Lakeview Cemetery

At the crest of Capitol Hill, next to the beautiful Volunteer Park, we find historic Lakeview Cemetery. Founded in 1872 as the Seattle Masonic Cemetery, it quickly became the preferred place of interment for Seattle’s most prestigious pioneering families.

Over time the cemetery has grown organically to combine the heritage of different faiths and ethnicities. 

Alongside traditional Christian crosses, we find the rigid symmetry of the Chinese.

Oversize crossThey marched in line

Simple stone monoliths are accompanied by ornate offerings laden with hidden meaning.

BlethenOrnate carving

Classic formal designs offset graves with decidedly more iconoclastic representations of the departed.

Arthur Denny grave siteSaint Francis Wilson

Even a hoary chestnut of an epitaph finds at least one buyer.

Hoary chestnut epitaph

One grave appears to have replicated the deceased’s favorite bathtub. Another represents the great man in his best gardener’s jacket with his favorite tool and best friend.

Gravestone footHis wife always put him on a pedestal...

In a cemetery this old, the vegetation has had time to grow and add distinction to its surroundings. The Phinneys chose a Camperdown Elm to provide a shapely cover over their family plot.

Phinney family gravesite

They also appear to have hung a grave for a family member with feathers.

Phinney family gravesiteA bird's grave

An elegant Japanese maple adds its gnarled feng shui. A Mason sculpts an entire tree trunk and uses its to hang lodge symbols.

Japanese mapleMasonic tree gravestone

A well-placed azalea bush puts Sunday bouquets and plastic flowers to shame.

Flowery grave

The statue is an ever-popular element. Some uses them to express religious devotion, however peculiar its manifestation.

Madonna from the sideMadonna and Calvin

As the years pass, erosion and oblivion take hold. The lines blur between celestial madonnas, grieving mothers, and children buried by their parents. Perhaps that line was never actually clear.

Handless madonnaA young girl's grave

Others make simpler statements. This person liked birds.

Bird's eye view

Two large mausoleums stand as paeans to conformity, thriftiness, or perhaps run of the mill lives ending in 9-5 deaths. Flower receptacles distinguish the remembered from the forgotten. The fountain brings us back to life.

NichesLakeview Cemetery fountain

Among the commoners lies buried nobility. A menhir marks the resting place of Princess Angeline, née Kick-is-om-lo. There are many stories here: the daughter of Chief Sealth, friendship with several of the original pioneer families, a devout convert to Christianity, a Seattle resident even after her people were exiled to the reservation, a life in relative poverty, a laundrywoman and weaver of baskets sold on the city streets and eventually in another Seattle landmark, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Eventually a death in her seventies, a funeral with some public fanfare and a last burial near the family plot of Yeslers.

Grave of Princess Angeline

Lakeview Cemetery’s most famous resident, however, can only be found through Jeet Kune Do: flowing like water, plus a bit of luck.

Brandon Lee's graveThe grave of the great Bruce Lee

Bruce and his son Brandon are buried side by side, both victims of untimely deaths.

We were surprised to learn that Bruce finished high school in Seattle, and also attended the University of Washington and met his future wife there. It was in Seattle where he opened his first martial arts school and where he famously took down a black-belt karateka in eleven seconds. So while not exactly a native son, he’s more of a Seattleite than most of us.

Bruce LeeDon't know

The complete Flickr set.

Newcastle Historic Coal Miner’s Cemetery

The poet tells us that death is the great leveler.  Nowhere does that ring more true than a cemetery.

And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crookèd scythe and spade.

So it was for the miners and their kindred, brought to live, work and die in Newcastle after coal was discovered in 1863.  The Newcastle Historic Coal Miner’s Cemetery is where many of them were buried.


The cemetery is ghostly before dawn. The tombstones are irregularly placed, evidence of organic expansion overcoming any attempt at planning.  It is a world of shadows and dull colors.

Cemetery sunrise

Towards the north corner and up the hill are the graves of two black men, placed at the edge of the plot in an unsuccessful attempt at segregation.  For the time, it was remarkable even that the races even shared a graveyard.  Death levels all.

Long graveWife of...

Some plots are large and expansive, the legacy of multiple burials inside broad family plots.

Swordfern graves

Other graves are solitary, almost forlorn.


Swordfern grave

Here the book of life fades and nature reclaims its very words.

Nature reclaims the book

Some gravestones are rich and ornate, almost exuberant.  Most of these are from a more modern time, with names etched in granite or marble.  Which would have been an extreme luxury a hundred years earlier.

Norse or Jewish?Giacomo's marble headstone

Other gravestones have failed to withstand the elements, leaving only trace hints at the identities of the fallen.

Lie in our graves

Gravestone technology has come a long way in the last century.



In 1921, a fire ravaged the graveyard and destroyed all the wooden grave markers.  Any remaining wooden crosses are of recent construction.

Tilted gravestoneTilted gravestone

Many of the gravestones are showing their age.  Some lean at lopsided positions.  Some are being buried in turn by years of rain and slope erosion.  Some are chipped, cracked, even broken in two.

Dueling headstonesDueling headstones

And in the Pacific Northwest, you don’t push up the daisies.  You feed the moss.

Moss never sleepsCasket stone

Of particular interest are the gravestones whose three-link chain symbols signify membership of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  This Christian altruistic service organization was the original founder and organizer of the Newcastle cemetery.

William J Lewis, remembered... for I was quickly called away

Odd Fellows are asked to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.  The three links in their chain represent Friendship, Love and Truth.

Chain links

This stone lies at the foot of one of the Odd Fellow gravestones.  Once there may have been two other stones accompanying it.

Love rock

The Newcastle cemetery combines peaceful anonymity with stunning intimacy.  Baby Fee Swanson’s brother was interviewed by the Seattle Times in 1997.  Nobody remembers the cause of her death.

Baby, 1909

In many cases, nobody remembers the names at all.  They are lost forever.

Good vibrations

When sunrise comes, the gravestones cast a long shadow and any lingering ghosts slowly dissipate into the ground.  The air is alive with contrast.  For a crisp, fleeting moment, it feels unusually good to be alive.

Sunrise shadowsSunrise shadows

As the light floods in, the cemetery is exposed as a lawn with chipped stones.  It struggles mightily to hold together the ancestral memory of a hundred and sixty lives, lived in a harsher world than ours with great dignity, joy and sorrow.

The mines that summoned them here are long-abandoned, their legacy felt only in place names and in the abandoned train line that once fed the hungry city to the west.  As generations pass, the descendants of the pioneers grow fewer.  Before long, all living memory of that time will fade.

Sunrise shadowsSunrise shadows

A reflection.  We build cemeteries to remember:  to keep alive and bring meaning to that burning, wordless pain.  We build them to forget:  to capture errant spirits and enclose them safely.  Under lock and key, hardwood coffin and heavy stone.

To the cemeteries we bring offerings, as our ancestors did before us, without knowing why.  We are children burying our parents, gods whose vital energy we receive and pass on in turn.  We visit the cemetery without a reason, only knowing that it is to be done.  We leave parts of ourselves as nourishment, and bring back with us something from outside the world.

Here, underneath it all, lies coal;  dark energy from a buried netherworld.  Here, miners live fleeting lives, dig up ancient graves to give civilization its lifeblood, then return to rest in shallow seams of their own making.

Maybe we really build cemeteries to lie to ourselves.  To ward off our own inevitable transience, to deny this cycle for the briefest of moments.  And for a moment it works, so long as the stones endure and the names are remembered.

In honor of...

The complete Flickr set.