Remembering Memorial Day in Fredericksburg
September 10, 2016
"How're you doing Bob?"
"Still above ground!" was his standard reply.
Like most people in Alpine County, Bob Parker was an interesting fellow. He taught me my first words in Washoe, and along with his wife Catherine, they shared their extensive knowledge of the land, plants, and creatures at their claim near Leviathan Mine on Monitor Pass. Catherine was a teacher at Diamond Valley, and also homeschooled their children at that remote location. In the winter, it would only be accessible by skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobile. She assigned the children a section of the property and they had to research everything about it: soil composition, plant identification and use, animals, insects, effects of weather, past historical use, and the impact of mining and human activity. It was a brilliant educational concept.
Their lives were filled with both sorrow and joy, just as ours are today. They are buried next to their daughter in the Fredericksburg Cemetery, the last resting place of generations of people from both Alpine and Douglas Counties. The cemetery reveals the rich history of our region, and chronicles the lives of our local families. It is a place to honor those that have gone before us and remember their legacy.
At the cemetery, the wind whips across the fields of sage, making the air pungent and fresh. There is a meadow above that opens into Fredericksburg Canyon, and the mountains are dotted with Jeffrey Pine. It was "Lucky Bill" Thorington, who built a brush hut somewhere near this beautiful site, opening a trading post and toll road in 1852. By the mid 1860s it had grown into the bustling settlement of Fredericksburg, with an economy based on ranching, mining, and timber sales. All of that has faded into the dim past: a ghost town without any signs that it was there.
The Federicksburg Cemetery Society was formed on January 26, 1891, and included members of the Bruns and Neddenriep families. Their descendants are still active members in the Society today. It is not your typical manicured cemetery. In true Alpine fashion, it has come into existence out of simple necessity, and is taken care of entirely by volunteers. Each plot is designed individually, and reflects the desires and wishes of the family that bought it.
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Isabella Harvey has the oldest headstone. She was originally buried in Woodfords in 1873, but her body was exhumed and moved to Fredericksburg in 1927. Karen Dustman's "Fredericksburg Cemetery: A Self-Guided Walking Tour" is indispensable in understanding the layout and history, and has some fascinating stories about the people buried here. It is available at the Alpine County Museum and the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce.
Just reading a selection of the names on the family plots gives you an idea of the importance of the cemetery in our area. Some of them are: Jardine, Jackson, Rakow, Payne, Coyan, Harvey, Koenig, Thornburg, Chain, Barrett, Brune, Gansberg, Curtz, Neddenriep, Bruns, Chambers, Bergevin, Larson, Heise, Bohlmann, Springmeyer, Heimsoth, Ellis, Hellwinkel, Loganbill, Wood, Zellmer, and Jones.
So many people that we miss are buried here. I am forever thankful to Thomas Walsh for selling us his Alpine homestead, complete with working windmill, pastures for horses, an orchard, a barn with chickens, and a pond. He was exceptionally tall, and always walked with a bowed head, reflecting his humble nature. All interred here have a life story to tell, and lessons to be offered.
One day I will join all of those buried in the hallowed ground of Fredericksburg in a plot beneath the oldest locust trees there. It is not a frightening thought, but a comforting one. When you wander along the paths, it is a concrete reminder that life is unpredictable: you never know when or how it will end. It gives you the opportunity to remember to live with integrity, honor, and kindness, be truly yourself, and value your connections to and love for the people in your life. That is all we have in the end. Memorial Day is a good opportunity to show our respect by visiting the graves of our ancestors, and to recognize the lives of those who have made our communities what they are today.