Ventura should collect discarded tombstones

By Patricia Clark Doerner
Tuesday, August 4, 2009

David Minas, real-estate developer, will soon be able to claim the 500-pound tombstone of one James Sutton, 1835-1907, the tombstone formerly located in Block 7, Lot 5, City Cemetery, Ventura, California. At least that is what David, a real-estate developer in Woodland Hills, has been told. “If no one claims it in 45 days, it is yours,” Minas says one of the officers of the West Valley Division told him.

“I don’t want it,” Minas says, “but someone needs to claim it.”

That someone, it seems to me, should be the city of Ventura. Since I first became involved in trying to interest the city in righting this fiasco 20 years ago, we, the descendants, have achieved one goal only: There is no kiddy playground planted above the graves of our ancestors.

Then there are the three tombstones — Reyes Family, Taylor Family, Amadee Canet — located in the yard of a gentleman who must be close to my age. He has been begging for the city to reclaim these treasures for a number of years now. “Hank” knows of another tombstone that has “gone missing” after it was moved to Monrovia. Steve Schleder has gathered a few and they lie in his storage facility.

My own grandfather’s tombstone would rest easier in St. Mary’s Cemetery than in my front yard, but there seems to be no place for it. Or how about the Johnson headstone lying at the bottom of Hall Canyon? Or all those remnants (close to 45) still lying in what was the yard of Ellis Jump, former sculpture teacher at Ventura College?

In the 20 years I have been involved in attempting to persuade the city of Ventura to do what it can to rectify the damage done to the cemeteries in the mid-1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that the existing tombstones need to be retrieved and stored in a safe place until they can be replaced on the site — either in their original locations or in a memorial of some sort.

These priceless pieces of historic fabric are all that we have remaining of St. Mary’s and City cemeteries — other than the bodies lying in the ground.

Now is the time for the city to step up to the plate, find a safe storage place and retrieve the few tombstones out there — starting with that of James Sutton in Woodland Hills. It is surely time for action, instead of the countless meetings-upon-conferences-upon-consultations-upon-studies and analyses.

Give us something to celebrate.

— Patricia Clark Doerner lives in Ojai.