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At Susan’s Grave: Her Rose Today

A sunny warmish early afternoon day last week, and retired logging industry truckdriver Morgan Baynham, New Jersey suburbanite “city person” friend visiting me, Suzanne Glatt, and I teamed up to visit the Evergreen Cemetery and do some repair and restoration work on Susan Cody Stubblefield’s grave. Susan’s marble headstone was coated with black mold to the point of illegibility, and a rotting six inch thick fir tree had fallen across the top and front of the grave crushing the rose bush.

Readers of my Valley historical vignettes may recollect that Susan Cody Murray Stubblefield was one of the earliest settlers in Anderson Valley. Back in 1858, she and her Husband Cleveland Murray had settled a homestead west of Highway 128 and the Y ranch near Yorkville. The home and barns were a mile from the highway alongside Rancheria Creek where it turns southwest and heads for Sonoma County’s coast. Her Huguenot grandmother Cody had brought from France a pink rose in remembrance of her roots in rural Bordeaux. Its American roots and bush Gran ma Cody planted on the family Hudson River farm, and Susan in honor of her grandmother had transported the rose in a pot as she migrated west from New York to Indiana, Missouri and Iowa on her way to Anderson Valley. Today the rose guards her grave at Evergreen.

So after a light lunch and a lot of gossip with the denizens at Mosswood, Morgan, Suzanne and I parked by the outhouses at Evergreen and carried our equipment, Morgan’s small chainsaw, my orchard loppers and pruning shears, work gloves and my decoction of dish soap and Ajax in a jar of warm water, and walked to Susan’s grave. It’s located west of the restrooms in the early settlers’ part of Evergreen about thirty steps from our cars, the headstone faces west on the very edge of the second level of Evergreen above the Old Highway. This whole acre “old families” part of the cemetery is deeply shaded under live oak and a nasty, thorny oak-like hardwood scrub bush. Evergreen’s caretakes need to eliminate this parasite.

First task was to remove the downed fir from the headstone and the rose. Suzanne and I worked with the loppers and pruning shears to remove all its branches and scatter the small pieces on the vinca-overgrown sidehill dropping down to the oldest part of Evergreen right along the Old Highway. Morgan chunked up the tree’s main trunk with his saw, and we rolled them down the hill as well. And I cleaned up the rose, cutting away the dead and older worn out stems, leaving the younger fresher ones, while also eliminating their tips to assist with next Spring’s new cane growth. I also made a half dozen cuttings to root in potting soil in my greenhouse, also known as my home’s windowless pantry. Now the real fun began.

First, to make sure our cleanser didn’t do any unanticipated damage to the marble, Suzanne and I did a trial aggressive scrubbing on the top and small portion of the headstone’s backside. We found no visible bad negative abrasion to the marble and started attacking its front west side. Our organic chemical material was working, the mold was washing away and the marble was turning white. Morgan was getting bored just standing there under the oaks watching us, and he ordered Suzanne and I to take a walk. He needed some work to do. 

Excellent idea. As I wanted to show Suzanne around to the early settlers graves and talk about their roots and roles in the early Valley. We visited lots of Ornbauns, McGimseys and Prathers, some Browns, Burgers, Kendalls and Rawles, a Wallach, McAbee, first Swiss-German settler John Gschwend’s wife Kate, and J.D. Ball, first settler south of Boonville. Some names I didn’t know like Wallace, Burgess, Stone, Bonnett, and Taylor. And who were Elizabeta and Toni Del Acqua, 1883-1965? 

After twenty minutes Suzanne and I returned from our odyssey under the oaks, a smiling Morgan said, “Look at this.” And now we were all smiling and savoring our victory over the decades-long black mold siege. At the top of the headstone was the prophecy “At rest waiting for the Resurrection.” Then Susan Cody Stubblefield, 1811-95.” And at the bottom in fine italics we read: “The world is better by her having lived in it.” What a lovely testimonial to the life of Susan Cody Murray Stubblefield, one of The Valley’s first settlers.

Fifteen minutes later we’d loaded all of our tools back into our vehicles, chopped up the Stubblefield Rose prunings into portable pieces for Morgan’s home nursery and were on our ways. Suzanne and I circled the rest of Evergreen’s roadway and I discoursed on various old settlers family history and contribution to the community. Another instructive day at our local “Dusties.”

Evergreen Cemetery is one of seven Anderson Valley cemeteries, under the governance and maintenance jurisdiction of the property taxpayer funded Anderson Valley Cemetery District: Yorkville, Rawles-Babcock, Evergreen (Boonville), Shields, Ruddock, Ingram and a private cemetery in Philo also name Ruddock. The District’s modest budget includes a part-time maintenance manager, currently Alicia Perez. Alicia’s job includes on Evergreen’s three acres the work typical of maintaining a family home and yard, grass-mowing, graves weeding, cleaning up downed trees and bushes after the winter storms. She also oversees any grave digging work in preparation for a funeral and burial. I happened to run into Alicia one afternoon a month ago when she was overseeing Dave Wallace’s back hoe excavation of a grave for Susan Juster right next to her husband Sherman’s headstone. Remember Alicia’s restaurant at Floodgate fifteen years ago? After she closed it she opened another one in Boonville in the old Horn of Zeese building in Boonville.

The preservation and record keeping responsibility for Evergreen cemetery is divided between the Community Services District and the Anderson Valley Historical Society. The Cemetery manager has done a fine job with the mowing and cleaning up after storm damage, but there is, I believe, a significant amount of preservation work, the responsibility of the Historical Society, some of it difficult and requiring use of power tools and skilled operators. 

As examples, I noticed healthy young Douglas firs, pepperwoods and live oaks growing next to and against individual headstones. In some places they are uprooting these monuments or causing them to begin tilting. There are soaproot and other natural perennials easily removable crowding individual headstones and family plots. And the arms of very old live oaks draping down on top of graves and plots, easily removable with the proper equipment.

And permit me to note as advocates of the importance of this Evergreen old plot, Morgan and I are prepared to provide our time and skills to the preservation work needed.

One other Evergreen Cemetery old plot matter: I believe the Historical Society has in its archives complete records for all its known burial markers, hopefully even the wooden ones whose engravings are eroded away or their bronze plaques disappeared. Does its archive also include the “modern” inhabitants of the plot? I As I reported above I found the name Del Acqua, probably Portuguese, on a fairly new marble headstone there. And headstones for my old friends Martin and Dot Becker and for my ex-wife Linda Filer’s mother Jean Riley. And what about the Spanish-named headstones when you first drive into the cemetery along Witherell Creek? Are their sites registered in the Society Archive?

A final note on Anderson Valley’s cemeteries, some part of the Community Services District jurisdiction, some not. I have visited many of them, such as Ingram and Ledford around Yorkville, Shields in Philo, and one totally neglected and outside the District, Dightman, under ancient live oaks and up the hill off Ruddock Road. There are others I have never seen, such as Ornbaun, and at Eubanks on Mountainview, yet others I don’t even know about. I look forward to learning more about their location, visiting them and reporting to our readers my findings. There is so much to learn about The Valley’s roots and heritage on random walks through these outdoor historical archives.

Next Week: Back on the Road Again with Wes: Elsie Skrbeks’, the Rawles’, and the Tolman Home in Boonville.

One Comment

  1. George Hollister February 27, 2023

    Thank you for your efforts.

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