union cemetery (union)
Union Cemetery begins with Union, the town, which has obviously had better days, witnessed by the grand four-story hotel in the middle of town overwhelming everything else. I’ve got a mind to go visit Union just to stay in the hotel, although there appears little else to draw people to the place other than its glorious location and collection of old brick architecture on the main street.

And cemetery. It has one heck of a cemetery, especially given the size of the place. The secret, according to the sexton, is the $100,000 a year annual budget that, he said, was due to increase as neighboring wind farms came on line. In any event, it’s big, at 25 acres, only which a dozen or so are currently in use. Part of its land, in fact, is rented out as horse pasture.

Aside from a sterling collection of Victorian and modern markers, the cemetery maintains an on-grounds office and is building a cenotaph memorial-cum-columbarium on the high side of the cemetery; both of which pale in comparison with a minuscule chapel containing two pews, both of which hold three people at best. It’s a converted tool shed and may not get much use, but certainly is charming. The sexton doesn’t know its age, but says that it’s built entirely with square nails. He also claims that the original foundation was of field stone and was only 1/32nd of an inch off level on one corner, and that was only because a ground squirrel burrowed under it.

Like many a cemetery, this one borders a golf course. The current fence has passthroughs allowing golfers easy access to errant balls; but before that the two were separated by a barbed-wire fence preventing golfers’ access. The sexton figures that before the new fence was built he gave away nearly 4000 golf balls. I suggested that the sale of said balls could have helped support the cemetery. That’s when he told me about their budget.

Like most cemetery workers, the sexton was willing to talk all day, and one of his stories concerned a statue of a young lady that was carved in Italy and always sports a bouquet of red plastic flowers, which are replaced annually by an unknown party. “I spent two nights sleeping in the chapel trying to catch whoever puts up the new flowers, but I never did,” he said.

Lack of water, remote location, agricultural economy, all point towards thin times for the locals; which is a pity as the Grande Ronde Valley is awesome in its beauty and is sprinkled with a bevy of delightful communities.

And, wow, what a nice cemetery.


At the east end of E. Fulton St. in Union.
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