Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Strangers' Plot

The Strangers Plot at Mountain View Cemetery (photo by Michael Colbruno)

In the southwestern section of the cemetery between plots 54 and 38 is a sloping green field marked only by two dozen trees.  The earliest cemetery records refer to this plot as either Potter’s Field* or the Poor Ground and it contains some five hundred burial spaces.  In October of 1870 the cemetery trustees renamed this area the “Strangers' Plot” and labeled it as such on the cemetery map.

The primary purpose of the Strangers' Plot was the burial of the indigent, the unknown, criminals and suicides consigned to Mt. View by the County government.  The files tell a sad story.  Many of the graves are of men, women and children labeled “unknown”.  Unknown infants number in the hundreds.  A few burials appear to be removals from the old cemeteries in downtown Oakland.  One entry specifies “Twelve unknown bodies from 14th and Harrison”.  There are a number of persons who died of drowning.  The files record deaths due to suicide or gunshot wounds.  Several “hanged” criminals are buried on this hillside, including the first and last persons hanged in Alameda County.

A gravestone in the Strangers Plot (Photo by Michael Colbruno)

In the early years another category of burial took place in the Strangers' Plot.  At least 200 Chinese men were buried there.  More research is needed to find out if the Chinese were indigent or if Asians were not allowed elsewhere in the cemetery.  Some are “unknown” but many are named and at one time there were probably grave markers for some.  In April of 1880 twenty-two Chinese men, killed in a powder explosion at Flemmings Point**, were buried side by side.  The earliest burial registers indicate that large numbers of Chinese burials were later removed from the cemetery for burial elsewhere, most to China (a widespread custom) and a few to other plots in the cemetery.  In addition to the Chinese graves there are records of a few Japanese and Indian burials.

[Text by Gaye Lenahan, Mountain View Docents]

*Potter’s field: a piece of ground reserved as a burial place for strangers and the friendless poor.             Matt.27:7              Random House Dictionary Unabridged

** Flemmings Point: site of munitions manufacture and many accidental explosions in Albany near today’s Golden Gate Fields.

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