Cemeteries are delightful places to visit, filled with memories of happy lives. The Lone Fir Cemetery is Portland’s oldest with over 20,000 people buried there. It’s a peculiar gallery of landscape and solemn artwork. The dead like to be visited, nice to have anyone trundle past, brush aside leaves, set headstones straight, wonder. Yes, there are ghosts, plenty of stories forgotten, names rubbed away by rain. This cemetery has certainly had worse days. It’s neighborhood friends have done well recently, tidying, clipping, trimming – and now the county + Metro are demolishing & paving.

After much discussion, the county is removing an ugly office building thoughtlessly set over the early 20thC Chinese plot. The county plans a memorial of some sort for the Chinese community. Not for the Insane Asylum inmates.

Local scholars of madness consider this spot (under this access road) to be where inmates from the Oregon Insane Asylum are buried. Dr. James Hawthorne, owner of the asylum, had a careful arrangement with the original owner of Lone Fir to bury inmates without family members or friends.

For the inmates no marker remains, no reminder, almost no one remembers. No memorial, no art. A list of patient names was recently put online and a small, semi-private museum showcases Dr. Hawthorne and his work at OHSU. Dr. Hawthorne is buried with his family under one of the more handsome pillars just over the hill. Yes, yes, the street and the bridge, etc. It’s Portland history.

Vandalism has taken and takes it’s toll. Many cut and molded sculptural bits have been broken off to add character to some drunk punk boudoir. In the early 20th century the lots were left the the brush and brambles. Thousands of wood markers were lost in brush fires and chewed by squirrels. Surviving sexton records are haphazard. Who would have thought anyone would care out here in the future?

There are new markers in this old cemetery.

Some came a long way.

Some were lost at sea.

Some arrived too soon.

Some look plain pleased to be here. Note the NHRA logo. For you undereducated ones, this is the National Hot Rod Association. Looks like this dude thought ahead.

James and Elizabeth Stephens have schooled gothic lovers for generations, “Here we lie by consent after 57 years 2 months and 2 days sojourning through life awaiting natures immutable laws to return us back to the elements of the universe of which we were first composed.” Ya that’s the stoic Oregon spirit. His smile, her roses, together forever.

Veterans from several wars are buried and remembered here with memorials, the 1846 Mexico war, US civil war (for the Republicans), the Indian wars from 1846 to 1856, and the Spanish-American war. A high granite pillar, topped with a bronze soldier, vigilantly staring into the trees. Three hundred yards away, tucked under a leafy oak, a veteran of a more recent but forgotten war.

It’s a rich experience, dipping into a city of the dead. You can feel the spirits fluttering about, most forgotten and faceless, see them for a moment skirt behind a bush or stone, their mortal memories spilled over the seasons and lost, no ancestors to cut the grass or wash away the moss, no one to remember, no one to ponder, no one to grieve.

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