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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Marcus Mason (1827-1898) – Coffee Pioneer


[Photo of Mason Family Vault by Michael Colbruno]

[Coffee Pulper]

Marcus Mason was the inventor of a coffee pulper and pioneered the development of other coffee equipment. He was born in Vermont in 1827 and trained as a mechanical engineer.

Mason started visiting Costa Rica and other coffee regions beginning in 1857. His inventions allowed for the efficient processing and production of coffee, as they peeled the husk, removed the pulp and disposed of the refuse.

He was granted his first patent in 1860 and his machines were used on coffee plantations around the world. However, he didn’t start manufacturing coffee machinery in the United States until 1873. His plant was established in Worcester, Massachusetts that year, but he also had a business operation in New York.

Mason died in New York and his remains were brought back to Oakland. His service was officiated by fellow Mountain View Cemetery denizen Rev. John Knox McLean, a close personal friend.


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Friday, January 1, 2010

Warren & The Missing Skulls

World Daily News headline]

[Michael Wilson from World Daily News]

[Victorian Family Vault photo by Michael Colbruno]

The above photo is of three of the Victorian family vaults at Mountain View Cemetery in Plot 2. If you look closely you’ll notice that the one on the right has been stripped of the family name. This was done at the request of the family after a horrendous grave robbery in January 1988. The family vault belonged to Dr. Orran Warren.

Michael Wilson, a graduate of Skyline High School in Oakland, and a friend broke into the family vault. Newspaper accounts say that Wilson refused to identify the accomplice, who allegedly had possession of the skulls. According to the Oakland Tribune, someone at Skyline said that Wilson had a “thing for science fiction and monsters and goblins.’

Wilson and his accomplice broke into two coffins and removed the skulls from two women. One had died in 1921 and the other just a year before the grave robbery in 1987. An attempt to desecrate the body of a woman who died in 1941 failed.

Chris Powell, as student at the San Francisco Institute of Art, discovered the grisly scene and took photographs that he gave to the Oakland Tribune. The pictures show the opening above the door where the two men gained entrance as well as graphic images of the desecrated coffins. One image shows the image of the skeletal remains of a child. Cemetery records show that five children were buried in the Warren family vault.

I was unable to find accounts of what happened to Michael Wright or if police ever found his accomplice. The judge in the case, Carol Corrigan, now sits on the California Supreme Court, appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We don’t know much about Dr. Orran P. Warren. His family vault sits among the very first ones built at Mountain View Cemetery in the 1860s. The cemetery has records of the other people buried in the family vault, but out of respect to the dead they will remain anonymous. We know that some of the vaults, mainly the neighboring Tubbs vault, were used as holding places for bodies before their burial places were ready.

What we do know about Orran Warren is that he was born in Vermont in 1811 and married the former Abigail “Abby” Davis in 1834. Records show that he advertised in the Oakland Tribune as an “Eclectic Physician” and lived and worked at 403 Fourteenth Street in Oakland.

In 1848, we know that he was still on the East Coast, as records show that he chartered the New Hampshire Botanic Medical Society that year. On the West Coast, records show that he was a founding member and President of the Eclectic Medical Society of the State of California.

Other than that, all we know is his family was the victim of a gruesome grave robbery and that the remains of his descendants have been moved to an unknown location.

It should also be noted that this grave robbery did not occur under the current management.

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Symbols at Mountain View Cemetery

This is a cemetery symbol that I don't ever recall seeing before. It is of a hand holding a chain with a broken link, which symbolized the death of a family member. This symbol was used primarily in the Victorian Era and it looks like Mary Northey died at the very end of that period, which technically extends from the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in 1837 to her death in 1901. Notice the very elaborate cuff, which was also typical of the Victorian Era. Mary Northey is buried in Plot 2 just to the west of the Victorian family vaults.


When you see two hands shaking with the cuffs of different genders, this sybolizes marriage. This grave is to the east of the Victorian vaults in Plot 2 under the angel. It marks the resting place of a husband and wife. If you see a similar marker, but with gender neutral cuffs, it can symbolize a heavenly welcome or earthly farewell. This is a fairly common gravestone symbol.


FLT stands for Friendship, Love, Truth, three degrees associated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The Odd Fellows, first organized in the US in 1819, is a popular fraternal/benefit organization. The emblem of the Odd Fellows is usually shown as three links of a chain. A number on the stone is the local lodge number. [The Association for Gravestone Studies]


The square in the Masonic square and compass is a builder's square, used by carpenters and stonemasons to measure perfect right angles. In Masonry, this is a symbol of the ability to use the teachings of conscience and morality to measure and verify the rightness of one's actions.

The compass is used by builders to draw circles and lay off measurements along a line. It is used by the Masons as a symbol of self-control, the intention to draw a proper boundary around personal desires and to remain within that boundary line.

The letter G usually found in the center of the square and compass is said to represent "geometry" or "God."

All photos by Michael Colbruno

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