A Memorial Garden for Lone Fir Cemetery

By Don MacGillivray


Lone Fir Cemetery has created a new remembrance garden in the central part of the cemetery under three grand old chestnut trees. The end of life includes very personal choices and this is a newly-tailored remembrance possibility and an option for people that wish to choose cremation, but still want the permanence of an environment in a restful, park-like burial ground so folks and families can, once again, plan to spend their eternal future in one of Portland’s oldest and best known cemeteries.

Lone Fir Cemetery on SE Morrison Street is the resting place of over 25,000 residents including some of Portland’s most prominent citizens. In recent years, plots have not been available for purchase so this new memorial garden expands the capability. Metro held a grand opening celebration June 27 with an evening of music and festivities to highlight this addition.

Options for memorials include scattering gardens using an ossuary structure, upright pavers or boulders similar to the upright monuments currently found in the cemetery, internment just underneath the coping stones, and basalt benches for multiple burials.

Cemeteries serve as an important part our region’s shared history and culture. Metro cares for fourteen historic cemeteries in the region. Lone Fir is the largest and best known. It is a beautiful natural landscape in an urban setting with a variety of mature trees, lawns, native birds and wildlife. It serves as a place for quiet reflection and respite as well as preserving a home for the many plants and animals. It’s a place to take a stroll or sit in quiet reflection.

Additionally, plans and fund raising are underway to construct the Cultural Heritage Garden on what is Block 14 in the southwest corner of the cemetery. This section was set aside for Chinese immigrants, and was referred to as the Old Chinese Burial Ground from 1850 to 1945 as a temporary burial place until their remains could be returned to China and reunited with their ancestors.

Much effort and discussion occurred before the community could convince Multnomah County not to sell the property for residential development, but to use the site to honor contributions of Portland’s Chinese population. The community and visitors are invited to learn about this historic cemetery.

A part of this renewed section will by devoted to the 132 known patients of the hospital for the insane, managed by Dr. James C. Hawthorne from 1862 to 1881. Hawthorne was a forward-thinking leader who realized that those in his care deserved “moral treatment”. He also promised a decent burial, if necessary, to any patients who died in his care. Adjacent to the Chinese cemetery is the plot where these patients were buried and Metro has decided to include a memorial to them as well.

The Cultural Heritage Garden is a great way to preserve our past by investing in the future. It will provide a welcoming entrance to the cemetery and raise awareness about the contributions of some of Portland’s little known residents. Recently the Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation was established to raise money and resources for long term investments in the cemetery and for its continued care in partnership with Metro.

Even with all this good news, all is not always well in Lone Fir Cemetery. Sometime in mid-June, vandals toppled and damaged about twenty headstones inside the cemetery. The damage was estimated at $5,000 and the culprits have not been found. Under Oregon law, abuse of a memorial to the dead carries a maximum fine of $50,000. Vandalism at Lone Fir is a big, though a relatively rare, problem due to its location in a dense urban setting. Metro works closely with the Portland police, who regularly patrol the cemetery.

Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery was formed in the year 2000, on a Memorial Day when vandals toppled one hundred headstones. Volunteers work to repair damages and help to make improvements to Lone Fir. Halloween night is always an excellent opportunity to visit the cemetery and see it at its best. The event increases public awareness, raises funds and helps to keep the vandals away on a night when they might appear.

The Association of Gravestone Studies is awarding the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery the Oakley Certificate of Merit for their work in preserving and protecting the cemetery. Lone Fir Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was named by the National Geographic as the ninth “must-see” cemetery in the world. Quite a honor for the west coast that suffers from a lack of historical sites compared with the East Coast and Europe.

The Chestnut Grove is now open and inquires can be made to the Lone Fir Cemeteries Metro office at: 503.797.1709.

A Memorial Garden for Lone Fir Cemetery

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