Readers of this blog know it has a penchant for memorials for the dead and the near forgotten. Visits to the Oregon State Hospital, Oregon’s forgotten WW II memorial, and the Lone Fir Cemetery (which really aren’t comparable, you’d be so lucky to have the Friends of Lone Fir sweeping your gravestone someday) have been blogged here.

Ronald and Donald, died March 17, 1952.

Another forlorn spot is the Columbian Cemetery off Columbia Boulevard in North Portland.

See a web site created by the nice people trying to keep up with the brambles – the Families of Historic Columbian Cemetery. Looks like the local Boy scout troupe did a big clear out in March. Yikes! Check out their CafePress stuff.

They’ve got a sexton list, gravestone photos, and some biographical info. In the lexicon of sadness, we need a new word for gallant but hopeless historical preservation efforts.

On a July visit the dandelions were knee high, and local vandals had kicked in the door of the toolshed and knocked over a dozen headstones. The I-5 highway thundered overhead. But in the stillness of the cemetery nothing but honeybees moved.

Secluded at the rear of the garden is the baby graveyard.

From visiting dozens of similar pioneer cemeteries, I estimate there are several hundred children buried here – with about thirty remaining headstones and four or five remaining wood markers.

Stone is used for headstones due to fires, but dozens of shingle markers remain, washed clean by decades of rain. The rows of hedge cover most of the area. Markers surround the roots.

Baby Schaffer – died 1852.

The purpose of art is to evoke a strong, meaningful feeling; to articulate the impossible, to touch the void. Reverse this formula and things which evoke strong meaningful feelings, etc. are art. A place, a pill, a 10,000 foot plunge.

Baby Beaver, died October 1, 1952.

The strong meaningful feeling of this place is pain and suffering, incalculable loneliness, loss and emptiness. These feelings are the tendrils of ghosts, soaked into the soil. Powerful magic swarms around this place, hot, still and humming with bees.

Baby Chambers, died June 1949.

This tiny ceremony has been lost for two reasons I think – 1. birth control and abortion are legal, 2. the angels at Emanuel Neonatal Intensive Care Unit can keep almost anything alive. They are amazing grace.

Baby Melby, died January 1958

When you’re worn down by your bleak existence, when you’re against the wall, pressured, slightly stunned or sick, the tonic is to step off the ledge.

Go alone. Ghosts are shy. These ones are shy, small and weak. But go sit in the grass and wait. These aren’t the ghosts of stories or Hollywood, no – more seductative and instructive. They slip in your ear and wrap themselves into your memories.

See all the Portland Public Art photos of the Columbian Cemetery in the super PHOTO ARCHIVE.

Oregon Cemetery Info + Death Index

Oregon Historic Cemeteries Association

Multnomah County Tombstone Transcription Project

Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries