By Katherine Hon | PastMatters
When the leaves start to fall, many people turn their attention to honoring the dearly departed in Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. For the holiday, the living build private altars called “ofrendas” and bring beverages, food, flowers and other gifts to the graves of loved ones.
In the Sherman Heights Historic District, the local nonprofit organization Friends of the Villa Montezuma (FOVM) has set up a Dia de los Muertos altar inside the Sherman Heights Community Center. It will open at the magnificent historic Villa Montezuma Museum for interior tours on Oct. 20.
FOVM will also offer a free tour of Mount Hope Cemetery on Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m. FOVM Vice President Charles Spratley will lead the two-hour respectful walk of the city-owned and city-run cemetery. He will share a wealth of information during what FOVM calls its “Permanent Victorians Cemetery Tour.”
Mount Hope Cemetery is the perfect place to visit and honor the founding citizens of our city, including individuals who greatly affected the development of North Park.
The story of Mount Hope Cemetery began in 1869. New Town San Diego was outgrowing earlier municipal cemeteries near Presidio Park and El Campo Santo in Old Town. Alonzo Horton — widely regarded as the father of modern San Diego — led the citizen’s committee to establish a new municipal cemetery. A location on the edge of town between what is now Market Street and Imperial Avenue just west of Boundary Street was selected.
The cemetery has grown over time, now encompassing a total of 110 usable acres. More than 76,000 individuals have been buried in Mount Hope Cemetery since 1870.
Notable permanent residents of Mount Hope Cemetery include Horton, who was buried in his family plot in 1909. Thousands whispered goodbye at his casket, flags hung at half-mast and people lined the streets for his funeral procession.
Matthew Sherman, city clerk from 1869 to 1870 and mayor from 1891 to 1893, was interred in Mount Hope Cemetery on July 7, 1898. It is reputed that his wife, Augusta J. Barrett — who came to San Diego in 1866 to teach school and married Sherman in 1867 — named the cemetery Mount Hope when it was established by the city trustees.
William Jefferson Gatewood, founder of the San Diego Union newspaper 150 years ago, was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery on March 27, 1888. Gatewood came to San Diego from Calaveras County, California and built a well-regarded law practice after selling his interest in the San Diego Union to Charles P. Taggart in 1869. He bought 80 acres of Pueblo lands and filed Subdivision Map #590 for his West End tract on May 17, 1873.
Modeled after the layout of Horton’s Addition in Downtown, this Uptown subdivision lies between University Avenue and Upas Street on the north and south, and between 28th and Ray streets on the west and east. You can thank Gatewood for the misaligned streets and dog-leg intersections in this part of North Park, because he did not bother to match the street pattern already defined for adjacent subdivisions to the east and west.
George White Marston joined other notable San Diegans in Mount Hope Cemetery on June 4, 1946. Best known for establishing the grand Marston Department Store, he also created Presidio Park and the Serra Museum, initiated the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, founded the San Diego Historical Society (San Diego History Center), and established his expansive family home designed by William Hebbard and Irving Gill at 3525 Seventh St. The Marston House is now managed as a museum by the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO).
One of the most important family plots in Mount Hope Cemetery for North Park belongs to the Hartleys. Patriarch James Monroe Hartley, who died in 1904, bought 40 acres of land within the Park Villas tract in 1893 and called it “Hartley’s North Park,” providing the “North Park” name that has been applied to the broader community since the early 1900s.
A year before she died, his wife Mary Jane Hartley was honored in 1939 as the “Mother of the North Park District.” She donated a prime commercial lot to the city for Fire Station 14 in 1910 and commissioned the Nordberg building at 3043 University Ave. in 1926. This space became an ideal space for neighborhood events, including civic celebrations, community dances and banquets.
No visit to a cemetery would be complete without a ghost story. Appropriately, Kate Morgan — a beautiful young woman who died under mysterious circumstances at the Hotel Del Coronado on Nov. 29, 1892 — is buried in the cemetery and is thought by some to still haunt the hotel.
On a tour conducted by FOVM last year, the guides were alarmed to find Morgan’s gravestone missing. Had it been spirited away? Fortunately, it was later confirmed the marker had temporarily sunk from view due to the activities of less ghostly creatures (ground squirrels) and was still in place. It is now uncovered and awaits your visit.
Interested readers can visit VillaMontezumaMuseum.org or call 619-255-9367 for more information or to make a tour reservation.
—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.