In October, the pathways winding through Lone Fir Cemetery are blanketed with leaves from the flora above. The sight is quintessential for autumn in the de-facto arboretum. Amid the splendor are gravestones dating back to 1846. Lone Fir is one of the oldest cemeteries in Portland and the city’s second largest arboretum with more than 700 trees.
This is a view that Msgr. Timothy Murphy sees from his office window at Central Catholic High School. The president emeritus has been with the school for much of the past 49 years.
“It’s a historical site,” he says simply.
In 1846, the intersection of Southeast 24th Avenue and Southeast Stark Street in Portland was farm land. It was far from the suburban neighborhood it is today. At the time, Portland was urbanized only on the west side of the Willamette River. It was in 1846 that the land now housing Lone Fir saw its first burial: Emmor Stephens. Less than a decade years later, the hallowed ground became Mount Crawford Cemetery and by 1866 it was named Lone Fir Cemetery after the single fir tree that still resides in the northwest corner of property.
Throughout the years, the cemetery was neglected and vandalized. Halloween proved to be a particularly harsh time for the grounds.
Eventually, the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery and Metro decided to take action to protect the cemetery and those 25,000 people buried there from the destruction wrought each Halloween night. The decision gave rise to the Tour of Untimely Departures which now takes place every Oct. 31.
Those who purchase tickets for the tour are led along the cemetery’s pathways to historical sections and to highlighted gravesites. Atop each gravestone stop on the tour stands an actor dressed in period costume representing the soul whose body is buried beneath. The actor gives a dramatic but true biographical account of the person’s life.
Firemen, fishermen, women of the night, local politicians, pioneers and business leaders: These are just a few of the stories told on the tour in recent years.
“The tour provides an opportunity to connect to some of those people who made Portland into what it is today,” says Brian Kennedy, a program director at Metro. Kennedy oversees the cemetery program.
Among those stories told on this year’s tour was that of Thomas Holmes, elected as the Mayor of Portland in 1866.
All Hallows Eve puts us in the frame of mind to remember and honor the dead on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, says Msgr. Murphy.
“Our Christian belief is that we honor those who have died,” he continues. “And in honoring them, we continue to acknowledge the communion of saints.”
“Our Christian tradition tries to make it a holy day and focus on the sense of the communion of saints by worship in which we continue to pray for them and ask that they might intercede for us,” Msgr. Murphy says.
To honor those who have died before us, Msgr. Murphy also recommends using All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day to visit graves of deceased family members and to remember those who have died throughout the end of liturgical year in November.
As for the tour of Lone Fir, Msgr. Murphy says raising awareness is good – helping to admonish our fear of death which leads us to avoid discussing it or using it as ghoulish entertainment.
Kennedy says that ghoulish image is not one the tour represents.
“It’s not a haunted house,” says Kennedy.
“It’s really about honoring these people and honoring their history and connection to Portland,” he concludes.
Proceeds from this year’s tour will go toward the restoration of the Bottler brothers’ pioneer tomb, the final resting place for George Freidrich Bottler, one of Portland’s first brewers, who died in 1865.