Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thoughts From An Old Mining Town Cemetery

          We went to visit my in-laws today who live in the foothills of California in an old gold mining town. On the way out, we stopped by the cemetery. The kids both lost their minds still having childhood thoughts of ghosts and zombies stuck in their heads. I told them they could stay in the car and even lock the doors if that made them feel better, but there was nothing to fear in a cemetery. They were not convinced.

I love old cemeteries. It sounds creepy, I know, but I see those headstones and I wonder what their lives were like. What stories could they tell especially in this cemetery where many of those buried here were pioneers leaving everything they knew behind hoping to strike it rich in California during the gold rush of 1849. Were they able to find their fortune? Did they find happiness here or only heartbreak? I wondered about these silent souls as I stood amongst the family plots; old gravestones with the words worn down some barely legible, including some made of wood with the words “Unknown RIP.”

          What I found most disturbing was the number of graves for infants and children. Life was hard for adults in these mining towns during the gold rush days. It has been estimated that as high as 1 in 5 people died within the first six months of coming to California to mine for gold due to accidents, disease, malnutrition, and violence. Imagine how difficult it would have been for the women and children. There was one poor couple in the cemetery who lost all three of their children within a three year span. They were 9, 10, and 11 when they died. Two of them died in the same year. I can’t imagine the hardships these people must have gone through in such an isolated area.

Their birthdates were not listed on the headstones, but how old they were when they died in years, months, and days making it obvious how young many of them were when they passed on. Many of the family plots had several infants and children. While the gold rush in California was very profitable to some, many of the people who came to mine during that time barely made enough to live on.

On my way back to the car I saw my 13 year old daughter (who freaked out when we said we were going to a cemetery) with paper and a pencil making rubbings from some of the headstones.

“Hey, I thought you said this was stupid and creepy.” I said.

She looked up and said “Mom, he was just a baby. You’re right. It’s not creepy.”

Looking at her beautiful face as she made the rubbing of that baby’s headstone, I had a sobering thought. If I had given birth to her during the late 1800s in this tiny mining town, we would have both died, and my son would never have been born. I just wanted to stop off and look at an old cemetery. I had no idea it would make me think so much about my own life. I sat next to my daughter in that family’s plot while she worked and said a silent prayer of thanks for all the blessings in my life.


  1. Hi, M.E.: Funny how life can take you by surprise, isn't it? When I came to take a peak at your blog, I never expected to think about my parents and how much I miss them. Like your visit to the cemetery, I was caught off guard. I agree, it's these moments that make us truly thankful for the blessings we have, and those that time has taken from us. Peace to you and your family.

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for leaving such a wonderful comment. Peace to you and your family as well.