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As It Was: Crescent City Renovates Early Burial Ground

There are no complete records for the Brother Jonathan Cemetery in Crescent City, Calif., located on an early burial site described in the 1920s by a newspaper as “a jungle, littered with broken stones removed from their proper graves.”

The Masons purchased the oceanfront property in 1854 and offered it to everyone as a burial ground.

When the steamer Brother Jonathan wrecked off the northern coast on July 30, 1865, becoming California’s greatest maritime disaster, 90 of the 225 recovered bodies washed ashore.  A local furniture-maker and undertaker slapped together coffins and buried 45 victims.  The remaining, unidentified bodies ended up in a mass grave.

The community continued to use the cemetery for decades until space ran out.  In the 1920s, a general re-internment took place.  Some families came to reclaim their relatives, but hundreds of others were relocated to the Crescent City Cemetery.  Soon the vacated ground was overgrown.

In the 1950s, the community created a memorial park at the site and named it the Brother Jonathan Cemetery.  It includes 28 salvaged headstones from the original burial ground. 

The present-day cemetery is on the California Register of Historic Landmarks.


Sources: Betlejewski, Karen. "Brother Jonathan Cemetery." Reflections of Del Norte County, vol. 7, no. 2, 2012, p. 5; Ibid. "Brother Jonathan Cemetery: Part 2." Reflections of Del Norte County, vol. 7, no. 3, 2012, pp. 4-5; Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brother Jonathan_(steamer).

Laurel earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from Humboldt State. Her research efforts as a volunteer for the Curry Historical Society produced numerous newsletter articles and exhibits and earned her a reputation as a seasoned local history buff. Laurel is the author of "Renderings from the Gold Beach Pioneer Cemetery", a 50-page booklet containing a walking tour and snippets about the lives and times of folks buried there. She is also a contributing writer to Oregon Coast Magazine.