The History of Sunnyside Cemetery

Written and Researched by
Theresa L. Trebon
Continuum History and Research

Sunnyside Cemetery, 1924
Photo courtesy of Lillian Huffstettler

Welcome to Sunnyside Cemetery, a historic burying ground that has served the central Whidbey community since 1865. Here rest the men and women that built this community, as well as individuals who played key roles in the settlement of Washington State. Here are descendents of the Indian tribes who were the island's first occupants, pioneers who crossed the Oregon Trail, and sea captains from the eastern United States, who sailed into Penn Cove in the early 1850s - found their idyllic vision of safe harbor - and stayed. The monuments that mark Sunnyside Cemetery tell many stories. We invite you to learn more about this remarkable place, an integral part of the lives of many, who come here to mourn, and to recall, the people whose memories they hold dear. ​

I had my "start" there near Ebey's Landing, at "Aloha Farm" which also was where my mother, an uncle, two brothers, and a sister were born. Ebey's Prairie is one of the most beautiful places in the world. ...My favorite view of it is from Sunnyside Cemetery. The colors of the fields change from season to season - From black soil to greens, to golds and tans and browns. Sunnyside Cemetery overlooks the valley and my family is buried there - parents, both sets of grandparents, great-grandparents, sister, aunts, uncle, and many cousins. I will be there too some day.
- Lillian Dean Huffstettler




And Historically Significant Burials

The historical section of Sunnyside Cemetery contains the Davis Blockhouse. It also has numerous burials of historical significance to the central Whidbey Island area. The most noteworthy are shown on the listing.

Historic Section Map


  1. Davis Blockhouse
    Built as a log cabin in 1853 and converted to a blockhouse in 1857. Restored by the Ladies of the Round Table in 1931
  2. Mary Maylor tombstone - next to blockhouse
    Mary died in 1861 giving birth to her fourth child. Her husband Sam had this tombstone made in Ireland. He brought it around the horn in 1865. The tombstone was donated to the Island County Historical Society. Mary is buried in Oak Harbor.
  3. Alick Kettle
    Alick was the last Native American to live in Coupeville. He died in 1947 at the age of 96. Coupeville residents built a home for Alick and his wife Susie. This area is called an "Indian burial ground." There are many Indians buried in unmarked graves.
  4. Margaret Hastie
    Margaret's husband Thomas Hastie was the only known monument carver on Whidbey Whidbey Island. He carved this for his wife in 1863. There are several field stones in this lot marking graves but only one name.
  5. Frank Pratt - south corner
    Frank's grave is the only one in Sunnyside Cemetery that faces north and south. He was a philanthropist and did a great deal to protect and enhance our local history.
  6. Robert Pratt
    Robert was the son of Frank. He was a recluse living most of his life in Seattle. He always dreamed of coming back to the island to farm. He died in 1999 and willed a large portion of his property to the Nature Conservancy, protecting forever some of the most beautiful property on Whidbey Island.
  7. Captain William Robertson
    Captain Robertson was one of several deep water captains that settled in central Whidbey Island. He was the first light house keeper at Admiralty Head in 1861
  8. John Alexander
    John moved to Coupeville in 1852 and homesteaded the west side of the town. At that time, there were only three families. His tombstone is a replica. The original 1858 stone is very fragile and displayed in the Alexander Blockhouse in Coupeville.
  9. Flora Pearson Engle
    Flora's father Daniel Pearson was the second lighthouse keeper at Admiralty Head. At the age of 14 she came from the east coast over the Isthmus of Panama with her mother in 1864. Flora married the pioneer William Engle. A prolific writer, she recorded much of our early history.
  10. Fidelia Power
    Fidelia died, giving birth to twins in 1890. Her husband Henry had a beautiful tombstone erected in her memory. The twins survived.
  11. Joseph Parker and Manuel Silva - wood headboards
    Joseph and Manuel were indigent seamen who lost their lives in 1911 when the steam boat "Whidbey" burned at Oak Harbor. The headboards are replicas of the originals.
  12. Sam Hancock
    Explorer, entrepreneur, farmer and pioneer. Sam explored the Pacific northwest looking for coal. He owned a trading post at Neah Bay, married Susan Crockett and settled on Whidbey in 1860. His is the tallest monument in Sunnyside Cemetery.
  13. Jacob and Sarah Ebey - large concrete curb
    Jacob and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, the first Whidbey Island homesteader. They came west on the Oregon Trail and homesteaded here in 1854.
  14. Winfield Ebey - large concrete curb
    Winfield was the son of Jacob and Sarah. He kept extensive journals that are now preserved in the University of Washington Library.
  15. Mary Ebey - large concrete curb
    Mary was the daughter of Jacob and Sarah. She was responsible for starting Sunnyside Cemetery on the corner of her parents farm in 1865.
  16. Isaac Ebey - white picket fence
    Isaac was the first homesteader on Whidbey Island in 1850. He was beheaded by the Kake Indians in 1857.
  17. Rebecca Ebey - white picket fence
    Wife of Isaac, Rebecca and their two sons came on the Oregon Trail to join him in 1851. She died in 1853.
  18. Captain Howard and Calista Lovejoy - single pipe fence
    Calista was the first white woman on Camano Island. She married a sea captain at the age of 17 and settled in Coupeville in 1858. They had six children. The eldest, Howard Jr., built several of the beautiful homes and churches that still stand in Coupeville.
  19. Captain Thomas Coupe - iron and concrete fence
    Captain Coupe homesteaded the eastern portion of Coupeville in 1852. Coupe and his wife owned property from Penn Cove to Prairie Center. They donated property to the church and school.
  20. Maria Coupe - iron and concrete fence
    Maria was a typical pioneer woman, helping her neighbors and feeding all of the visitors. In her will, she set aside $1,000 to build a fence of stone and iron around their cemetery lot.
  21. Dr. John Kellogg - large spire, east of Coupe lot
    Dr. Kellogg was known as the canoe doctor. Crews of Indians rowed him all over Puget Sound to visit his patients. He homesteaded the area where Fort Casey is in 1854. ​

In the history of Sunnyside Cemetery—and Whidbey Island—there are two burial lots that hold special significance, those of the Ebey family, both located in the Ebey Grave Yard at Sunnyside. Isaac was the first to arrive on Whidbey when he staked his claim in September 1850. His wife, Rebecca, and their two sons, Eason and Ellison, joined him in the fall of 1851. In October 1854, the rest of his family followed: Isaac's parents, Jacob and Sarah, siblings, Mary, Winfield, and Ruth, Mary's two children, Almira and Polk Wright, and a cousin, George Beam.

The original Ebey Grave Yard was located down on Ebey's Prairie, on the bluff near Isaac and Rebecca's home. [See map]. They were interred in that location as was their daughter, Hetty, born in 1853, Isaac's parents, and his sister, Ruth. When Isaac's sister, Mary, started the second Ebey Grave Yard on Sunnyside Farm in 1865, she stated, "I intend having the others brought there this spring." She does not appear to have accomplished that prior to her own death in 1876. Given that Mary desired to "be buried with my parents and brothers and sisters", it is striking that the graves of her brother Isaac, and his family, are located approximately fifty feet from the first Ebey lot at Sunnyside. Additionally, an 1887 letter from Isaac's son, Eason, refers to the first Ebey Grave Yard still in its original location down on the prairie. As of this date, no evidence has been found proving when the earlier graveyard was actually exhumed, or if that was even possible: pioneers recalled the first Ebey Burying Ground being plagued by extremely wet conditions and there was a decades-long time lapse between the Ebey deaths in the 1850s and the period after Eason Ebey's letter. At any rate, the two monuments that once stood in the first Ebey Grave Yard, one for Isaac, Rebecca, and Hetty's grave, and one for those of Jacob, Sarah, and Ruth Ebey, stand today in the Ebey lots at Sunnyside Cemetery. In an 1873 letter to his Aunt Mary Bozarth, Eason Ebey reported the purchase of his parents and sister's monument from carver N. C. Merges of Olympia. The cost was $200.00.

Rebecca Ebey Monument
Sunnyside Cemetery, 1999
Photo courtesy Theresa Trebon

The first Ebey lot is located on top of the hillside [surrounded by cement curbing], and contains a single row of graves: the centermost one is the oldest in Sunnyside Cemetery, that of Winfield Scott Ebey. He is flanked on the right by his cousin, George Beam, who died at age thirty-four from tuberculosis, just one year after Winfield died from the same disease. To the right of George Beam's grave is a single monument commemorating Jacob and Sarah Ebey, and their daughter Ruth. Sarah Ebey died following a stroke in 1859. Jacob died after a long illness in February 1862. Seven months later, Ruth Ebey [a deaf mute], died from injuries received after she fell from the top of Blowers Bluff, the tall cliff marking the northeast entrance to Penn Cove.

To the left of Winfield Ebey lies Urban and Mary Bozarth. Mary Ebey Wright, Winfield's sister, met Urban while crossing the Oregon Trail in 1854. Following her 1857 divorce from her first husband, Thomas [who never lived on Whidbey Island], she married Urban in December 1859. To the left of Mary lies her daughter, Almira Wright Beam Enos. Almira married the previously-mentioned George Beam [the son of Jacob Ebey's sister, Rosannah Ebey Beam] in 1859, and together they had three children. Following his death, Almira moved to California in 1868 and there married Abraham Enos the following year. Her mother, Mary, eventually joined her in California and, following her death in 1876, Almira shipped Mary's remains home to Whidbey for burial at Sunnyside. Over the next three decades Almira often returned to the island, staying in her grandparents home at Sunnyside which she inherited. The last member of the Ebey family to have settled on Whidbey in the 1850s, she was keenly aware of the family's place in history and carefully safeguarded the Ebey family diaries and correspondence. In 1909, shortly after coming to Whidbey for the summer season, Almira died of heart failure "in the room whereshe was married, and where her second child was born". Missing from this burial lot is her brother, James "Polk" Wright. Following a head injury he became mentally unstable and was taken by Urban Bozarth to the California State Insane Asylum in December 1869. Urban returned to Whidbey one month later and died there on February 14, 1870. Polk passed away in the asylum at Stockholm on November 8, 1871, and was presumably buried there.

Jacob, Sarah, and Ruth Ebey Monument
Sunnyside Cemetery, 1999
Photo courtesy Theresa Trebon

The Isaac and Rebecca Ebey Graveyard is located southeast of the aforementioned Ebey lot and surrounded by a white picket fence. There are two rows of markers here. The first row contains a monument to Isaac and Rebecca [Davis] Ebey, and their young daughter Rebecca Harriet [Hetty], who died of tuberculosis at age seven in 1861. To the left of this monument is the grave of Edward Ellison Ebey, who died at age three in 1889. He was the son of Isaac and Rebecca's second child, Ellison Ebey, who is buried at the end of this row, with his wife Mary. Both Ellison [1846-1890], and his young son died of tuberculosis. In the next row are the graves of Ellison and Mary's son Harold Ebey [1881-1945], a well-known West Coast shipping executive. Harold's wife, Frances [1880-1863] is next to him, followed by Frances' mother, L. Maude Tumleson. Missing from this burial lot is Isaac and Rebecca Ebey's eldest child, Eason Ebey [1844-1893]. He died at age forty, also of tuberculosis, and is buried at the Lynden Cemetery, Lynden, Washington, next to his parents-in-law, Holden and Phoebe Judson, the founders of that town.

Eason Ebey Tombstone
Son of Isaac and Rebecca Lynden
Cemetery, 2000
Photo courtesy Theresa Trebon
Edmond Meany and Ebey Monument
Renowned University of Washington history professor, Edmond Meany, photographed next to the monument that marked the graves of Isaac, Rebecca, and Hetty Ebey. Meany was instrumental in the Ebey family papers being permanently deposited at the University of Washington.
Sunnyside Cemetery, 1932
Photo courtesy of Island County Historical Society

A recurring theme in the historical lore of Whidbey Island is the fate of Isaac Ebey's head following his murder. Numerous histories state that it was buried in Ebey's grave following its return to the family in 1860, but that is contrary to the evidence in Ebey family documents. All that is certain is that Ebey's scalp was returned to the family in 1860, an important matter for it brought them some semblance of closure after that horrific night of August 11, 1857.

Following Ebey's murder, Kake Indians took the head with them as they headed north. Thereafter Isaac's brother, Winfield, tried numerous times to rouse Washington territorial officials to send a party north in pursuit of the Indians, or at the very least, his brother's head. Two years after the murder, disgusted by Washington Territory's failure to act, Winfield gathered petitions for the U. S. Army to take on the chore, but to no avail. On December 1, 1859, he heard that the Victoria newspapers were reporting his brother's scalp had been retrieved by Captain Charles Dodd of the Hudson's Bay Company: "It is said that the Indians scalped the Head at Smith's Island 1 + buried it + only took the scalp I think I shall know the hair if it is his". Dodd had purchased the scalp "after repeated applications" among the Indians of southeast Alaska, a dangerous task which, Dodd noted, threatened the safety of his steamer Labouchere. On October 8, 1859, Dodd anchored at Kake Village on Kupreanof Island and finally met success. He noted in the ships's journal: "Shortly after midnight, a canoe with three young men came off to the steamer with the scalp of Col. Ebey. (The unfortunate gentleman who was shot by Indians at Whitby Island) to sell to Capt. Dodd ... they have succumbed to their characteristic love of property and parted with their highly prized Trophy for the undermentioned articles, Six Blankets, 3 pipes, 1 cotton handkerchief, 6 heads of Tobacco, 1fthm. Cotton".

In January of 1860, the Washington Territorial Legislature publicly thanked Dodd by passing an official resolution which praised his "bravery, gallantry, and acts of humanity in having hazarded his own life, that of his crew, and the probable destruction of his vessel, in his untiring endeavors to procure the scalp of the lamented Col. Isaac N. Ebey". On April 5, 1860, Winfield Ebey noted in his diary the much awaited return of his brother's "poor head": "Captain Coupe got over from Port Townsend bringing my friend A. M. Poe Esquire. Mr. P. brings my brother's scalp which was recovered from the Northern Indians by Captain Dodd. At last this memento is received. At last a portion of the mutilated remains of my dear brother is returned. Near three years has elapsed since his murder and now his poor head [or a portion of it] returns to his home. The skin of the head is entire contained, the ears and most of the hair. The hair looks quite natural. It is a sad memento of the past".

Winfield Ebey Diary Entry, April 5, 1860
Courtesy of Special Collections,
University of Washington

Most anecdotes have Winfield Ebey immediately reburying the scalp with his brother at this point. But Winfield, a meticulous diarist, did not ever write of doing so. He mentions the subject only once more and that is two months later, on June 26, when he wrote, "I saw in the papers that Captain Dodd of the Hudson Bay Company is dead. I regret it much as I had hoped to have seen him and thank him personally for his kindness in recovering my brother's scalp." By 1865, Winfield Ebey was also deceased and at least five separate accounts maintain that his sister, Mary Ebey Bozarth, inherited the relic. Albert Kellogg, the son of Dr. John Kellogg, recalled visiting Bozarth "ten or twelve years" after the murder and "she showed the scalp lock still retaining the long black hair. It was the only thing of that kind I had ever seen and I remember it caused cold chills to run over me."

After Bozarth's death in 1876, Ebey's scalp passed to his niece, Almira Enos. The next mention of its location occurred in 1892 when Almira visited Whidbey, an event noted by the Island County Times. In their July 29th issue they reported that "Mrs. Enos visited the Times office. She was a resident of the Island ... when her uncle was killed and can relate things connected with that tragic affair as though it was but a recent incident." But Enos also visited an old friend, Hugh Crockett, who had "helped lay Ebey's headless body in his coffin and lower it in the grave." On August 19, the Times published a letter from Crockett in which he stated that Enos "told me only a few weeks ago that she has (the scalp) at her house in San Francisco." Those two articles are the most reliable accounts to date of where that "sad memento" of Isaac Ebey's death was kept. At this time only one other reference to the scalp's whereabouts has been found. On October 4, 1914, Phoebe Judson, the mother-in-law of Eason Ebey and author of A Pioneer's Search for an Ideal Home, wrote to Professor Edmond Meany of the University of Washington and discussed the subject. Judson's daughter, Annie, had married Eason Ebey in 1867 and, as Judson told Meany, the last her daughter had heard, Isaac Ebey's scalp was in the possession of the Almira Enos family in California.

1 Note: According to Canadian author B. A. McKelvie, this was not the Smith Island located just west of Whidbey Island, but the Smith Island located at the mouth of the Skeena River in British Columbia, just south of Prince Rupert.

Davis Blockhouse

The Davis Blockhouse in Sunnyside Cemetery, like the monuments marking the gravesites of Whidbey's pioneers, is yet another tie to the island's early settlement period. It stands on what was once the southern border of James Davis' donation claim, one of three brothers of Rebecca Davis Ebey who followed her to Whidbey Island. [See map of Davis claim].

Davis Block House
Davis Blockhouse, Sunnyside Cemetery, 2005
Photo courtesy Robert Elphick

Thomas Davis, the youngest of Rebecca's brothers, accompanied her and her sons on their 1851 journey over the Oregon Trail. The next year James and John Davis, together with their mother, Harriet, headed west. But a reunion of the Davis family on Whidbey was not to be. On January 9, 1853, Rebecca wrote the following entry in her diary: "An indian [sic] brought me a letter today ... O the distressing news it brought, the truth of the death of my dear mother on the plains. My heart is almost broken I feel that I cannot endure the torture of being separated from her in this life." John and James arrived on Whidbey that April, only to see Rebecca die a few months later. Despite their losses, the Davis brothers remained on the island, with James and Thomas both taking donation claims bordering those of Jacob and Isaac Ebey. Following the murder of his brother-in-law in 1857, John Davis became guardian of Isaac and Rebecca's three children.

By 1868, all three Davis brothers were deceased but none are buried at Sunnyside. James and Thomas, suffering respectively from insanity and tuberculosis, died in Hawaii in 1862. John Davis, the remaining brother, inherited James' claim but he was also mentally unstable. In 1867, Urban Bozarth [husband of Mary Ebey Bozarth], took John to the Washington Territorial Insane Asylum in Monticello and committed him; he died there the following year and was interred in the asylum burying ground. In 1868 the James Davis claim went on the auction block. Cyrus and Sarah Cook were the successful bidders and, along with the farmland, acquired one used blockhouse, left over from the "Indian troubles" of the 1850s.

Whidbey settlers constructed a number of defensive blockhouses in the 1850s in response to threats from two distinct groups of Indians, the so-called "Northern Indians," who hailed from Canada, and those Indians from the Puget Sound region. The Crockett family [located near the present-day Washington ferry dock], erected a stockade and two blockhouses as early as 1853 in response to warring factions of local tribes—and raids from Northern Indians. In the autumn of 1855, as various tribes in Washington Territory rose up in response to the treaties of Governor Isaac I. Stevens, two blockhouses were built near Coupeville, one by the Alexander family near the Coupeville waterfront [it still stands today in front of the Island County Museum], the other on John Crockett's farm at present-day Prairie Center. The August 1857 murder of Isaac Ebey by Kake Indians from "Russia-Alaska" prompted the construction of additional fortifications. Immediately after that killing, settlers converted the blockhouse on John Crockett's into "Fort Whidby" and surrounded it with pickets. Jacob and Winfield Ebey built their own stockade atop the hill on Sunnyside Farm, complete with two blockhouses. And in November of 1857, the Davis brothers followed suit on their claim.. On November 28, 1857, Winfield Ebey wrote in his diary, "In the evening went out to John Davis' old house + helped them put up a few logs The boys are fixing it up into a kind of Blockhouse," And on December 3, Winfield noted, "I hunted oxen until 11:00 unsuccessfully Then went out + helped the Davis boys on their house".

The Davis brothers never had call to use their blockhouse for defense. However, seventy years later their ramshackle blockhouse needed protection from the elements. In 1922, the Ladies of the Round Table [LORT] took on its restoration. Win Cook offered to donate the blockhouse to them providing that they could guarantee the structure's preservation. After attempting, and failing, to interest the Washington State Historical Society in taking charge of the site, LORT took over the project themselves. They solicited donations of labor, material, and funds, and in June 1930, as the restoration work was nearing completion, LORT looked for an organization to assume ownership of the structure. Lacking a local historical society at that time, the next best thing was the county. On February 2, 1931, after numerous meetings, the county agreed to take ownership of the old fortification by including it in an expansion of Sunnyside Cemetery called the Blockhouse Addition. LORT members hired noted Seattle sculptor James Wehn to create a special commemorative plaque for the restored blockhouse, one that dedicated the effort to "the Pioneer Mothers," [although they incorrectly dated the structure to 1855.] And on September 7, 1931, the restored blockhouse was christened with a community celebration. Edmond Meany, the renowned University of Washington history professor, gave the keynote address in front of a large crowd, many of whom were the now-elderly sons and daughters of the island's first settlers. The preservation project marked the community's first successful attempt to preserve its rich history, an important milestone in that ever-continuing effort on Whidbey Island.

Davis Block House
Dedication of the Davis Blockhouse
Whidbey pioneers and Professor Edmond Meany [in front row, center, seated with cane]
September, 1932
Photo courtesy of Island County Historical Society

James Wehn Plaque
James Wehn Plaque, Davis Blockhouse
Wehn, the noted sculptor who created the Chief Sealth statue in downtown Seattle,
and the city's official seal as well, made this brass plaque for the Ladies of the Round Table at cost.
The date of the blockhouse's conversion from James Davis' cabin, was actually 1857.
Photo courtesy Robert Elphick, 2005

Island County Times Headline
Island County Times Headline, 9-4-1931
Potlatch House
Lower Skagit Indian Potlatch House and Canoes
Penn Cove, 1904
Photo by Oliver S. Van Olinda
University of Washington, Special Collections, Van 401

The segregated burial of minorities was a common feature of 19th and early 20th century cemeteries, and this held true on Whidbey Island. Indians had their own burial grounds around Penn Cove but on those occasions when whites were forced to bury a Native American found on the island, they did so in a location that skirted the outer edge of their established graveyards. When a black man named Antone Alva died in his cabin at Ebey's Landing, he also was treated accordingly. Despite being a close acquaintance of the Ebey family, the Island County Coroner recorded Alva's 1862 burial as being "up by the Indians at the Grave Yard."

Alex Kettle
Alex Kettle, c. 1855-1947

As central Whidbey's Indian population began dying out, or moved off the island, they stopped using their traditional burial grounds near Penn Cove and a number were interred at Sunnyside along its western fence line, just south of the blockhouse. Most of their markers were simple wooden stakes inscribed with the names of the deceased: these markers that did not survive the period when Sunnyside lacked a regular caretaker and locals resorted to fire to clear the cemetery. One of the few Indian monuments that remain today marks the graves of Alex and Susie Kettle. Susie, who died in 1938, was an accomplished spinner and weaver who took in laundry to support her family. Alex, the last Indian to live in the central Whidbey community, died in 1947. A skilled carpenter who worked on numerous projects for Coupeville residents, Alex carved several of the canoes on display at the Island County Historical Society.

Ah Soot
Ah Soot, Chinese laborer on Ebey's Prairie and his monument at Sunnyside Cemetery.
Ah Soot Photo courtesy of Dorothy Sherman
Monument photo by Theresa Trebon

Between the 1870s and early 1930s, hundreds of Chinese immigrants worked on central Whidbey farms, yet, only one Chinese grave may be found in the area, that of Ah Soot who died in 1925. His gravesite is unusual for he was buried in the family lot of his former employers, Francis and Mary LeSourd. The proximity of their respective resting places is not only rare, but indicative of the close personal relationship they shared.

Washington Territorial Census
1889 Washington Territorial Census
Chinese laborers in Coupeville

As for the burial sites of Whidbey's other Chinese laborers, they most likely were taken to Seattle for internment in one of that city's Chinese cemeteries. However, the final destination for many was actually their homeland. These immigrants paid yearly fees to one of several Chinese burial societies in Seattle that ensured their clients' remains would be shipped to China. After an immigrant died, he was buried for a short time on American soil, usually a year, until decomposition was complete. At that time, the burial societies would disinter the remains and box them for shipment to China for reburial. Once on home soil, the immigrant's memory, and burial site, would be honored by their family, an integral part of Chinese culture. The transshipment of Chinese immigrant remains was a practice that continued in the Puget Sound region into the mid-1900s.

Puget Sound Courier

Rural Cemetery Era

Mount Auburn Cemetery
Mount Auburn Cemetery, c. 1840s
Courtesy of Boston Anthenaeum

As the Ebey Grave Yard, Sunnyside, and Valley View cemeteries took shape in the late-1800's, their development and décor was influenced by a new type of cemetery planning called the rural or garden cemetery movement. The trend began on the East Coast in the 1830s as the Industrial Revolution spurred the rapid growth of cities; it reached the West as its communities began developing after the 1850s.

The growth of small villages into major population centers in the East rendered the traditional "village" burying ground [where the dead were buried row upon row in the center of town], insufficient. Inspiration for a new way of interring the dead came from Pere la Chaise in Paris, a "garden cemetery" where the dead were buried in a natural setting, surrounded by pastoral views. In 1831 Pere la Chaise influenced the design of America's first rural cemetery which opened on the outskirts of Boston. Mount Auburn Cemetery emphasized burials in a natural setting where "free nature shall be the guardian and heir of his dust." The cemetery was planned around winding paths, lush plantings of trees and shrubbery, and burials amid natural landscapes where families purchased lots, usually holding eight graves, where they could be buried together for eternity. The change was reflected in the very word for burial grounds. The word "graveyard," synonymous with a neglected plot of land where the dead were forgotten, was replaced by "cemetery," the Greek word for "sleeping chamber." Rural cemeteries soon became a place of respite for city dwellers, who traveled outside of the cities on weekends for "respectful and reverent resort" in the cemetery. There they enjoyed walks and carriage rides among the grave lots as "the space, the quiet, the simple beauty and natural repose of the country" became the "natural home of the deceased."

As Washington Territory communities developed and grew in the late 1800s, some planned their burial grounds in concordance with rural cemetery ideals. One was Seattle's Lake View Cemetery, begun in 1872, where some of Whidbey's better known pioneers are interred [including Granville Haller, Captain Edward Barrington and his wife Christine, and the Revered George Whitworth, namesake of Whitworth College, who lived at Ebey's Landing in the 1860s.] Whidbey's Dr. John Kellogg lived in Seattle for a period during the mid-1870s and no doubt visited Lake View Cemetery which likely influenced his design for the burial ground he began on the island in 1875. Kellogg's plat for Sunnyside certainly reflects many characteristics of the garden cemetery, from a wide central drive, to "alleys" between the individual family lots. Sunnyside's location certainly corresponded to the garden cemetery ideal where "the beauties of nature are scattered on every hand... calculated to give a chastened and holy calm to the mind."

Elegiac verse on the side of
Edward Ebey's tombstone 1886-1889
Grandson of Isaac and Rebecca Ebey
Photo by Theresa Trebon

The rural cemetery movement also changed how graves were marked, as their décor moved to center stage in the cemetery landscape. It transformed the severe, puritanical depiction of death of the 1700s—where flat "stele" tombstones were inscribed with skulls or the grim reaper—into a romanticized view of the deceased gathered together and "sleeping in peace in silent cities." The change reflected the unease felt by many families as the Industrial Revolution radically altered how people worked and lived, forcing family members to seek wages in large cities, and breaking up the cohesiveness of the family unit that had been common in the puritan period. The monuments of the rural cemetery era evoked peace, comfort, and a reunion of families torn apart by the new economic order of the mid-19th century. Families surrounded their lots with concrete curbing and fencing, a symbolic enclosure of their private [and eternal], domestic space, an impression reinforced by the family surname carved on the steps of the lot. They surrounded the burial site with symbolic plantings such as evergreen shrubs, which symbolized the resurrection of the soul, willows, which denoted mourning, or lilies that represented purity.

But the centerpiece of the gravesite was the monument. While many bereaved could only afford to mark loved one's graves with cedar headboards, those who could purchased monuments that they hoped would stand the test of time. The tombstones of the rural cemetery era remembered the deceased with rich symbolism, intended to give comfort and meaning to the bereaved as they mourned their dead. When young children died, for example, their markers were carved with an unopened flower bud—the symbol of a young life cut short—or a fallen bird that graphically spoke of the parents' grief. Additionally, monuments were carved with the "elegiac poetry" verse that was published in many newspapers during that era.

Mary Maylor Tombstone
Sunnyside Cemetery
Photo by Theresa Trebon

Markers of this era also related personal information about the deceased. Some stated that they were a "pioneer," others, their military service or their membership in fraternities like the Oddfellows, Rebekahs, Woodsmen of the World, or the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Tombstones proclaimed the nativity of the dead— "Joseph Goodwin, Born in Italy"—as well as their place of departure—"Winfield S. Ebey, died at Petaluma, Cal." One of the most remarkable monuments at Sunnyside no longer marks a grave. Located near the Davis Blockhouse, it is carved in both Gaelic and English and commemorates the life of Mary Barrett Maylor, who died in 1861 while delivering her fourth child. After burying her on their farm near Oak Harbor, her husband, Samuel, returned to their native Ireland with their three surviving children. He soon remarried and came back to Whidbey with his new wife and family, but, he also brought a tombstone from Ireland for his first wife Mary for, as the tombstone says, "We love one another still." When the Maylor's farm cemetery was exhumed in the 1900s, descendents purchased a new tombstone for Mary and donated the original to the Island County Historical Society.

invoice for tombstone
Thomas Hastie invoice for tombstone 1861
Courtesy of Washington State Archives

Sunnyside Cemetery's earliest monuments came from places near and far. Some pioneers ordered their tombstones from San Francisco, where large monument firms like Zeglio and Moore were in business by the 1860s. But from 1853 to 1864, the island had its own monument carver. Thomas Hastie, [namesake of Whidbey's Hastie Lake], learned his craft in his native England and two of his monuments still stand in Sunnyside. The work of Puget Sound monument carvers active in the 1870s are also represented at Sunnyside such as N. C. Merges, based in Olympia, and Morgan J. Carkeek of Seattle, namesake of that city's Carkeek Park.

N. C. Merges advertisement
N. C. Merges advertisement
Olympia Transcript,
July 27, 1872
N. C. Merges advertisement
M. J. Carkeek Advertisement
Northwest Enterprise
April 15, 1882