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Lone Fir Goodbyes
- peter korn
- Portland Tribune - Features
'Rest in Peace' is boring, say messages in city's oldest cemetery
Everybody gets to make one final statement. That's what headstones are all about. Paul G. Lind liked Scrabble. At least, that's the impression visitors get when they see his marker at Lone Fir Cemetery in Southeast Portland. In fact, the impression is that Lind must have loved Scrabble, since his entire headstone is in the form of a Scrabble board.
Of course, it may have been that Lind's family liked the board game and Lind had nothing to say about the marker on his grave.
That's the thing about headstones - they provoke questions better than they provide answers. And Lone Fir, with its entrance on Southeast 26th Avenue near Stark Street, probably has more intriguing and artful final statements than anywhere else in Portland.
Lone Fir, run by Metro regional government, is the oldest cemetery in Portland. Many of the city's pioneers with names like Lovejoy and Hoyt can be found here. But the real fun is in the lesser known residents who appear to be keeping alive Portland's penchant for weird, even in death.
At Lone Fir, an artist is buried underground in a paint can.
And a bartender has a large concrete urn beside his grave from which he and friends used to drink, until he died in 1883.
And a man's laser-etched granite headstone depicts a drag racing funny car and the words, 'Gone home to horsepower heaven.'
In fact, a number of the recent grave sites at Lone Fir (yes, there are still plots available, and yes, people are dying to get in) have likenesses etched into the stones. Oddly, virtually every one of them depicts the deceased shortly before their death, instead of when they were younger, and in better health.
Frederick Roeder drowned in 1887 in a boating accident and his marker depicts a ship with a broken mast floating in the sea, with two little hands calling out for help. Probably Roeder did not plan his headstone ahead of time.
Headstones can be deceiving. Lone Fir is sprinkled with cement markers of various sizes, some well over 100 years old, all in the shape of a leafless tree stump. The markers are not for old loggers, but come courtesy of Woodmen of the World, an insurance company.
'The size of your monument depended on the size of your policy,' says Becky Oswald, Chairwoman of the nonprofit Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery.
There are even grave sites at Lone Fir that visitors cannot see. Patients from a nearby psychiatric hospital were buried with unmarked graves nearly 100 years ago, beneath what is now a parking lot outside the main body of the cemetery. A few years ago, the parking lot was scheduled for development.
'They were going to sell it for condos and we stopped them dead in their tracks,' Oswald says.
The cemetery is open to visitors free of charge. For those interested in a tour, as opposed to permanent residence, call 503-224-9200.