lone fir cemetery (portland, or)
The Mother Lode. Premier (and largest, at 30.5 acres, I’ve visited) pioneer cemetery in the state; the cemetery by which the other pioneer cemeteries are judged. It may have had a lone fir at one time, but it’s since been joined by a considerable forest, including one chap whose friends planted redwoods at his four corners. For quirky old epitaphs, this is the mother lode, the tone being set by the original owners of the land, James (1805-1887) and Elizabeth (1806-1889) Stephens, whose stone reads: “Here we lie by consent, after 57 years 2 months and 2 days sojourning through life awaiting nature’s immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe, of which we were first composed.”

It was the death of James Stephen’s father, Emmon, in 1846 which was the actual beginning of the cemetery. He was joined in 1854 by victims of a steamship accident, at which time it was formally dedicated as a cemetery. Why Metro lists 1855 as the founding date is a little confusing.

Metro also claims 25,000 burials in Lone Fir and 10,000 unknowns. It’s somewhat unclear if the 25,000 includes the 10,000. Nor is it exactly clear how many of those are Chinese. At current writing there is a movement afoot to build a memorial at Lone Fir to the unknown deceased Chinese who remain after the majority of the male’s bones were shipped back to China, leaving the woman and children behind. At any rate, one would expect that that many unknowns would make sale of new plots a tad iffy. It has a few individual mausoleums and a slug of interesting stones, old and new. I have been able to record only a few, but there are many you could search for.

You might start with the flag pole centering on the fallen firefighters. Or you can look for the monument to the Grand Army of the Republic and the plaque with the Gettysburg Address.

Lately there’s been an large infiltration of Russian immigrant graves (continuing an old and honorable tradition) which are distinguished by colorful plantings of genuine, live flowers, creating a patchwork of color among the somber greens. The Russians are particularly fond of a kind of black granite which they have laser-etched with their likeness and, usually, a highly romantic scene. They are inevitably written in Russian and will be unavailable to their grandchildren. Ah, pride.

The cemetery probably gets the greatest usage of any Portland cemetery, not by number of burials per whatever (a title probably held by Willamette National), but by number of people using the cemetery as a park (something Willamette National, just for instance, discourages). Lone Fir has a steady stream of visitors: musicians, readers, artists, picnickers, lovers, drinkers, diners, thinkers, mourners, and curiosity seekers. If one is going to go to just one cemetery in Oregon, this should be it. Come, you might spook your very own Goth.


On Portland’s eastside at SE 26th and SE Morrison, in the heart of populist Portland.
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