Turn-of-the-Century Tombstone Pops Up

Star Free Press
January 15, 1993

By Monique Parsons
Staff writer

A 91-year-old tombstone that once marked the grave of a prominent Santa Paula matriarch emerged from the concrete rubble off Surfer's Point this week, exposed by the winter rains and pounding surf.

Partially rooted in black asphalt and tossed among the chunks of concrete holding up the eroding shoreline, the smooth granite stone drew a small cluster of curious beach walkers Wednesday afternoon. They stopped to read the well-preserved inscription: "Mother Ida May Shively, May 3, 1867 - June 2, 1901; Son Lonnie Winston, Jan. 26 - July 4, 1891."

According to records of the Ventura County Museum of History, Shively, the mother of renowned Santa Paula artist, rancher and banker Douglas Shively, died in childbirth at age 34. In her eulogy, transcribed in her obituary in the Ventura Free Press, Santa Paula Presbyterian minister W.G. Mills described her as a woman with a "bright sparkle."

"Emphatically, she was a woman of sunny ways," he said.

Although the shoreline at Surfer’s Point is a far cry from the Ventura cemetery where Shively was buried, there is nothing unusual about gravestones from that cemetery showing up in unlikely places.

After seeing the cemetery blighted by the years of neglect, headstone theft and persistent vandalism, city officials removed the headstones and created Memorial Park in 1965. At the time, city officials said only 100 people stepped forward to claim stones after 200 survivors were contacted and asked to salvage their family gravestones.

"For the unclaimed stones, we kept them in a protected area, but vandalism was a real problem," Ventura City Clerk Barbara Kam said. "People did strange things with those stones."

In 1972, however, the city did what some might construe as a strange thing itself: Unclaimed markers were ground up and used as fill for the levee protecting Olivas Park Golf Course.

According to Kam, however, none were used for the landfill at Surfer's Point.

"No they were not. I'm real comfortable saying that," she said.

Although Shively's headstone came from the cemetery, it may forever remain a mystery how it ended up at Surfer's Point.

Standing on the eroding sands Thursday afternoon, beach walkers seemed upset to find the young woman's gravestone in the surf.

I almost want to take it home and give it a sacred place, like my garden or something like that," said Luis Murillo, a Venturan collecting driftwood along the shore.

Jessie Vann, who first noticed the stone on Wednesday, was angered with whoever was responsible for dumping Ida May Shively's gravestone in the rubble.

"I think I'd have a fit if it were my family and they did that," she said.

But two of Shively's great-great-grandchildren, reached at their homes Thursday night, seemed pleasantly surprised rather than angry, but eager to reclaim their family heirloom.

"That's bizarre," said Kathy Zwers of Santa Paula. "I wish my grandfather were here. He would get a kick out of this."

Her grandfather, Douglas Shively, died in 1991 at age 96.

Though just 5 when his mother died, "He distinctly remembered the day that she died, because he was playing outside in his wagon," Zwers said. "One of his elderly relatives came out and said Douglas, the angels came to take your mother to heaven. He was so mad, he picked up a stick and he ran into the house so they wouldn't take his mother away."

PHOTOGRAPH:

Caption reads, "Jessie Vann of Ventura discovered a nearly century-old headstone on the shore at Surfers Point, making her angry at whoever desecrated the graveyard."


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