05 May 2009

No-shows in the cemetery

An article titled "San Diego undertakes a search for the no-shows at Mt. Hope" by Steven Schmidt, staff writer, was published on page B-2 of the San Diego Union newspaper dated Sunday, 17 June 1990. The article read:


Waldo Waterman, wherever you are, there's a patch of earth in San Diego with your name on it.

This week, the city of San Diego embarked on a hunt for Waterman, Oliver Wetherby, Lottie Lightbody and hundreds of others who have failed to hold up their end of a once-in-a lifetime business deal.

They are the Mount Hope no-shows, the 2,212 people who bought cemetery plots between 1869 and 1929 at the city's historic graveyard and have yet to cash in.

But it's never too late, city officials say. On Monday, the city ran an advertisement in The San Diego Union declaring the 2,212 empty plots abandoned unless reclaimed by their owners no later than the middle of next year.

On Thursday, operators of Mount Hope Cemetery in Southeast San Diego managed to cross at least one name off the no-show list. San Diegan Goddard DuBois said his family intends to use six plots willed to him by his aunt Alice Goddard, who bought the gravesites for $40 in 1898.

"It was the funniest thing" DuBois said of the ad, "I was just looking at the list and the name jumped out."

Cemetery managers expect DuBois to be the exception. They believe that most on the list died years ago, and that somewhere else was chosen as their final rest stop. Others probably moved out of town, or have simply forgotten their longstanding appointments with their 7-foot-by-3-foot-by-6-foot chunk of ground.

"People bought them and have never used them, for whatever reason," said Rhea Kuhlman, the city's assistant property director. "They just forgot about them."

The city is running the advertisement, which will also appear the next two Mondays, to free more plots in the more wooded, more desirable parts of the cemetery. Established in 1869, the cemetery includes the graves of Alonzo Horton, Kate Sessions and other San Diego bigwigs.

In some cases, prospective plot owners have asked for a spot next to a deceased relative, only to find that there's no more room available.

"If we can't find the owner, we'd like to give others the chance to buy the grave," Kuhlman said.

Buy the grave, that is, at 1990 prices. Some of the plots originally were sold for as little as $2. Starting July 1, the city will charge $395 to $795 a plot.

But money, the city says, is not their chief motive here. "This is really to accommodate families that want to be near their loved ones," said one official.

Freeing the unclaimed, highly-desirable plots is also expected to improve Mount Hope's sales pitch to those shopping around San Diego for a final resting place.


I guess the big question is - who were the other 2,219 people on the list? The San Diego Union for Monday, 18 June can probable tell us - I'll have to look for it! Maybe some of my family names are on the list!

And the next question is - where are Waldo Waterman, Oliver Wetherby and Lottie Lightbody buried?

I copied this article at the San Diego Public Library in the vertical file for San Diego Cemeteries in the file cabinets in the California Room.

1 comment:

Diane Wright said...

Great story. That must happen all over. Several times a sexton has asked me about family and can I get a message to them about a vacant plot. Another thing to think about!