Weekend Outing: Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery

It’s been said that there are more people alive now than that have ever lived throughout history. It’s not true, at least with respect to the whole planet, but it’s an intriguing thought, anyway. I wonder, though, whether it’s true for Los Angeles? I’m not about to pull out a calculator and figure it out (I can’t come up with the math on my own, and anyway, I wouldn’t know what button to push) but it’s the sort of thing I love to ponder. And where do you think I chose to do my pondering? Check it out, after the jump.

Evergreen Cemetery

If you die in Los Angeles and no one shows up to claim you as their own, the city cremates your body and sets your ashes on a shelf. If you’re still unclaimed after three years, the city has a modest memorial service and puts you in the ground with the other 1500 or so (sometimes as many as 4000!) unclaimed bodies from that that year. Your final resting place? Evergreen Cemetery near downtown LA.

After hearing about this on the radio, I decided to pay the cemetery a visit and see if I could find these mass graves myself. I’m into the whole aura thing, and I happen to find cemeteries strangely picturesque.

Evergreen is fascinating. It’s wedged into the dense, noisy kaleidoscope of Boyle Heights, a strange, sprawling patch of open space in an otherwise metropolitan free-for-all. The cemetery is a multicultural affair, as varied and colorful as LA itself. Haratounian lies next to Chavez lies next to Hayakawa lies next to Lankershim. Some stones are regal and stately, others caked with dirt and surrounded by dead grass. In spite all of these differences, of course, they all share one simple characteristic.

Yeah, you know what it is.

Evergreen Cemetery

The one thing about cemeteries I find most depressing, is not all the dead people, but the dead things that living relatives leave at the grave sites.

Evergreen Cemetery

Alice Marie Longyear’s lifespan echoed her surname.

Evergreen Cemetery

Vera M. Ware died at 23 years old. She rests in a desolate a corner of the cemetery. Lonely? Yes, but she got her own tree.

Evergreen Cemetery

The Japanese population here is impressively large.

Evergreen Cemetery

N. Hama clearly lived life as an outsider, not afraid to stand apart from the crowd.

Evergreen Cemetery

The most depressing gravesite in the cemetery. If I were buried here, I’d have to zombify myself long enough to rectify things.

Evergreen Cemetery

Also worth checking out: The Issei memorial, honoring the first generation of Japanese immigrants.  The shrine is attractive and moving.

Evergreen Cemetery

I never did find the graves of the forgotten Angelenos, despite wandering the length and breadth of the cemetery for the better part of two hours. There was no one to ask, either, because the office was closed. I will return, maybe next time with a date.

For more information on this cemetery, check out the nice multimedia thingy over at KCET.

10 thoughts on “Weekend Outing: Evergreen Cemetery”

  1. It is, I believe on the south end of the cemetery. The mass graves are marked with a simple grass-level marker with the year.

  2. Los Angeles’ oldest private memorial park, Evergreen Cemetery, founded in 1877, is NOT Los Angeles’ potter’s field (“a public burial place for paupers, unknown persons, and criminals”). The so-called “Los Angeles County Cemetery” (which the bumbling poster Will Keightley admits he even couldn’t find) is a separate, cordoned-off area southeast of Evergreen proper at E. 1st Street and Lorena. Founded in 1890, it is the final resting place for thousand of our county’s unknown and unclaimed dead.

    For further information on L.A. County Cemetery, call Craig Harvey, L.A. County Coroner’s chief operations officer at (323) 343-0734.

    Google may not be Keightley’s friend but it most certainly is yours. Here’s a start. For a richer perspective on Evergreen’s importance to all Angelenos and especially its immigrant community, go to http://www.schweich.com/geoCALAnEvergreenCmty.html.

    My Japanese American grandparents and parents are buried at Evergreen because most of the other cemeteries in the city were segregated and forbade Japanese and other “Asiatic” burials. Evergreen, on the other hand, served the entire community without prejudice.

    And, finally, to the memory of “N. Hama”—Rest in peace, sir. Keightley’s more of a jester than journalist.

    Dwight Babamoto

  3. Hi, Dwight

    Thanks for commenting. And thanks for the link. Here it is, again, by the way, repaired.

    I’m trying to figure out why the tone of your comment is so unpleasant, though. My visit to the cemetery was based on a whim, a response to a brief mention of “Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles” on a radio program and a stirring article from the Daily News. I went exploring. I saw some beautiful stuff. I tried to do it justice with some photographs. I’m sorry it didn’t please you, but I’m helpless to fix that.

    Thanks for reading, Dwight. And thanks for reacting. And in response to your sign-off, I think you’ve nailed it. I am, indeed, more jester than journalist. I’ve never told anyone different.


  4. Yah, Will, I’ve cooled down a bit.
    I was angry and hurt after seeing a photo of my parents’ headstone plastered across the blogosphere in a post about “outings.” “Unpleasant”? Meh. I was goin’ for sarcastic.
    Mom and pops are under the old pine between Iku Tachibana and the Hamai Family. Will, I’m gonna light a stick of incense for you when I go there tomorrow morning.
    D Babamoto

  5. Dwight, thanks for that. I’m mortified that I have an actual photo of your parents’ headstone up on the blog, though, of all the stills I took that day. Say the word and I’ll yank it. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating and beautiful, and I have the utmost respect for their residents, but that respect, out of necessity, dwells in that tricky territory between somber reflection and wry irreverence. If I can’t do it justice through my words, then the fault, of course, lies squarely with me.


Comments are closed.