Tales from the crypt
Fairview Cemetery Tales
Heading west on Cerrillos Road, Fairview Cemetery i s on t he right, between Cordova Road and Baca Street. Stuck at a red light, you might glance over and read the names on the monuments and larger headstones. Catron, Renehan, Seligman. If you’re familiar with Santa Fe history, you recognize them as prominent late-19th and early-20th-century citizens — a governor here, an attorney there. But very little of Fairview is visible from the street. If you’ve never ventured through the gates, you haven’t visited the grave of Julia Staab, the infamous German-Jewish immigrant and bereaved mother who supposedly haunts La Posada downtown. If you haven’t walked the grounds, you’ve never stumbled into the section that, officially or otherwise, is dedicated to children. You haven’t traced your fingers across the Hebrew letters on the marble monument to Abraham Gold or wondered who put the recent Easter decoration on Paul “Pee Wee” Romero’s wooden marker. You haven’t seen t he crabapple trees in bloom in the spring or stepped off the path onto dirt so soft it causes you to question how firm the barrier is between the living and the dead.
Originally established in 1884, Fairview remains a fully operational nondenominational cemetery, though there have been hiccups along the way. The Odd Fellows and Masons provided non-Catholic burial options in 19th-century Santa Fe, but as the population grew, more space was needed, so two enterprising young businessmen sought land at the quickly developing outskirts of town. At the time, most Catholics were interred at Rosario Cemetery on Guadalupe Street — founded in 1868, and still in use — or at Guadalupe Cemetery, which was consecrated on rural land in 1886, between what is now St. Francis Drive and Early Street. Guadalupe ceased operations in the 1940s; today the graves are overgrown by weeds and protected by a locked gate. James T. Newhall and Preston H. Kuhn raised the money to build Fairview by selling $25 shares to prominent Protestant and Jewish citizens including, according to the history of the cemetery written by Corinne P. Sze, “the editor of the leading territorial newspaper, lawyers, bankers, merchants, a physician, baker, plumber, florist, and barber-undertaker.” Maximilian Frost, a onetime editor of The Santa Fe
New Mexican, was elected president of the cemetery company. Kuhn was the secretary-treasurer and Newhall the superintendent. Unfortunately, “mismanagement is the most charitable interpretation of what followed,” Sze writes. After a year of preparing the land, Fairview was in the red and no lots or burials had been sold. Oversight and ownership of Fairview were tumultuous for several years, with turnover of the company’s board, and discrepancies over finances and cemetery maintenance. In 1898, the Woman’s Board of Trade and Library Association, led by Ida Rivenburg, took over management of Fairview. The business community had faith in the WBT because of the work they’d done to beautify the downtown Plaza and establish a library for Santa Fe. They also worked on behalf of the poor; at Fairview they maintained a section for burial of the indigent.
As the 20th century wore on, the city took over care of the Plaza and bought the library from the WBT, which had merged with the Santa Fe Woman’s Club in 1930 and changed its name to the Santa Fe Woman’s Club and Library Association. In 1978, after almost a century of looking after it, the Woman’s Club gave Fairview to Santa Fe County. Subsequently the county stopped selling lots and devoted the cemetery to burial of the poor, with private burials allowed on pre- owned lots only. The grounds and finances quickly deteriorated. Just three years later, the county tried to turn the cemetery back over to the Woman’s Club — but the Woman’s Club refused. After a yearlong stalemate, the county retained ownership and the Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association was formed. Fairview was attacked by vandals in 1988. They toppled 67 headstones, breaking many of them. Though the stones were put back together by the association and volunteers they recruited, the cracks are still visible.
The Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association took ownership of the cemetery from the county in 1998 and continues to oversee business and maintenance there. The association’s president, Dave Mason, told Pasatiempo that the biggest cost is and always has been water. A sprinkler system that was installed after the association took over for the county immediately produced bills in the tens of thousands of dollars, so they converted to drip irrigation. Maintaining the cemetery grounds is a constant effort, and the association has managed to keep the prairie dogs at bay. Ground squirrels and gophers, however, tend to make themselves at home.
On Friday, April 22, t he Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association and the Santa Fe Woman’s Club and Library Association present Fairview
Cemetery Tales at the Santa Fe Woman’s Club Theater —
The Fairview Cemetery Preservation Association and the Santa Fe Woman’s Club and Library Association present Fairview Cemetery Tales at the Santa Fe Woman’s Club Theater — theatrical vignettes about historic people who are buried at Fairview.
theatrical vignettes about historic people who are buried at Fairview, written by members of the two organizations, directed by Kathi Collins, and performed by local actors.
“I don’t know very much about this cemetery, but I go past it all the time,” said Harriett Levine, who is playing the role of Annika in “Independence Day,” written by Joan Golden. Set in 1927, the piece is about the Mugler Millinery Shop and its owner, Anna Mugler (1857-1927), who is getting too old and sick to run the place by herself. Annika is her niece. In the vignette, times and fashions are changing, but Anna is resistant to new things, particularly to hats that are made for bobbed hair. “I’d like to do those rubbings people do of graves, but I haven’t actually been in here to do this,” Levine said during a walk through Fairview with Pasatiempo. “It seems peaceful here,” she added before explaining that the Mugler Millinery Shop was “a real hat shop on the plaza, once upon a time. It was really something that existed here. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Though the vignettes are based on real people, the writers took great liberties in creating their narratives, sometimes inventing situations out of whole cloth to give voice to historical dialogue. Among those featured are Col. Ralph Emerson Twitchell (18591925), a Mason and historian who served as mayor of Santa Fe; architect Willard Kruger (1910-1984); journalist Laura B. Marsh (1851-1898) and the Fifteen Club, the precursor to the Woman’s Board of Trade; poet Alice Corbin Henderson (1881-1949); Sara McComb (1868-1963), an activist for American Indian rights; and Mary Parsons, an African-American Civil War nurse from Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Jeff Nell plays Albert Bacon Fall (1861-1944), an underhanded lawyer, in “Decoration Day,” also by Golden, in which he judges a pie- eating contest with Judge Frank Parker (1860-1932) — a fanciful scene that allows them to explore one another’s perceived biases and strength of character. Parker presided over t he 1899 t rial of ranchers Oliver Lee, Jim Gilliland, and Billy McNew for the presumed murder of Col. Albert J. Fountain and his son, who had been missing for three years. Fall was the defense attorney, and he played a variety of political games to get his clients acquitted. Ten years later, Parker presided over the trial of Wayne Brazil for the murder of Pat Garrett, and Fall, the defense attorney, got a not- guilty verdict for the accused. Fall, who served as a United States senator from New Mexico and as Secretary of the Interior, later went to prison for bribery in a series of oillease scandals known as the Teapot Dome. He isn’t buried at Fairview.
“Fall was a bit on the jerky side,” Nell said. “He would have fit in well with today’s politicians. He was self-serving, very astute, and very aware of who held the power.”
As he walked through the cemetery looking for Parker’s grave, Nell mentioned that before he moved to Santa Fe he spent about a decade as a paranormal investigator in Pennsylvania. He worked with psychics and ghost hunters who followed up on word-of-mouth hauntings. Some of the investigations took place in cemeteries, including at the National Military Park in Gettysburg. Parker’s grave is a small stone marker with a surface so worn it’s impossible to read the lettering. Nell ran his hands over it to identify the engraved birth and death years. “Someone must have messed with this at some point,” he said. “This says 1860 to 1982, which can’t be right.”
Fairview Cemetery Tales 7 p.m. Friday, April 22 Santa Fe Woman’s Club Theater, 1616 Old Pecos Trail $20 with post-performance reception; reservations advisable, 505-982- 0560 Fairview Cemetery Clean- Up Day 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, May 21 For more information, email email@example.com.
Clockwise from top left, Thomas S. Crook grave marker; wooden cross; grave marker, CUY or GUY; Catherine E. Gorman grave marker; opposite page, Abraham and Julie Staab grave marker and Julius Staab grave marker; all Fairview Cemetery, images courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives