By Vince Basehart
“… The Pacific
Ocean, draped with a western sky
of scarlet and gold; …a bay
filled with white-winged ships;
… a southern horizon, rimmed
with a choice collection of purple
mountains, carved in castles and
turrets and domes … a frostless,
bracing, warm, yet languid air,
braided in and out with sunshine
and odored with the breath of flowers.”
-- The land which would become the
City of Santa Monica, as described
by an auctioneer on July 15, 1875.
In the shade of a mulberry tree
in the southwest corner of Woodlawn
Memorial Cemetery, beneath a miniature
skyline of headstones, markers,
sculptures and crosses, rest Santa
Perhaps it was the traffic hissing
softly outside the ivied gates and
the heat of a recent sultry afternoon,
which lulled me into a reverie about
the lives they might have lived
in our fair city.
Zerina Yergat 1889 –
1924. Petra de Marquez
1867 – 1924. Both women
would have grown up hearing first
person accounts of the Civil War
and would have read descriptions
of the dreadful sinking of the Titanic
in the newspaper. If they raised
children they might have warned
them not to trample through farmers’
bean fields lining Pico Boulevard.
Cota, Ybarra, Escobedo, Gonzales
may have had lineages going back
to the days of the ranchos. They
probably attended church in serge
suits and stiff, detachable collars.
They might have worked as field
hands, or stevedores loading freight
at the Port of Los Angeles.
Maybe O’Reilly, Johnstone,
Donoghue, enchanted by stories
of a paradisiacal Golden State where
trees drooped under the weight of
fruit in the sunshine, packed a
suitcase in rainy Boston and came
West on the Union Pacific. Lest
they appear foolish, if they ever
stood for a photograph they would
not have smiled, as was the fashion
of the times.
OLAF ERICKSON May 26, 1865
– May 15, 1940 may have
driven his Studebaker down Wilshire
every Sunday, past open lots and
orchards and mansions, all the way
to downtown Los Angeles to stroll
the Central Market. Or he may have
preferred to take in a matinee closer
to home at the Mayfair.
There are graves of children here
too, not larger than suitcases,
with headstones describing lives
lived in months and days. Just off
the main path a newborn baby is
buried in the same grave as his
mother, who shares the same date
of death. The father would have
cried a river.
Squirrels ramble over the graves
of the city’s Japanese pioneers.
Ota, Hoshiyama, Sakamoto.
Next to a steeple-shaped marker
the color of copper lay MIYAKE,
Tanzo – Father - 1878 –
1944; Masa – Mother - 1887
– 1989. In her one hundred
and two years Mrs. Miyake would
have seen both horse drawn carriages
and space shuttles.
Cement slabs the size of license
plates peek out from crabgrass:
Scanlon Donoghue. Roberto Gonzales.
Minnie Bury 1874 – 1924,
and her neighbor, WISE, Permilla
1866-1924, might have danced
with their husbands at the La Monica
Ballroom, the largest in the United
States and among the most grand,
located on the Santa Monica pier.
They may have been scandalized by
the new form-fitting women's swimming
costumes showing up on the beach.
Major TS Dunn, 12th US Infantry,
1822 – 1895 could have
ridden through the Great Plains,
herds of buffalo and the Indian
Wars before reaching the Bay and
telling awestruck boys his tales
of the Wild West.
But perhaps none capture the imagination
and break the heart so much as Guglielmina
Chiaefarelli, 1899 – 1913.
Her grave is marked by a marble
obelisk bearing her sepia-toned
She stands at an angle in a high-necked
dress, her dark hair piled up like
a Gibson girl. She could not be
more than a year from her death.
But in the photograph she smiles
brightly back at you as if recognizing
a friend who has stopped by, whether
or not it is the style of the times.
Rest in peace dear pioneers. Rest