Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Tribute To Silvia Lange

[Photo by Michael Colbruno]

This is the only post on "Lives of the Dead" dedicated to someone not buried at Mountain View Cemetery. Silvia Lange has been a docent for the last 13 years at Mountain View Cemetery and she recently went missing at Pt. Reyes while training her guide dogs. Despite massive search crews, no one knows for sure what happened to Silvia Lange.

I want to honor Silvia Lange on this site, because she would have loved it. The first docent tour that I ever went on at the cemetery was Silvia's women's tour and she had me hooked in the first five minutes. She made these women come to life and she spoke of each one as if they were a favorite acquaintance. I had been talking to Silvia about other women who should be on the tour, which is why you'll see links to the women buried at Mountain View Cemetery to the right.

Every new name brought absolute glee to her. She wanted to know about the woman, go to the grave, touch her marker and take in her spirit. When I took her to see Mary Park Benton, the first woman painter to show professionally in California, she almost jumped out of her hiking shoes.

But it wasn't just the women. She loved her labor tour with a passion. She spoke of the labor leader Vincent St. John as if he were her favorite son. Whenever we walked by the grave of "Dancin' with Anson" Weeks, the big band leader, she would start singing and dancing.

The void that Silvia leaves behind will be felt by countless people, as well as her beloved dogs. One thing that will always live on is her enormous heart and her incredible spirit. Not even death can take that away.

Allen: Fellow Mountain View Cemetery tour guides remember missing volunteer

By Annalee Allen, Oakland Tribune columnist

When I learned this week that Silvia Lange, a longtime volunteer tour docent with Mountain View Cemetery, had been reported missing Jan. 24 while spending time with her dogs at a beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, I checked in with some of her fellow tour guides to learn more about this remarkable woman.

The news has spread rapidly among the tight-knit group, one of the other guides, Barbara Smith, of Alamo, told me when I reached her by phone. "Like Silvia, a Marin resident, some of us come from quite a distance to lead tours at Mountain View and to do research on those buried there," Smith said. "All the guides share a love of history and sharing this passion with others."

Lange's vehicle was found in the parking lot at North Beach. She was presumed to have been hiking with her dogs and may have been swept out to sea because of high surf in the area on that day, searchers have said.

"Silvia started giving tours at the cemetery 13 years ago, and she was one of the most upbeat, positive people to be around I ever met," Smith said.

Smith added that Lange was most recently working on a new theme tour highlighting individuals active in the Bay Area's remarkable labor-movement history. "Silvia also enjoyed giving a special tour on the women's movement every year," Smith said. "She called her tour 'Restless Women at Rest at Last.'"

Michael Colbruno, another of the volunteer tour leaders at the cemetery, also edits a Web site outlining various historical folks whose final resting place is Mountain View. Mountain View Cemetery was established in 1865 and is considered to be among the oldest and most historically significant burial grounds in all of California.

"Silvia is delightfully quirky, always full of surprises, and always exhibited that extra panache when leading her tours," Colbruno said. "You never knew what she might decide to do. While leading a tour, everyone came away with so much knowledge and appreciation for the people she talked about."

Lange also was a well-known volunteer tour leader at Angel Island State Park.

"I recall that Silvia was fascinated with the story of a lady lighthouse keeper who lived and worked on Angel Island in the past," Smith said. While researching the life of Juliet Nichols, the lighthouse keeper, Silvia found out her subject ended up being buried at Mountain View. "Of course Silvia had to find out everything she could about Mountain View, and the next thing you know she was volunteering for us too."

According to news reports, Lange, 77, was retired and had had a career as a psychiatric nurse. She was also involved with the Santa Rosa nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, and training dogs for that program was another of her passions. "The dogs were so important to her," Smith said. "She loved dogs."

Doreen Herbruger, customer service manager at Mountain View Cemetery and the liaison with the tour guide group, also spoke to me this week. "Silvia will be deeply missed. Most recently I had been working with her to develop new marketing materials focusing upon notable Asians buried at Mountain View," Herbruger said. "I found her always up for a new research project, and her Angel Island history background was a plus."

Those wishing to express their condolences for Silvia Lange may contact Mountain View Cemetery at 510-658-2588. Mountain View is located at the end of Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. The Web address is


Chris Pattillo said...


Thank you for writing this piece on Sylvia. You are right she would love it. I still cannot believe she is really gone and feel a tremendous sense of loss.

Chris Pattillo

sarah said...

I think I was on this tour with you! This is a lovely tribute. Here's a little video I took of Sylvia:

Deni bibby said...

I was friends with Silvia for 30 years. She had an incredible impact on my life. I miss her every day..she and worked together in San Diego. She was a terrific therapist
And helped many individuals.. I will always miss her.

Deni bibby