The Goldrush Graveyard Of Marysville, California

This cemetery dates back to the days of the California gold rush. It was established in 1850 and the city charter was approved in 1851.

One of the first orders was to place fencing around the burial grounds. The streets and pathways were given names such as Locust, Acacia, Agave and many others. This beautiful and interesting graveyard was one of the first “City Owned” cemeteries west of the Rockies (Sacramento was the first) and is indeed considered a Pioneer Cemetery. A California Pioneer is someone who was in California before September 9th, 1850. Out of the 125 Male Members of the Marysville Pioneer Society, 30 of them lie within these grounds.

Within the confines of this 14.24 Acre hraveyard there are over 10,000 people buried here. Among them are Masons, odd fellows, Chinese, Black, Japanese and members of the military. Also included in the Marysville City Cemetery are a “Babies” section and a potter’s field, sometimes called pauper’s row.

The Jewish graveyard section is set aside in the southwest section and owned by the Jewish people. It seems that the Jewish people have a tradition where they purchase land for their cemetery wherever they settle. The first Burial in this section was in 1855. Among the cemetery’s more dramatic headstone inscriptions: “Simon Glucksman. Aged 24 years. A native of Kempen, Prussia. Was murdered Friday, August 26, 1859, on the high-way between La Porte and St. Louis.”  The final Jewish grave was dug in 1945, although the cemetery was considered abandoned after the Marysville Hebrew Benevolent Society disbanded in the early 1900s.

The thousands buried without marble or stone of any sort were given a burial number that is one the cemetery map as well as the burial book at City Hall.  The Burial Register with the burial number was placed upon the graves of those of little means.

It wasn’t until 1851 that a professional undertaker came to town. The first Sexton (one in charge of burials in cemeteries was Ebenezer Hamilton who came to California in 1849. He was also an undertaker and held the position of sexton until around 1870. During that time period, he refused to surrender Burial Records to the City unless they paid him. They refused. His wife inherited the records and also wanted the money. The city never got the records, so many of the burials between 1850 and 1870 are a missing fragment of gold rush history. Marysville was fortunate that the cholera was not as prevalent as it was in nearby Sacramento where 500 were buried in mass graves.

Unmarked graves were a common occurrence in the early west, especially on the wagon trains where 1000’s died of cholera along the way. Many graves were not marked as protection from marauding Indians. There was no protection from the animals and, although rock slabs were used and tailgates from wagons, the gravers were still ravaged. Many mining camps had not established burying grounds; the only requirement was that it be ground “free of gold.”

Funerals of the late 1800s and earlier were often held at home. The family prepared the body and services were held in the parlor. The deceased was taken to the cemetery for burial. Coffin “warerooms”, hearse and carriage and burial robes were available, as well as several undertakers during the period of the gold rush.

McReady and Brothers were the first marble carvers for the stones of Marysville Graveyard. In 1859, Italian marble and granite were commonly used for head stones. One monument in this cemetery was made of metal. Many of the bricks surrounding different graves were laid by Isaac McComas, a brickmason.

In the earlier times, death was time for considerable mourning. Black bordered funeral notices were nailed on trees and posted up and down the countryside. Female’s relatives made trips t the dressmaker to have new dresses made of black material to be worn for the next year as a symbol of their mourning.

Though there have been incidents of vandalism in recent years, the old graveyard is maintained by volunteers from Marysville Historic Cemetery Commission.

With thanks to Historic Downtown Marysville and Jewish Weekly.

Here’s a brief amateur video clip of the site:

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