Historical lessons in the South Sound

Illustrations by Alex Schloer

Pop culture classics like Beetlejuice and Hocus Pocus give cemeteries the reputation of being spooky and ghoulish, but if you spend any time in one, you’ll find a wealth of history and some fascinating stories. Here are a few historical haunts to check out.

Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Overlooking the Kent Valley, once known as the White River Valley, Saar Pioneer Cemetery was established on private property by valley pioneer Peter Saar in 1873. After he laid his beloved wife Margaret to rest, neighbors asked permission to bury their loved ones at the site as well.

Saar sold the property in 1887, but reserved an acre of the grassy knoll for the cemetery. Closed to new burials in 1949, the cemetery is now owned by Kent United Methodist Church and is a City of Kent historical landmark. It contains about 200 graves with 90 or so missing headstones. An Unmarked Graves Monument was created to honor those without markers. Much of the cemetery has been lovingly restored in recent years by scout troops, local companies, and community volunteers.

Visitors to the cemetery will see Baby Monster’s grave. Baby isn’t really a monster, of course, but the deceased infant of a German family with the last name Monster. The cemetery also includes the graves of five Civil War veterans, including Private William W. Button, who settled in the Kent valley after the war. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has supplied new markers for four of the veterans.

Black Diamond Cemetery

Established in 1884, the Black Diamond Cemetery is hidden off the main road in a serene, wooded setting. Owned by the City of Black Diamond, the cemetery has more than 1,200 graves. It is the final resting place for many immigrants from Wales, Italy, Germany, Finland, Russia and other countries, some of whom have denoted their country of origin on their tombstones.

David Webber, a Civil War veteran who died in 1900, is also buried in the cemetery, along with several veterans of the Spanish American War. At least four of the 31 men who died in the Ravensdale coal mine explosion of November 16, 1915 are buried in the Black Diamond Cemetery, as are miners from the explosions in the Lawson Mine in 1902 and 1910 and children who died from small pox and flu epidemics in the early 1900s.

The cemetery is a City of Black Diamond Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sumner Cemetery

Just off Highway 167 sits the Sumner Cemetery, a cemetery established in 1864 by Isaac and Mary Woolery who buried his children on the land. This portion of the cemetery is known as the pioneer cemetery and holds graves for members of the Woolery family from Missouri and the Kincaid family from Kentucky, pioneers who came over the Naches in 1853.

Among those buried is William M. Kincaid, a widower with seven children known as the Father of Sumner, on whose land Sumner was first platted. According to “The Sumner Story” by Amy M. Ryan, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Mr. Kincaid’s Feb. 21, 1870 death:

“Mr. Wm. M. Kincaid of the Puyallup valley died a few days ago. He was quite an old man, seventy-five years or near that. He was a worthy and highly respected citizen, and an old settler in Pierce County.”

In addition to the Kincaid and Woolery families, the cemetery is the final resting place for the pioneers of 1853, war veterans, and Woodmen of the World. One of the more interesting tombstones is that of Fred C. Dobler, born in 1870 and died in 1903. The tombstone indicates Dobler met his death in a snow slide.

The cemetery was expanded in 1902 to include the town section and it was taken over by the city. Under the city’s care, a new water main was installed so the 24-acre cemetery could be better maintained cared for.

Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery

Just up the highway from the Washington Soldiers Home in Orting, surrounded by a stone wall and century-old trees, is the site of a beautiful, though aging cemetery — the Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery. Established in 1930, the 4.75-acre Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery is the first state soldiers cemetery. It houses more than 2,400 men and women, including four Medal of Honor recipients and veterans who served in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

After decades of neglect, the cemetery is in a state of disrepair with headstones trapped in trees, tombstones that are so worn they can’t be read, and others that are sinking into the ground. To return the cemetery to its original glory, a group of local volunteers are raising money with the help of the Restore America Club.

The group’s first fundraiser was an August 22 inaugural ride from Tahoma National Cemetery through the Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery and ending at the Washington State Soldiers Home in Orting. There were 121 participants in the fundraiser and, to date, more than $250,000 has been raised toward the $700,000 goal.

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