The OZ cemetery team took a road trip to Mountain Cemetery in Sonoma recently. “Mountain” is the operative word here. We entered the cemetery through a side gate at the end of 2nd Street, where a paved road led west across hilly terrain. We veered to the right to visit a few graves above the road, and quickly found ourselves climbing higher and higher on a narrow, rocky path. Each time we thought we’d reached the highest point in the cemetery we noticed something – a concrete crypt, a moss-covered wall, a small headstone – that beckoned us even higher. We climbed until a chain-link fence told us we’d reached the northern edge of the cemetery. The views of Sonoma were spectacular from up here. We even saw a few deer on a road far below. We were mystified by the logistics of this place, though. How the heck did caskets and headstones and crypts get up here? The steep, unpaved trails were only wide enough for one person. Mountain Cemetery is no Victorian-era relic, either: we spotted many graves from the 1970s through 2000s. The cost and effort to bury a loved one up here must be huge.
We followed the fence to the northwest corner of the cemetery then made our way down the precipitous slope to a network of roads that took us into the main section. Here we found more crowded plots and quite a few mausoleums and crypts. One of the most interesting aspects of Mountain Cemetery is its many stairways. Some are only three steps, others a dozen or more, but each leads to a plot or mausoleum. The steps add to the charm of this lonely-looking but still-active cemetery.
We found the crypt of a Civil War veteran and two plaques honoring a Revolutionary War veteran plus the graves of prominent Californians, including General Vallejo and the founder of Boyes Hot Springs. A cemetery researcher stopped and told us where to find the graves of two teenage brothers who had died in tragic accidents less than a year apart. As with any cemetery, every grave has a story to tell, but we discovered that many of the headstones were deteriorated to the point of illegibility. Even newer stones from the 1970s and ‘80s were nearly obliterated with moss and stains.
Eerily decrepit mausoleums beckoned us, and a few even offered the opportunity to put a camera up to a small crack and shoot a photo of the forever-sealed interior. Only one gave an intriguing result, though. The others were just mysterious black holes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
The crazy-quilt mix of old and new, damaged and pristine, overgrown and manicured, gave us the sense we were visiting several different cemeteries. A patch of weeds and lopsided headstones would give way to a clean, orderly plot in just a few steps.
Mountain Cemetery is definitely worth a visit, but be sure to wear hiking boots and bring a friend. You don’t want to twist an ankle and find yourself stranded on this mountain with only the dead for company.