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November 23-29, 2005

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Graveyard Shift

By Gary Singh


ARCADIA Publishing regularly puts out a series of books called Images of America. These historical photo books aren't that big—maybe 6 inches by 9 inches and around 120 pages or so—but they do a great job of chronicling the stories and histories of specific local niches. Some examples are Delaware in the Great Depression, Grand Canyon: Native People & Early Visitors and The Pawtucket Red Sox. There are over 3,000 of these quaint books in print, including a whopping 53 about Rhode Island locales and 25 about San Francisco locales. There's only one devoted to San Jose, released last January: San Jose's Historic Downtown, a rocking stroll through the photo history of that neighborhood, assembled by Bob Johnson and Lauren Miranda. Other releases of local interest in the series include photo histories of Santa Clara, Milpitas, Los Gatos, Pacifica, Campbell and Gilroy.

Just when you thought you couldn't get a photo history book solely devoted to a niche any more local than something like, say, The Chinese Community of Stockton, author Bea Lichtenstein has one out: Cemeteries of Santa Clara (Arcadia Publishing; 128 pages; $19.99), available at area bookstores, independent retailers and online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Now wait a minute. Exactly how many cemeteries are there in Santa Clara? I'll tell you. There's a whopping two. An entire book solely devoted to two local cemeteries? You're thinking, Isn't that just stretching things a little bit? Well, it's actually a pretty cool book. Lichtenstein focuses on, of course, Mission City Memorial Park and the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, featuring over 200 vintage black and white photographs. She even includes tour maps and walk-throughs. There's just something delightfully morbid about using a cemetery as a conduit for studying local history. For example, Mission City Memorial Park is one of the few municipally owned cemeteries in California and is under the jurisdiction of the Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Department. After all, most of us engaged in some sort of recreational activity in a cemetery as a kid. Remember?

With the book, Lichtenstein says that folks "will be able to trace the history of the Catholic Church in what was to become Silicon Valley and find that one of the most notorious bandits in the valley is buried within sight of the Jesuit priests. Additionally, they will find how cemetery architecture has evolved in the West since each of the locations opened."

And it's not about only cemeteries. There's a great shot of the Agnews Asylum for the Insane after damage from the 1906 earthquake, where 112 patients and staff were reportedly killed when several four-story brick buildings collapsed. Only two wooden headstones dating back to the earthquake still exist in Mission City Memorial Park.

Another spectacular photo shows Wade's Mission Pharmacy circa 1960 at what used to be the Odd Fellows building corner of Franklin and Washington, before urban renewal set in. Adorning the building are a Citizens for John F. Kennedy poster, the Odd Fellows symbology and the square and compass of Masonic lore. And don't ask what that all-seeing eye above the IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows) actually means. There are so many fraternal orders—you just can't keep track of them all.

Continuing with that line of thinking, in Mission City Memorial Park one also finds a tree stump monument for Arthur Durell, who passed away in 1908. The flowers, wooden mallet, hatchet and dove carved into the monument signify that Durell was a member of the fraternal order Woodmen of the World.

Last but certainly not least, in Mission City Memorial Park you will also find the monument to Harry Love, that legendary hard-drinking California Ranger who in 1853 supposedly exterminated two of the state's most notorious bandits, Joaquin Murrieta and Three-Fingered Jack. The monument was heartfully dedicated a few years back by the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus—Mountain Charlie Chapter No. 1850, or "clampers" as they are also known.

In short, history is not just for crotchety old geriatrics. And walking through a cemetery is a splendid way to explore a community's past. Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote about sipping whiskey on Pigpen's grave at the Alta Mesa Cemetery in Palo Alto. Now it's time to hit Harry Love's grave with a flask of moonshine. I thank author Bea Lichtenstein for the inspiration. Santa Clara better watch out ...


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