Metro’s 14 historic cemeteries total 66 acres in Multnomah County and provide an important service for families throughout greater Portland. The cemeteries are managed as active facilities, offering scenic tranquility and a unique glimpse into the history of the region’s early settlement.
Most were established during the early homesteading period, between 1850 and 1870. The cemeteries are open to visitors and provide opportunities for picnicking and contemplation in a natural setting.
Lone Fir Cemetery, nestled in the heart of Southeast Portland, doubles as a valuable community space. With more than 700 trees representing 67 species, Lone Fir is Portland’s second-largest arboretum and often attracts neighborhood joggers and walkers.
The stewardship of these special places is a high priority for Metro and local communities. Some have active volunteer groups that plan events and help with maintenance. Many host celebrations, such as honoring veterans and those in the armed forces on Memorial Day. On Halloween weekend, the Tour of Untimely Departures welcomes visitors to Lone Fir for guided tours about some of the site’s most well-known “residents.”
Metro’s historic cemeteries are supported with money from the general fund only, though the program is housed in the Parks and Nature department.
Lone Fir Cemetery’s annual Tour of Untimely Departures has become a Halloween tradition in Portland, and the 2016 event was no different.
The beloved annual event raised nearly $14,000 in 2016 to restore the tomb of pioneering brewer brothers George Frederic Bottler and George Michael Bottler. The tour was also held in 2017, with money supporting the restoration effort.
The event sold out, with more than 1,200 visitors. Community members were led on guided, candlelit tours to meet some of the cemetery’s “residents” and to hear the unusual circumstances surrounding their untimely departures.
The event is a joint effort between Metro, the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery and the Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation.
“It's really all about storytelling in a beautiful, sacred setting,” said Mary Faulkner, who has served as board chair of the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery and the Lone Fir Cemetery Foundation. “Learning about our past makes us appreciate those who came before us and gives us perspective in our lives today. It's also a rare opportunity in the year to enjoy Lone Fir by moonlight.”
The event started in 2005 as a way to prevent what had become a night of vandalism in the cemetery located on Southeast 26<sup>th</sup> Avenue between Southeast Morrison and Stark streets.
“It means that educating and entertaining people through history and appreciating the cultural significance of cemeteries in our community can overcome the negative impact of vandalism that often occurs around Halloween,” Faulkner said.
Volunteers play a significant role in making the event possible, with the friends and foundation groups helping recruit many volunteers. Volunteers dress up in period costumes, act out roles as cemetery “residents” and lead tours. Approximately 90 volunteers invested 700 hours into the event in 2016.
“People are really passionate about this event, and I didn’t realize it until I worked with the volunteers and actors,” said Linda Lechler, administrative supervisor at Metro who organized the event. “It’s pretty incredible the commitment people have.”
Park rangers say they meet people at Lone Fir who first visited during the Tour of Untimely Departures and returned to explore the cemetery more, Lechler said.
“You get to hear cool historical stories about real people who lived in Portland,” she said. “It’s meaningful to connect people to our past.”