A Lone Fir Mystery

Dear Liza,

On one of my walks through Lone Fir Cemetery, I investigated this tall graceful monument near the east entrance. I first noticed it because of the name, FIMPEL, which I had never seen before.

As I walked around the monument, I realized there were four names, all with different dates of death, and only two that shared a family name. Curious, I took pictures for reference and headed home to do some research.

Besides George W. Fimpel, who died in 1899 at the age of twenty, the monument remembered his father, George B. Fimpel, who died in 1886, Samuel McDonald, who died in 1898, and Laura V. Mutch, who died in 1904. Why are they all here together? I was puzzled, and the Historic Oregonian website wasn’t much help.

Grandpa Nelson and his Ancestry.com membership saved the day!

As clearly as I can understand it, this is a story of Laura V. Howell, who was born in Oregon City in 1859. She moved to Portland and married George B. Fimpel, who worked as a fireman on the railroad. They had two sons, George W. and Charles Howell. Mr. Fimpel died in an accident at work in 1886, when his son George was 13 and his youngest, Charles, was barely six months old.

Laura put up this monument to him and soon re-married, to Samuel McDonald. I cannot imagine the emotional upheaval of bearing a child, losing a husband, and re-marrying, all within the span of a year!

Laura and Samuel had two daughters, Laura L. and Mary Virginia, bringing Laura’s total to four children. Sadly, her eldest, George W, died at the age of twenty, just seven years after his father. Laura buried him with his father and added his name to the monument.

Mr. McDonald died in 1898 leaving Laura with three children, ages 14, 8, and 5. She buried him with her first husband and her son, adding yet another name to the stone.

Laura re-married again, to Mr. Edward Mutch, one year later. Mr. Mutch adopted the girls, now ages 9 and 6.

A few years later, in 1904, Laura herself passed away at the relatively young age of 45. Her surviving husband and children buried her under her family monument, adding her name (shortened to just her first name, middle initial and final legal last name), to the remaining side of the stone. What a complicated life story she wrote in just 45 years!


To bring this family story forward into my lifetime, Laura’s youngest son, Charles, lived for many years after his mother died. He survived serving in World War I and then moved to Los Angeles, where he passed away in 1962 at the age of 76. This means he and I were living in Los Angeles County at the same time!

Laura’s daughter Mary Virginia McDonald stayed in Portland, married a man named Dotson, and is buried in Lone Fir, less than ten feet from her mother, father, and step-family.

To me, this story tells a lot about the times and the people. Laura, as a widowed mother of young children, had no way to support herself or her kids. She needed to be married, so she got married. Premature death was much more common then, caused by anything from falling off a wagon to eating spoiled meat to catching one of a dozen deadly diseases common at the time, and multiple marriages were very common. She persevered and raised her kids.

I am so glad to have learned about Laura V. Howell Fimpel McDonald Mutch and her family.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Fine Fall Day with the Dead People

Dear Liza,

It has been so pretty this Fall! The air is cool and fresh and the leaves are a million different colors. It was time for a walk to Lone Fir Cemetery.

Auntie Bridgett had a new friend she wanted me to meet, so we went there first. This narrow grave stone marks the grave of Emma Hawthorne. She was our famous Dr. Hawthorne’s first wife. She was twenty years younger than Dr. Hawthorne and died in 1862 after only two weeks of marriage. There are a scant two lines about her death in the Oregonian, which seems weird, since she was the bride of such an important doctor and businessman.

Why was no more said about her, her life or her funeral arrangements, in the local newspapers of the time? Why is she buried in a sloping corner of the cemetery while the rest of the family (including the doctor’s second wife) have large monuments on a sunny hill?

We have heard rumors that she died by suicide, which at the time was considered a sin against God. While we have no proof, that would be one explanation for what seems like shabby treatment.

While we were thinking about young Emma and her lonely fate, we sat on a low wall and listened to the chestnuts rattle through the branches and thump to the ground. It is Conker season, for sure. The squirrels and Auntie Bridgett dashed about, collecting them, and I just love being part of it.

Further on, we found another new friend. Several years ago I wrote about a local drummer named Andrew Loomis who had a wonderfully down to earth epitaph on his headstone (Life is good sept the parts that suck). Now, it seems his younger brother Matthew has passed away, and has joined Andrew in his space.

There were more graves, which I’m sure have their own stories, but my eyes were so full of the beautiful leaves!

This time of year has a quiet, lovely melancholy which I find comforting. The nearness of death is not scary, somehow, but peaceful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Late Summer Magic

Dear Liza,

Welcome to August! I can’t believe this summer is racing past so quickly.

The heat wave here in Portland has sort of upended my usual way of doing things. Since it is so hot in the afternoon, I go to the vegetable plot early to water and harvest the zucchinis, and to check on the tomatoes and pumpkins.


Some days it feels like a race to harvest and eat as fast as they are growing. My gardener friend Tonya has clued us in on how to freeze zucchini to use later, when it isn’t too hot to bake.

Inside the house, Auntie Bridgett’s Sundew (which she bought to eat the fungus flies…. Don’t get me started) is blooming! The perfect, delicate spiral is so pretty!


At Laurelhurst Park, the local Faerie Folk have been out improving their summer homes.


Morning Glories are creating some accidental beauty on telephone poles. They follow the spiral growth model, climbing around and around.

And last but definitely not least, the sunflower that has made this dead chestnut tree its new home. The tree was fatally pruned to a height of about ten feet. I am glad it is having a useful afterlife.

We should all be so fortunate.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Springtime with the Dead People

Dear Liza,

I hadn’t visited our Lone Fir Cemetery in a while, and was missing the sense of perspective that going there always gives me. I was not disappointed.

Mr. And Mrs. Stephens, the original residents, seen just beyond a toppled stone

The dandelions and tiny belladonna daisies are everywhere, bringing a sense of beauty and renewal to the uneven rows of headstones.

The tall willow by the east entrance towers over the graves, as if sheltering them from too much sun.

Odd things caught my eye, as well. This years-old stump has been decorated with crow feathers and flower petals, and seems to bring some older spirits to the place.

And, as part of the newly installed section marking stones, I get to learn the name of the narrow area of graves along the west fence. Am I crazy, or does “Westside Singles” sound more like a dating website than part of a cemetery?

And there you go. Perspective restored.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Things You See in Portland

Dear Liza,

Portland, like any big city, has some problems. Too much traffic, people sometimes stealing cars and things, and sometimes, very loud motorcycles. But Portland is also a lot of fun.

Portland is famous as a bicycling city. We have greenways that have low car traffic and work like highways for bikes. We have bridges that are only for bicycles, people, and trains… no cars! But I’ve lived here almost four years and I’ve never seen this……

One answer to the parking problem!

This is a tiny old house just across the road from the entrance to our Lone Fir Cemetery. It has been fixed up by the young family that just moved in, and I’m guessing they let the kids choose the stickers on the new planter!

And, even as some businesses are closing because of the pandemic, some are opening!!


This is a new shop in Belmont, just down the block. It sells all sorts of ‘spooky’ things…. dolls with scary eyes, jewelry that looks like bats and skulls, and Ouija boards. There are posters of Vincent Price that Auntie Bridgett really likes, because of his spooky movies.

This is someone’s delightful outdoor shelter, down on Market Street. It has seating, a small fireplace and delightful shade, all made of cement, mosaic, tree branches, and old wine bottles. It is a work of art you can sit in! I love coming across these jewels. They are just part of what makes Portland special.

I can’t wait until you can come visit and see all our nifty things!

Love,

Grandma Judy

A “New” Family at Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Auntie Bridgett and I went for a walk in Lone Fir Cemetery the other day, in between rain showers. There were squirrels everywhere! They were being so friendly that it was a little alarming, fixing us with their little squirrel eyes as if to say, “Well, do you have treats for me, or not?”

As we stepped quickly to get pictures of the furry little guys, I noticed a set of headstones I hadn’t before. Particularly, this one.


Ollie Fliedner was just thirteen when she died “near Dallas Ogn”.
Dallas is a small town south west of here. I wanted to know more about her and her family.

The Fliedner Building

Looking in old, digitized copies of The Oregonian newspaper, I fell down the usual ancestry rabbit hole. Mr. William Fliedner was from Germany and got barber training in New York when he first arrived in America, around 1850. After moving west and failing at gold mining, he started his business empire with a hair cutting and barber saloon in Corvallis. He married Chloe Norton, who had come to Oregon in a covered wagon. They moved to Portland and did well enough that by 1906 the family was able to build The Fliedner Building, which still stands today at the corner of SW 10th.

Chloe and William, Ollie’s parents, were prominent business folks

Mr. Fliedner was prominent in local politics as well, being appointed to the Fire Commission and running for office. He and his wife, Chloe Norton Fliedner, had two children, Ollie and William Louis. Ollie, whose headstone had caught my eye, died when she was just 13. I haven’t been able to learn anything about her short life or early death.

Their remaining child, W. Louis Fliedner, named after his father but called by his middle name to avoid confusion, married Gertrude Miller. Louis and Gertrude had two children; Barbara Jane Fliedner, who later married a Mr. Farmen, and a son, yet another William Louis. This man was the most recent headstone in this family grouping.


This William Louis Fliedner was born in 1915, served in World War II, and passed away in 2009. I still need to find out more about him, but he must have been well loved, living to 94 with a nickname like “Uncle Woo Lucky”!

I love getting to know more about Portland’s history through the folks who lived here, even when information is hard to come by.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Another Landmark Gone

Dear Liza,

It has been a hard spring for trees here in Portland. With so many of our tall giants being over a hundred years old, extreme weather takes a toll.

The other day in Lone Fir Cemetery, we saw with sadness that our General Joseph Lane Tree was gone. This maple tree memorial to the first Territorial Governor of Oregon Territory had come down in a storm and been removed.

The General Lane tree in 2017, with Pioneer Roses in the background

I can find no record of when this tree was planted. It may have been an accident of squirrels or an anonymous memorial to a loved one, as are many of the trees in Lone Fir. In 2009, the Pioneer Rose Association chose it as a memorial to General Lane and listed it as a Heritage Tree, and it joined a list of more than 300 other magnificent trees in the city.

It stood in the center of the cemetery, just across the way from the memorial to the soldiers of the Civil War and the Pioneer Roses of Oregon garden. It was Heritage Tree #295, and stood 100 feet high with a spread of 105 feet. It looked like it would stand forever.

I know in my head that this sort of thing is inevitable. Trees, like humans, are living things and subject to injury and age. But they are also landmarks, survivors of the past lasting into our present to remind us of who has come before.

Remains of the General Lane tree, 2021

But in my heart, I mourn for these living monuments. I wonder what finally broke them? Was there more we could have done? What will we do to remember them and honor their life?

And seeing that these monuments can’t last forever, I become obsessed with recording what we have, right in this moment, because I know that someday I will look and they won’t be there.

This year the city of Portland has lost many monuments. The statues of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, even the Thompson Elk, have been vandalized and removed for their own protection. I understand some of the arguments against who they memorialize (except the Elk) but these statues were part of the downtown I loved and I miss them.

Time keeps sliding by. Let’s see and appreciate what we have while we have it.

Love,

Grandma Judy

An Unorthodox Woman (Part 2)

Dear Liza,

Today we continue the life of Lou Ellen Barrell Cornell. Born in 1891, the youngest of seven children to Oregon pioneers Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, she married (and later divorced) Richard Cornell. She buried three of her five children, was prominently mentioned in a very public trial involving the Spiritualist Association, and was active in a popular benevolent group, the Women of Woodcraft.

In 1912 Lou Ellen started a campaign to save her father’s legacy, the Lone Fir Cemetery. In the 70 years since he had founded it, the place had been carelessly used and not maintained. Blackberry brambles covered the stones and the unmaintained graves were sunken and dangerous. There had even been a effort by the city to remove it. Over the next 16 years, Lou Ellen not only made sure the cemetery would remain where it was, but succeeded in getting taxes passed to pay for its maintenance.

One of the thousands of headstones unearthed and repaired in 1928

In 1917, at the age of 25, her eldest son Warren went off to fight in World War I, becoming an Army corporal while fighting in France. He returned safely, living a long life until 1947. That same year, a volume of Lou Ellen’s verse, called “Thorns and Roses” was published, available by contacting the author at her home, 802 East Yamhill Street. Her verse was well-reviewed, having a “fine religious feeling”. I have not been able to find any of the poems, but I am still looking!

Warren’s headstone

A few years later, when her sons were 28 and 22, Lou Ellen got married a second time to Edgar W. Philips. The wedding was written up on the Society page, though no information is given about the groom except that he was a native Portlander returning to town after an absence of 15 years. After the wedding, Lou Ellen remained active in the Women of Woodcraft and the Spiritualist Association, and continued writing poetry.

That same year she began giving lectures for the Spiritualist Association, such as “Is Spiritualism a Religion?” and “The Spirit of Freedom”, under the name Mrs. L.E. Philips. During this time, except for one small mention, her husband, Edgar Philips, was not visible. This isn’t necessarily suspicious. He is simply not mentioned in the paper.

In 1926, her son Lew Elwyn was divorced from his first wife, and he and their three children moved in with Lou Ellen, just blocks from where I live now in Southeast Portland. I imagine this brought lots of joy, but also a lot more work into her life. Three kids in the house to look after, cook and clean for, is a whole new layer of chores.

Lou Ellen passed away in 1931 at the young age of 59. Her son Lew moved to Beaverton and his children went back to live with their mother. Lou Ellen had been active in Women of Woodcraft until just a few months before her death. She is buried in Lone Fir, surrounded by her children, just across the lane from her parents and siblings.

The weird part, and the part that had me reading all my research over again, was that her obituary does not mention her divorce from Mr. Cornell or her second marriage. It tells of her drive to save the Lone Fir Cemetery, but not her interest in Spiritualism or her poetry.

My guess is that the obituary was provided by the family, and maybe her sons and siblings didn’t want the public to remember the lawsuits, the divorce or the remarriage, but simply the dutiful life of a mother and daughter, a woman who served her family and community. Still, I am glad to be able to learn more.

Life is always interesting, even folks who lived long ago.

Love, Grandma Judy

An Unorthodox Woman (Part 1)

Dear Liza,

You never know what you’ll find, looking through old newspapers and city records. Yesterday, I was looking at the seven children of Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, wondering what they had been up to at the turn of the last century. I decided to start with the youngest, Lou Ellen, because she was NOT buried with the rest of the family, which always gives me a big question mark.

Lou Ellen’s headstone. She and her children are across the lane from the rest of the family….

Using my old standby, the Historic Oregonian website, I walked through every mention of Lou Ellen in the paper, trying to piece together what seems like a complicated life. I will try and give you a clear story.

Born the sixth child to Colburn and Aurelia Barrell, Lou Ellen married Richard Cornell at 19 and gave birth to 5 children over the next 7 years. Sadly, three of these children died before they were ten, leaving just two sons, Warren and Lew Elwyn. During that same time, Lou Ellen lost both her parents. I can’t even imagine how terribly sad she must have been.

Such a short life!

Maybe having all these dear ones pass away gave her a curiosity about life after death, and some time after her father’s death in 1902, she joined the Spiritualist Association. This group sees contact with the dead through seances as proof of eternal life and as a source of universal wisdom.

But for Lou Ellen, this led to her being in court, and in the newspaper, every day for months in 1908, as disagreements within the Association became lawsuits. Lou Ellen, as secretary of the Association, was ordered to produce the account books. She evaded, avoided, and even resigned her post, never giving up the records. Finally, the case was dismissed.

Lou Ellen filed for divorce from her husband Richard, the very next week, claiming cruelty and lack of support. Richard had left town already, and made no statement for the court. Her divorce was granted.

For the next six years Lou Ellen continued her work with the Women of Woodcraft, planning events and even reading her poetry at parties and meetings. In 1912, she acted in a Suffragist play put on by her former elocution teacher. She was busy and active in her community.

I will tell you more about Lou Ellen tomorrow. It is so interesting learning about our old neighbors!

Love, Grandma Judy



Over a Barrell at Rainy Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was a hard morning. I woke up tired and grouchy. I didn’t even write a blog. Even the snow which was supposed to come, didn’t, and we had cold, wet slush.

But as the day moved on, I pulled myself out of it. Drank a lot of water. Had an apple and peanut butter. Did a crossword puzzle with Grandpa Nelson.

After lunch I decided to head to Lone Fir Cemetery, in spite of the drizzle. I am researching the family of Colburn and Aurelia Barrell and wanted to see their headstones. Back in the day, Mr. Barrell was a businessman who invested in all sorts of things, and by 1854, he owned a steamship called The Gazelle and a large chunk of property on the east side of Portland.

Young Crawford Dobbins’ memorial

That year, The Gazelle exploded, killing twenty people. Two of them were young friends of Mr. Barrell, and he wanted to honor them with proper burials. He established the Mt. Crawford Cemetery on his East Portland property and had very nice monuments put up. Mr. Crawford, who gave his name to the place, has a ten foot high obelisk, and Mr. Fuller, a coffin-sized slab.

David Fuller’s slab, which says “…killed by the explosion of the steamer Gazelle.”

Mrs. Barrell later convinced her husband to change the name to Lone Fir, because of the one fir tree that stood on the property.

That is what people know about the family. But there were seven children…. surely, in the 160 years since, someone else must have done something else interesting. I am researching old Portland newspapers online to see what they might have been up to. I will keep you posted.

Feeling better, moving forward.

Love,

Grandma Judy