From: The Oakland Evening Tribune, 28 April 1877, Page 3, Columns 2-3
A GHASTLY SPECTACLE
Plowing Up the Dead of Twenty Years Ago.
Curiosities of the Graveyard.
A Metallic Casket Containing a well Preserved and Elegantly Dressed Corpse Torn Open and the Body left Exposed to the Sun--Other Finds, Including a Big Law Suit.--The Body Identified.
Hearing that one of the bodies buried in the old Oakland Cemetery had been plowed up and left exposed to the elements, a Tribune reporter repaired to the spot yesterday afternoon, and from thence searched the city over for records, maps, etc., in order to ascertain by what name the body was known in life. The old Oakland, or Webster street, Cemetery was bounded by Franklin, Harrison, Sixteenth and Eighteenth streets. The first cemetery established for the village was located near Oak street, on Eighth, on the premises now owned and occupied by General R. W. Kirkham. The growth of the city encroached upon these premises, and many of the bodies were removed to the burying ground on Seventeenth street, which was then "out in the woods." Here the living "let the dead and beautiful rest" for nearly a quarter of a century. But at last the city spread out far beyond the "new cemetery;" real estate speculators fastened upon the land and then the work of
Arriving on the ground, our reporter found that that portion of the old cemetery lying north of Seventeenth or Durant street, west of the Catholic portion of the old cemetery and east of the modern Webster street, had been graded down nearly to the level of the latter street, or some five or six feet below the natural or original surface. This work had been performed by the Price Press Company's patent plow, a monster machine which reaches down nearly two feet into the solid earth and turns up compact clods of clay as large as a flour barrel. This monster plow touched a metal coffin [[sic]the only one in the whole cemetery) some two weeks since, but the work was steadily prosecuted with the plow and scrapers, without any effort to remove the casket or preserve it from destruction. Three or four days ago the point of this monster excavator reached down under the lid of the casket, tore it off, and shattered it to atoms--iron, plate, glass and all--leaving
THE BODY EXPOSED
To the elements and to the tender mercy of whatever carniverous animal might choose to feast upon it. In this condition it was left until 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, when detective Shorey, special officers Sears and Wood, Colonel John Scott and our reporter covered it over with some boards from numerous wooden coffins from which other bodies had been plowed out, and heaped clods of earth upon the boards. As the body was left by the Price Press Company (engaged by Peter Thomson, owner of the ground, to do the work) the left hand and arm nearly to the elbow protruded from the ground, the hand drooped over gracefully from the wrist. Portions of the coat and vest were visible, as were the outlines of the face, but over these still rested a coating of fine earth. This being brushed away,
THE FEATURES OF THE DEAD MAN
Stood out in bold relief. The eyes of course were gone; but the cheeks were but little sunken, the hair was still in place, the chest was full and all the clothing in a perfect state of preservation. The forehead was a fine expansive one, and the features regular and handsome, even under the contortion of the shriveled skin. The left arm which prtoruded [sic] was still covered with the browned and shriveled skin, as was the hand, and the long, tapering and shapely fingers, which still bore beautiful nails. The body was dressed in a white shirt, black satin vest, new and glossy as on the day it was buried, a black broadcloth coat of fine texture, and about the neck was wrapped a black silk handkerchief, tied in a double bow knot, in front. The hair was jet black, very fine, and varying in length from two to three inches.
Was one of the finest and most costly of its kind at the time it was called into service. Its sides are of corrugated iron, the top of the same material cast in figures and flowers, and over the face and head had evidently been a large plate of glass nearly half an inch in thickness. The covering and glass had been shattered by the plow, and if any record plate was placed upon the casket it has been destroyed, carried away of deeply buried by the plow. Strips and plates of the lid, and several large pieces of glass were found, but none of them bore any inscription. Notwithstanding the remarkable state of preservation of the body and the clothing, the deceased has been lying there seventeen years, as will be seen further on.
NO NAME, NO RECORD
No monument or mark has existed for many years to indicate who lies buried there, but our reporters determined to ransack the city for a clue to the identification of the unknown sleeper, and after interviewing many of the "oldest inhabitants" and traversing the city from Third to Twenty-sixth streets, met with entire success. First, we proceeded to the establishment of W. W. McKenzie, the pioneer undertaker of Oakland, where we found a partial record of the burials in the Old Oakland Cemetery, but no map to indicate the locality now that the whole face of the earth thereabouts has been changed and every local landmark removed. From Mr. McKenzie's book we ascertained that the last interment in this ground was on the 25th of April, 1867--ten years ago last Wednesday--but we could obtain no further clue to the identity of the dead. From McKenzie's we proceeded to 460 Third street, to interview
DR. T. C. H. DETAVEL
Now 78 years of age, and who was reported to have been the owner of the cemetery lands many years ago. From him we learned that he never owned the ground, but was agent for the owner, Alfred Borel, (of Alfred Borel & Co., bankers, corner of Clay and Montgomery streets, San Francisco), whose residence is in Switzerland. Dr. DeTavel says that many years ago the City Council passed an ordinance condemning the ground for cemetery purposes, and that thereafter he ceased to be agent for its management and knew nothing of its changes since. He had no map of the ground, but informed us that
Who owns and occupies the splendid residence on the West side of Telegraph avenue and north side of Logan or Thirty-sixth street, and who is present owner of the greater portion of the cemetery grounds in question, had had a map of the cemetery, but he (Dr. De Tavel) was of the opinion that it had been lost. Our reporter at once proceeded to the residence of Mr. Thomson and found that obliging gentleman at home, and ready and willing to furnish all information in his power. He said that he owned the cemetery grounds north of Seventeenth street, and the late Senator Edward Tompkins owned that portion lying [column 3] south of that street; that he (Thomson) had had an accurate lot map of the cemetery, but submitted it in Court in the settlement of the Tompkins estate, and that it had there been lost or spirited away. He had
A TRACING OF THE MAP
However, and this he cheerfully submitted to the inspection of our reporter, taking the pains to explain, as far as he could, the position of the metallic casket. From this by measurement we ascertained that the casket was in Section C, block 84, but there being a number of graves in each block, it was impossible to tell the number of the grave. We also learned from Mr. Thomas that the body had been partially exposed for two or three days, and that he had spoken to his graders about it, and requested them to cover it up until the friends of deceased [sic] could be found or the body removed, to the City Cemetery. Twenty-two bodies in all have been disinterred by the grading. Most of these consisted of dry bones only, while some graves were found entirely empty, even the bones having become disintegrated and decomposed. This was
THE ONLY METALLIC CASKET FOUND.
The bones of the unknown dead have been carefully preserved by Mr. Thomson, in the hope that he may be able to identify the remains of the dead by the position from which they were taken. He has already met with success in many such cases. Many curious things have been met with in the course of these excavations. On Thursday of last week a skeleton was found with the feet encased in a pair of large and heavy boots. Little boys, who are perhaps preparing for the surgical profession, have gathered up
WHOLE SACKS OF TEETH AND BONES
From various parts of the human frame. A few days since the grave of a man of very large frame was opened when the coffin appeared to be full of clothing. Further investigation revealed the fact that the body, after being dressed for the grave, had been clothed in a long, heavy overcoat. There was nothing left inside this outer covering but a few dry bones, and the overcoat was taken up by the collar and the bones shaken out into a box for reinterment. Many bodies still lie buried under the surface of Webster street, where the tramp tramp tramp of the living and the whirl of vehicles will probably continue to disturb their bones until time shall be no more.
[... section regarding a pending law suit irrelevant to cemetery story ...]
BACK TO THE RECORDS
Armed with a transcript of the map showing the position of the body and the number of the block and letter of the section, our reporter returned to McKenzie's book to ascertain the names of the parties buried there. There being no subdivisions of the outline map smaller than blockes 14x20 feet it was impossible to ascertain, without accurately measuring the ground, even the precise lot in which the body rested. Each block contained several graves, and without a more minute map it was next to impossible to identify the body without again referring to the oldest inhabitants. Comparing the diagram of the map with the record, we found the following named
PERSONS BURIED IN THE IMMEDIATE VICINITY:
Joshua A. Hathaway, buried August 7, 1858; Walter T. Cove, March 14 1858; Judge A. M. Brocklebank (brother-in-law to ex-Governor Weller), July 1, 1859; Samuel Lester (killed by a pistol ball), July 5, 1859; Charles F. Mitchell (brother to Mrs. J. Ross Browne); James Adams, August 31, 1859; Edward Norris; Jonathan Moulton, May 9, 1860; Hartwell Murphy, February 3, 1860, and many women and children. This morning however, we ascertained from Mr. Thomson and others that the bodies of Hathaway, Lester, Mitchell, Cave, Brocklebank, Norris, Moulton, and Murphy had been removed, and that some of the others first named were buried in wooden coffins.
From the position of the body, comparing the record with the map, and taking other information and circumstances into the count, we were forced to the conclusion that the body in the metallic casket was that of James Adams, a Protestant Irishman, aged 29 years; a farmer by occupation, who was killed by falling from a wagon loaded with hay, by which accident a pitchfork was run through his body. Having settled down into this conviction, we were about to lay the result of our labors before our readers, when we learned positively that the body was that of
WILLIAM F. DENMAN
A native of New Jersey, and a civil engineer by profession, who died at the old City Hotel in this city in 1860, and was buried by his friend, Thomas Wallace, Esq., who still resides in this city and is engaged in dealing in lands and mining property, having his office in San Francisco. Denman Island, in the Straits of Georgia, was named after the deceased, he having had a hotly contested fight with the natives while engaged in exploring the island for minerals. Requiscat in pace.