The poor Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery has been abused more than the proverbial borrowed mule. While it’s probably now in its best shape ever – thanks to Bill Montgomery and a crew of volunteers (which you are WELCOME TO JOIN, on the third Saturday of every month at 9AM) – the sprawling old dear has weathered dark ages of neglect.

It appears that about every 25 years there was an awakening that the grand hill had shamefully turned into a hobo jungle and delinquent playground, and efforts were made to clean it up. But after awhile the do-gooders lost interest, or moved away, or became old. Not so the vandals, not so the weeds. In one horribly misguided effort to bring the undergrowth under control, the city set fire to the place, destroying many wooden tombstones.

The first effort to reclaim “the silent city of the dead” came in 1907 from the Woman’s Improvement Club, which did many good deeds around Santa Rosa. On the designated day, volunteers “gathered up the old cans and jars and bottles” in the cemetery, and wagon loads of weeds were removed. The club vowed to hire a sexton to watch over the grounds, and to generally fix up the place.

Also included below: A detailed description of the new undertaking parlor operated by Mr. Moke and Mr. Stanley, which was at 421 Third street, (approximately between the Apple store and Sears in today’s downtown mall). Your obl. Believe-it-or-Not footnote: Herbert Moke’s wife and one of his children were killed in the 1906 earthquake, and although Moke and Stanley owned swathes of burial plots on the perimeters of the Rural Cemetery, the gravesite for the Moke family is in the Odd Fellows’ cemetery behind the two old temporary holding vaults.

(RIGHT: Decoration Day illustration, Press Democrat, June 1, 1901. CLICK to enlarge)

Improvement Club Takes Up Good Scheme
Plan to Have Lots and Sidewalks in Rural Cemetery Made Neat and Greater Reverence Paid the Quiet City of the Dead on the Hill

The women of Santa Rosa, represented in the large membership of the Improvement Club, believe that the quiet city of the dead–Rural Cemetery–should be kept more reverently. They want to see the weeds removed from the pathways, the tall grass and briars taken from unkempt lots and a general clean up. They want attention paid to all the graves, whether those who rest therein have relatives or friends living here or not. There are many graves in the cemetery that are not kept green for the reason that there is no on left or kith or kin to even give the last resting place the passing tribute of a sigh, except such a sigh as might emanate from one moved by the wilderness effect of some of the plots.

So while not blaming anyone for the condition of affairs at the cemetery the women voted on Monday afternoon to ask the directors to allow a general cleaning up to take place in the cemetery on Saturday, November 23. The secretary of the board of directors was seen and he said he did not think the board would have any objection to the plans outlined by the ladies. Consequently the day and date named have been designated “Cemetery Cleaning up Day” in Santa Rosa. The club asks all owners of lots in the cemetery to clean them on this day. They ask all citizens who will assist to do so. They also ask the boys of the Santa Rosa High School to help in the effort. The women want all who can do so to bring rakes and hoes. While they expect to superintend the work of cleaning up the cemetery on this day they will also work if necessary so anxious are they that the cemetery be made more neat.

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1907
Has Beautiful Place, With New Adjuncts

H. H. Moke, the undertaker, is moving his establishment from the temporary quarters he has occupied for nearly two years into the handsome rooms constructed especially for his business.

The new parlors are the handsomest north of San Francisco and reflect great credit on the taste of Mr. Moke and Mr. Stanley. The rooms of the establishment are done in bird’s eye maple and are beautiful in the extreme. The reception room is a large apartment and following this is Mr. Moke’s private office. Then follows a mortuary chapel, capable of seating one hundred and fifty people or more. The chapel is fitted with permanent pulpit and with alcove ceiling, with room sufficient for the singers at the services. To the rear of this pulpit and entering at the left is something entirely new in this vicinity, a mourner’s room. This department is designed that the mourners and relatives, if they close, may seek seclusion during the conduct of the religious services for the dead, or where persons may be taken in they are overcome from any cause and ministered to. This mourner’s room has stained windows and is a closed apartment except from the entrance door.

The workshop of the establishment is at the rear of the lower floor and the show rooms, where many elegant caskets are kept, is up stairs. This is a large apartment. The front rooms of the apartment are for the use of J. P. Stanley and they have been handsomely furnished for his occupancy. A large staircase reaches from the front hall to the second floor and there is also a rear stairs. An elevator has been installed for taking the caskets from the show room to the work room and vice versa.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 22, 1907


Saturday the ladies of the Woman’s Improvement Club and hosts of others gathered at the invitation of that organization and spent the day cleaning up the center. It was a lively company that spent the house together clearing away the weeds and debris that had gathered in the City of the Dead, and with a right good will did they work with hoe, rake and spade.

The attendance during the forenoon was good, but shortly after the lunch hour he people began to come and soon there was a great army of people industriously laboring to beautify the walks, drives and lots on the silent hill. The J. P. Fitts Lumber company sent out two teams and drivers, and Lee Bros. furnished a team and man, and there were other smaller wagons on hand, and these were all kept busy hauling away the grass dug from the walks. It would have done your heart good to see the way those women gathered up the old cans and jars and bottles that had accumulated and had them loaded into the wagons.

Prominent among those who were in charge of the work were… [9 women] and quite a number of others came later in the afternoon…

Many of the graves were also decorated with an abundance of pretty flowers and the occasion took on very much the form of a memorial day in many parts of the burying ground.

It was a great work and was well done and much credit is due the efforts of the zealous women who started the move and left nothing undone to make it a success.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 23, 1907


The ladies of the Improvement Club may take charge of the Rural cemetery. They are willing to assume the responsibility and have appointed a committee composed of… If the ladies take personal charge of the cemetery they are determined not to allow the place to become so badly run down again as it was when they decided to make the clean-up…

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 26, 1907


The fact that members of the Woman’s Improvement Club should have considered it necessary to set aside a day for the cleaning up of the local cemetery emphasizes the fact that some intelligent and concerted method should be adapted for improving conditions in the silent city of the dead. The management of the cemetery is in the hands of a board of trustees who, while more than willing to keep the place up as it should be kept, are powerless to act for lack of funds. Either an assessment should be made upon the various lot-owners, or some means should be found to make possible the levying of a small tax, such as is now levied for the support of the public library, and a cemetery fund established. The latter result could be accomplished by taking the cemetery into the city limits, and a mere resolution of the board of trustees would put the first-named plan into effect. However, there would probably be no means of enforcing collection on an arbitrary assessment in case a lot-owner elected not to pay it, while a direct tax could be depended upon to bring results. There is no reason why Santa Rosa should not keep up its cemetery properly, and no reason why the cost of so doing should not be borne by the community as a whole.

– Press Democrat editorial, November 26, 1907

Wednesday afternoon the committee of ladies from the Woman’s Improvement Club met representative members of the Cemetery Association and discussed plans for future improvement in the Cemetery. Among the first things to be undertaken will be the graveling of the roadways and the replacing of broken culverts. Garbage cans are to be purchased and placed in the several different localities wherein people are requested to throw all rubbish and faded flowers. Later, in the Spring in all probability, the question of doing some landscape gardening around the entrance will be undertaken.

– Excerpt of Press Democrat “Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne” column, December 8, 1907

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