for a bevy of new graves at the north end of the cemetery where the Mexicans are buried, unquestionably the most colorful collection of graves in Polk County outside of Grand Ronde. I’m thinking that on Day of the Dead, this might be the cemetery to visit. And I wouldn’t necessarily pass up Easter, either. Homemade alters, shrine houses, and crosses; plastic flowers and photographs; a cross and arch covered with hundreds of crocheted flowers. These are people who did not go gentle into that good night. They laughed and danced and had a beer here at the dying of the light. Why they’ve let their hair down here unlike at other cemeteries in the valley is beyond my ken.

Cormac McCarthy in his novel "All the Pretty Horses" has this description of a Mexican cemetery:

"He stood and crossed the road and walked up into the cemetery past the old stonework crypt and past the little headstones and their small remembrances, the sunfaded paper flowers, a china vase, a broken celluloid virgin. The names he knew or had know. Villareal, Sosa, Reyes, Jususita Holguín. Nació. Felleció. A china crane. A chipped milkglass vase. The rolling parklands beyond, wind in the cedars. Armendares. Ornelos. Tiodosa Tarín. Salomer Jáquez. Epitacio Villareal Cuéllar."

The nearby Buena Vista Ferry was closed last time I drove by; I don’t know if it’s permanent. Downtown Indepenence (named, supposedly, after Independence, MO) retains its collection of fine Victorian buildings; yet it still seems to be waiting to be discovered by Salem. But there’s one more treasure here that pays for the entire trip: Corvallis Road. It’s tied together with ninety-degree turns and is slower than a pea-picker in January; but you’ll have it mostly to yourself, allowing you to putz along and admire the how-green-was-my valley at a pace God intended you to. We’re fond of driving from Dayton to Eugene without touching I-5 or Hwy. 99. Corvallis Rd. is the way to go.


About three miles south of Independence on the east side of Corvallis Rd.
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