In Loving Memory

This month, my thoughts have been occupied by the loss of a friend, and an advocate for preserving Denver's oldest cemetery. Cliff Dougal, who served as the head of Riverside cemetery for decades, died September 16, 2010.

When I heard the news, my first thought was of all the stories Cliff knew, and that I'd failed to ask about so many of them. He knew some of the best stories about Riverside, and some of my favorite stories about the place are ones I learned from Cliff.

Cliff had a terrific memory, and quite literally, knew where all the bodies were buried. Not just the people considered to be famous. Any name you mentioned, Cliff could tell you block, lot and section, and could usually give you a few "landmarks" to navigate exactly to the spot.

He had a mischievious sense of humor, and a warm twinkle in his eye when he'd tell of some of the more infamous characters buried at Riverside, or, talk about the weird happenings in the "unlucky" block at Riverside, little 13, which has had a long history of strange and pecular occurances.

One a tour in May of 2009, I went on a tour with Cliff, and near the end, as we reached the grave of Tadaatsu Matsudaira, Cliff nodded, and looked over at me saying, "why don't you talk about this one?" This was all he said, he didn't give a reason, he just needed a breather. I was honored he asked me, and I looked at him, and he nodded encouragement. I plunged ahead with what I knew of this pioneer, and, remembering something he'd told me just a few days earlier about this gentleman, I mentioned it to the group, looking to Cliff for confirmation. He nodded and smiled. It felt a bit like Cliff was passing a bit of the responisbility for Riverside and its care to me, and I was honored that he asked me to continue telling the story, at least in part, in his place.

Cliff worked tirelessly to get markers placed on the graves of people who had a unique and important contribution to Denver's heritage. From Oliver "The Ghost" Marcelle to Sarah "Sadie" Likens, Cliff's efforts have helped assure that their contributions were not forgotten.

I remember one board meeting, where Cliff brought one of his new prizes, and old photograph of Martin Duggan, marshal of Leadville. He was pleased to share it, and said it was one of a very few ever takaen of the lawman. I'm sad that Cliff will not be able to see the dedication of his marker later this month.

At his funeral, which was well-attended, it was clear that everyone there had at least one or two "Cliff stories" of their own. Just asking them for their "Cliff story," I would see their faces light up, their faces split into a grin, and their eyes would twinkle with a shadow of the same twinkle Cliff himself got when about to launch into one of those tales.

I know that I will never know Riverside as well as Cliff did, and the loss of the stories I'd thought we'd have more time to share is an immeasurable one. I simply hope to one day, do them justice.

One of Cliff's colleagues, Eileen Doherty, who spoke at his funeral, and provided a place for Cliff's friends to gather and honor him, wrote a lovely memorial. You can read it here.

Rest in Peace, my friend. I'm very glad to have known you.

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Aftermath of the Four-Mile Canyon Fire

When the Four-Mile Canyon broke out over Labor Day weekend, I admit, my first thought was not of the homes or the forrest. I thought of the cemeteries.

I realize that this is an unusual thought, and I know it is unusual in part because the news never once even mentioned the cemeteries that I knew to be in the literal line of fire.

As the firefighters waged their war, I scoured the news stories looking for hints of what might be going on within the cemeteries, without success. The ones I was most concerned about were Gold Hill Cemetery and the Sunshine Cemetery. I had completed the photographs and transcription of the Sunshine Cemetery in 2009 (the data is not in the main database yet), but, the Gold Hill Cemetery is not even started. Looking at the Google Maps of the affected areas, I knew Sunshine was at least near, if not *in* the heart of the fire.

I wondered what happened to cemeteries in fire. Wood, of course, would be consumed, but what happens to marble or sandstone? Would they be charred beyond legibility? Would the stones melt, or crack? I had no idea, and could not find answers, and naturally, I feared the worse.

Last weekend, me and my sister, Carah made the trek into the canyon to survey the damage.

Marker before fire
Marker before the fire
Marker after fire
Marker after the fire
Front Gate before fire
Front Gate before the fire
Marker after fire
Front Gate after the fire

Surprisingly, though it was clear the fire had been here, it had left the markers were in very good shape. The trees were charred, and the underbrish was gone. The fire had followed the wooden fuel of the tree roots into the ground, leaving nothing but odd burrows where the roots had been.

The bases of some markers, the concrete part, had small fragments cracked off, but, the marker itself looked untouched. Only one marker had been damaged since last I visited, and from the photos, it's hard to say whether the damage was absolutly caused by the fire. It could easily have been related to vandalism or age.

Fire seems to have a peculiar appetitite. It seems to find some trees, and leave others alone. There were cheap wooden posts marking plots in the cemetery. These are just basic slats of pine stuck in the ground, and of the dozens in the cemetery, only one or two were even singed.

What I hadn't noticed on my firest visit is that the cemetery is right next to one of the fire stations in the canyon. I suspect that part of the reason the cemetery is in as good of shape as it was is due to the efforts of these firefighters.

I have posted further before and after pictures on the Colorado Cemeteries Facebook page, if you'd like to learn more about the effects of fire in a cemetery.

The historic parts of Gold Hill also survived the fire.

Around the Web

Martin Duggan, legendary marshall of Leadville, will be receiving a marker for his grave at Riverside Cemetery in Denver(scroll down and look under "special events"). The dedication will be October 16, at 10:30 am.

A boy in Ottowa raises funds to place a marker on his father's grave.

Rural Iowa cemetery source of dispute over weeds.

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