Mountain View Cemetery’s earthquake plot

The pandemic has eased enough that Mountain View Cemetery, the Bay area’s finest landscape, has opened its gates again to the public, though only on Wednesdays and Saturdays for the moment and with an earnest plea for your good behavior. Thus on Wednesday I was finally able to visit Plot 1, where the first earthquake victim in the East Bay’s history is buried: Joseph W. Josselyn. It turns out his monument isn’t the only one there with an earthquake connection.

William Halley’s 1876 Centennial Year Book of Alameda County reproduces the account of the great earthquake of 21 October 1868 from the next day’s Oakland News, giving us the picture of Josselyn’s worst day: “At San Leandro the earthquake was much more severe than in Oakland or Alameda, and not a building escaped damage. The saddest calamity was the death of Mr. J. W. Josselyn, Deputy Clerk, a young man of much promise and ability, who has for a few years past been in the office of the County Treasurer. He was crushed in the ruins of the County Court House. . . . There were in the Clerk’s office four persons besides Mr. Josselyn. Mr. Josselyn endeavored to escape by the front entrance to the building, and when passing the threshold the falling walls buried him in its fragments. The other persons, seeing the front give way, escaped through one of the windows.”

The courthouse (San Leandro being the short-lived county seat at the time) was newly built, and the shaking was said to have revealed its shoddy construction. On the other hand, the earthquake broke every chimney in San Leandro that foggy morning, so maybe the fault lay not in the building, but in the Hayward fault. The lesson learned after every major quake is always the same: don’t try to run outside while the ground is shaking. The way we state that lesson today is: Drop, Cover, Hold On.

Halley reported, “The lamented Josselyn’s funeral took place at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 23d of October, from the Presbyterian Church, and under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity. His remains were interred in Mountain View Cemetery, near Oakland, and over eighty carriages formed the funeral procession.” His fellow Masons did well by Josselyn, furnishing his grave with a fine sandstone stele with the Masonic square-and-compass emblem and some skilled carving.

I perceive a message in the emphasis the carver gave the date of Josselyn’s fate. This date was carved into local memory as surely as 17 October 1989 is in our own (in mine, anyway).

Michael Colbruno’s “Mountain View People” blog has a photo of Josselyn that gives a hint of his energy and popularity.

Behind Josselyn’s monument is the white marble stele of the Pardee family plot, one of the handsomest bits of Plot 1 with its upgraded frame of ornamental gravel.

Enoch Pardee, the patriarch, builder of the Pardee mansion, was a major Oakland figure in his time, but his son George, a figure of even greater renown, is the earthquake connection.

George Pardee was born in the earthquake year of 1857 and experienced the 1868 quake as a youth, but it was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that marked his life the most. He was governor of California at the time, and he immediately took the train to Oakland to oversee the state’s response from his family home. There he welcomed refugees from across the Bay, many of whom stayed in Oakland in a great pulse of population and development.

The 1906 earthquake did much damage in Oakland, by the way, but here in the cemetery, according to Andrew Lawson in the 1908 Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission, “the chief damage done was the cracking of the receiving vault, and that was not injured very much. In St. Mary’s Cemetery, on the small ridge to the west, however, many monuments were moved or twisted and several were overthrown.” An observer counted about a dozen monuments disturbed here, mostly by twisting. (Lawson himself was buried at Mountain View in 1952, one of Mountain View’s contingent of noted geologists.)

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