Cemetery Tours Bring Local History Back to Life
2016-10-07 · By John Royce
At the dawn of the 20th Century Long Beach was growing, attracting newcomers from all over the country looking for a fresh start or retirement along the mild Southern California coast. And so did grow the number of those folks needing a final resting place; such is life.
Sunnyside Cemetery and its Long Beach Municipal Cemetery neighbor, sited on a gentle, then pastoral knoll along Willow Street adjacent to Signal Hill, are home to many of the pioneers who built this place we call home, including Long Beach’s founder William Willmore himself, who laid out the Willmore City town site in 1880. The Willmore neighborhood still carries his name, as does a popular wine bar on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls!
About 20,000 departed souls find eternal rest there. Many of those souls, it turns out, have some colorful history to share, as does the old place itself.
The past century witnessed fights over the black gold beneath it (for a time it was known as the most valuable graveyard in the country), a grave robbery or two, an embezzlement scandal in the 1980s that nearly destroyed Sunnyside, and a famous photo taken by none other than Ansel Adams! Mother Nature has wreaked havoc, too, the latest drought taking a mighty toll.
Still, this crusty old place entices visitors to wander and wonder amongst the time worn tombstones, imagining the lives and the characters who long ago left us behind.
For the past two decades on the last Saturday of October, the Historical Society of Long Beach has presented the history of Long Beach and Signal Hill as told by those faithful departed – and some not so faithful – who actually lived it, sharing their stories of riches and woe, love, war, friendship and quarrel. And yes, there’s even some murder and mayhem!
They came from all over, of many colors, creeds and standings; dreamers, opportunists, merchants and farmers, some just along for the ride. HSLB historians peruse newspapers, documents and photos in the historical society’s archives, discover enticing tidbits and stories, then create scripts that actors bring to life.
It’s like theater in the cemetery!
The 21st tour takes place Saturday, October 29th, 9 AM, with the last round of performances starting at 2:40 PM. For information visit hslb.org or call 562.424.2220. Sunnyside Cemetery – 1095 E Willow; Long Beach Municipal Cemetery – 1151 E Willow.