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Writers and Artists






When Charles Rollo Peters of the magic moonlight brush interred his wife in the old cemetery at Monterey, he had Newton Tharp designed a noble sepulcher, and he carved upon it certain beautiful appropriate verses written by one of our San Francisco poets, Louis Alexander Robertson.  The author of "Ataxia" thought deeply on death.  It is fitting that his sonnet on Lone Mountain should be given here:


Thou cross-crown hill, to which I often turn,

Although no bed of mine lie slumbering there,

I watch the western skies behind thee burn,

And my pale lips are parted with a prayer,

Till resignation drives away despair.

With tear-dimmed eyes by gaze and can discern

The silent resting-place for which I yearn,

And unto which with faltering feet I fare.


What I shall rest beneath thee evermore,

And cold, gray fogs drift o'er me from the deep,

Perchance--who knows?--the voices of the sea,

Rolling in deep-toned music from the shore,

May not be all unheard in that last sleep,

Murmuring a long, low slumber-song to me.


"Rest beneath thee evermore," sang Robertson.  It must appear strange to the appraiser of mere real estate values that poets excluded from their verses all idea of cemetery removal!


Cemetery means literally "a sleeping place."  Surely sleep should be undisturbed!  Think of France proposing to move the bodies of our boys who are sleeping Over There.  It is inconceivable.


In 1871 the San Francisco Art Association was launched.  Within a few years its membership counted over six hundred names, and it was able to lease rooms on Pine Street over the California Market, on the same floor as the Bohemian Club; in fact, the Art Association was a sub-tenant of the Club, which held a lease of the entire floor.  Later at the Art Association occupied the Mark Hopkins sumptuous residence.  For a number of years Virgil Williams, portrait painter, landscape artist, was director of the Art Association, and to his untiring efforts may be attributed to the success of its School of Design, now grown to be one of the institutions of the art world.  Gutzon Borglum, Robert I. Atken, Harrison Fisher, Jules Pages, and many other notable artists studied there.


Virgil Williams was a dear friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, as was Charles Warren Stoddard.  "When we called on him at the Occidental Hotel," said Jerome Hart, "he received us in bed in pajamas.  He smoked cigarettes incessantly and entertained us as if he were really pleased to have some one to talk to.  His cousin Bob, Robert A. M. Stevenson, used to say, R. L. S. is too damn explanatory.’  But Stevenson had travelled much and he talked entertainingly, and we always enjoyed our visits with him.  Robert Louis Stevenson was a good talker."


It was the stimulation of Charles Warren Stoddard's "South Sea Idyls" that sent to R. L. S. to the mid-Pacific; the two first met in San Francisco.


Since the year or 1893 the San Francisco Art Institute and School of Design has been affiliated with the University of California, and is now housed in its own building on Chestnut Street; but there are many old Bohemians who recall with pleasure at the days when the Bohemian Club and the Art Association shared the same floor, when Virgil Williams, talented artist and leading spirit of Bohemian Club, was its director.  His headstone at Laurel Hill is unique in lettering and in design-- eventually the work of an artist.



Died December 18, 1886, Aged 56



Among San Francisco artists the work of Charles and Arthur Nahl ranks high.  Their business card in 1868 read: " Nahl Brothers, art and photographic gallery, 121 Montgomery Street."  There "Sawmill at Coloma"and "Sunday Morning in Mines," and their portrait studies of the gold-mining era, are notable.  Perham Nahl and Virgil Nahl were sons.  At Laurel Hill we find a quaint bust in bronze, on the pedestal an inscription in German text:





William Keith was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in 1839, and after an apprenticeship as a wood engraver came to California at the age of twenty.  With brief absences in Munich to study portrait painting, and in New York and Boston, he passed the greater part of his life in California.  Friend of John Muir, the two men shared their love for the Sierras and the giant redwoods.  William Keith's first wife, like himself, was a painter.  She died in San Francisco, and was buried at Laurel Hill.  Lizzie Emerson, wife of William Keith, was born in Maine and died March 9, 1882, forty-three years of age.


On a monument of rich brown travertine which marks the grave of A. Page Brown is chiseled in Latin the epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul's Cathedral, London: "Wouldst thou behold his monument?  look around!"  It was Page Brown who planned San Francisco's ferry clock-tower, modeled on the beautiful Giralda Tower at Seville, Spain.  He died in 1896, leaving a marked impression upon the architecture of San Francisco.


The first number of the San Francisco Argonaut appeared March 25, 1877.  For twenty-seven years Jerome A. Hart was associated with the Argonaut as contributor, editor, and owner.  Born in San Francisco, in view of the water front, at a time when the life of the city centered in the arrival of clippers, the square riggers, the frigates, the packet boats, the sloops of war, young Jerome Hart determined to become an admiral.  His studies were directed toward preparing for a course at the United States Naval Academy.  However, he was disappointed in securing the promised appointment, and was forced to turn his attention to making a career for himself in some other line.  He chose the publishing business.  He became a great editor, a vigorous writer, a master craftsman in the art of typography.  "In Our Second Century" was his latest published book.  "The Golconda Bonanza" and the "The Vigilante Time," his two historical novel blending history, tradition and romance, are thrilling stories of far Western life.  His biography of Victorien Sardou is an authority on the work of the French dramatist.  His travel books are interesting, keenly observant, unconventional.  He was a widely read and experience critic, and his comments drew attention.  On long hikes through the redwoods, and over the Marin hills and San Francisco's sand dunes, he drew his inspiration from nature.  "Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance," said the poet Shelley--these were his characteristic traits.  Sports were not neglected, and the busy editor was never too much occupied to enjoy each day a bicycle ride or a round of golf, or to witness a tennis game or a prize fight.



September 6, 1854-January 3, 1937



In 1855 the San Francisco Bulletin was founded by James King of William.  James King was born in Georgetown, D.C., January 28, 1822, son of William King.  He came to California in 1848, and engaged in banking for a time before he became editor of the Bulletin.  He was a fearless writer, and vigorously attacked corruption, professional gambling, and immorality, thereby making for himself many enemies.  ON leaving his office one evening he was shot down by James P. Casey, and died six days later on May 20, 1856.  When the citizens sought to lynch the assassin, Mayor James Van Ness promptly engaged their attention with an eloquent appeal to go to their homes without violence.  Mayor Van Ness spoke on the side of law and order but did not succeed in saving Casey.  At the very hour when the funeral possession of James King of William was on its way toward Lone Mountain, James Casey and Charles Cora were taken from the jail and hanged.  Both men were buried in Mission Dolores graveyard.  The Crescent Fire Engine Company built a monument there for Casey.  Cora was after a time removed to Calvary Cemetery, where he lies beside his wife.


Mayor James Van Ness, for whom Van Ness Avenue was named, rests in his family plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Thomas Van Ness, Jr., the San Francisco attorney, is his grandson.


James Nisbet, born in Scotland November 1, 1816, was on the staff of the Bulletin when his chief, James King, was shot down by an assassin.  He was one of the three authors of the "Annals of San Francisco," which was completed and published just before the Bulletin was started.  Nisbet lost his life in the wreck of the Pacific Mail Steamship Brother Jonathan, which was driven on a rock off the Oregon Coast, north of Crescent City, on October 30, 1865.  His body was recovered and brought to Laurel Hill, where he was buried near the grave of his old chief.


C. O. Gerberding was also one of the proprietors of the Bulletin during the stirring times of the Vigilantes.  His son Albert Gerberding (1852-1902) was for some years president of the Grain Exchange.  In 1892 he was president of the Bohemian Club when the organization determined to leave the old building leased from the Lent estate, and to establish itself in a new building erected for them on Sutters Street by Simeon Wenban.  When the Wenban building was completed the Club directors found they could not undertake to pay the expenses are so large a club house; hence the lease was canceled, and they remained in the old quarters until the fire of 1906.  The graves of both Albert Gerberding and his father are at Laurel Hill.


Two later editors of the Bulletin and the Call, George K. Fitch and Loring Pickering, are buried  at Laurel Hill.  Also John Bonner (1828-1899), for many years contributor to the San Francisco Argonaut, the Call, and other journals.


Ferdinand and Lawrence Vassault were known in San Francisco for many years as newspaper writers for various eastern journals and for the San Francisco Argonaut.  Both were graduates of the University of California.  Their father, Ferdinand Vassault, was a pioneer merchant with the warehouses at Clark's Point prior to 1850.  It is said he once brought out a cargo of ice and apples from Boston in the ship Lucas, which netted him a fortune.  The ice kept the apples in good condition on the voyage through the tropics, and what remained on arrival was sold for a bit a pound.  The apples brought $35 a barrel.  In 1868 the residence of the Vassault family was at 37 South Park, a residence site modeled on Gramercy Park, but deserted after some years by the wealthy residents for locations on the hills.  Rincon Hill was first built on; then when the cable railways proved practical, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Presidio Heights became the favorite residence districts.  The Vassault family scattered; but after many years the ashes of the two sons were brought to the large family plot at Laurel Hill for burial beside their father's grave. 


William H. Rhodes (1822-1876), who wrote over the name "Caxton," is buried at Laurel Hill with his wife and daughter.  Educated at Princeton, admitted to the bar after two years at Harvard Law School, Rhodes came to San Francisco at 1850, and practiced law until the time of his death.  He had many warm friends, among them Daniel O'Connell and W. H. L. Barnes.  Many of his shorter poems and several brilliant addresses were written for the Bohemian Club.  In "Caxton's Book," published in 1876, are collected his poems and the cleverest of his short stories, among them "The Case of Summerfield" and "The Boy With the Telescopic Eye."  His spirited poem "The Avitor " was deemed fantastic when it appeared; yet it was a remarkable prophecy of flight of an airplane in our day, some fifty years later, over Mount Diablo and eastward over the high Sierra to Great Salt Lake.


In the large plot of Torrence and Parker, adjoining Edward Pollock's, lies Mrs. Judah, who was a member of the Old California Theater Company.  One of her most popular roles was the Nurse, played to Adelaide Neilson's "Juliet."  She became the wife of John Torrence, stage carpenter and property man at the California Theater; their graves at Laurel Hill are marked by a single headstone:



Died March 2, 1883, Aged 70 Years



Died February 25, 1885, Aged 69 Years


Edwin Booth, in one of his familiar " Letters to His Friends," wrote on April 9, 1883, from Vienna, where he was stopping at that time: "Poor Mrs. Judah--she must have been very old.  I remember her from my early days."


In 1852, the Booth family first came to San Francisco.  Junius Brutus Booth had been secured to fill an engagement by Thomas Maguire, and was accompanied west by his sons Junius Brutus Jr., and Edwin.  It was in San Francisco, at a benefit for a fellow actor, that Edwin Booth first played Richard III, subsequently one of his greatest roles.  Although the a youth of twenty the excellence of his performance won the praise of Ferdinand Ewer, in an article for the Alta California of April 22, 1853, which was widely copied.  The warm friendship thus begun between young Booth and Ferdinand Ewer ended only with the death of the writer many years later.  Harriet Mace, wife of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.  DON'T CRY is the admonition on her headstone.


Dr. Felix P. Wierzbicki, a Polish physician and author, came to California in 1847 as a hospital steward on board the Loo Choo.  He died December 26, 1860, and was buried at Lone Mountain Cemetery in the Chain Plot, Tier 3, Grave 55.  His book, "California as It is and as It may be, or, A Guide to the Gold Region," has been recently reprinted by Grabhorn Press, with a most interesting introduction by Dr. George Lyman.  This was the first book in the English language to be printed in California.  The first "criticism" of this book of sixty pages was written by Ferdinand Ewer for the Pacific News.  When young Ferdinand Ewer arrived in San Francisco, September 16, 1849, it was difficult for him, a graduate of Harvard, to find employment.  For while he drafted maps for City Surveyor W. M. Eddie.  But at the same time he was gathering news items for press which led to his connection with the Pacific News, first as a reporter, then as editor.  In his diary, Ferdinand Ewer described San Francisco as "an odd little village of the few hundred shanties and tents around the plaza, very lively, much business, very dusty, very rough, and a couple of hundred ships in the harbor at anchor."  Ewer Place, off Mason Street, was named for him.  His father, Peter F. Ewer, had made a sketch of San Francisco as it seemed to him early in 1849, when there were thirty vessels and one steamer in the bay at anchor, and only one pier.  This sketch was preserved by the son with his diary and scrapbook ("Life of Ferdinand C. Ewer" by Henry Raub Wagner); he probably did not signed the sketch until 1861, when he copied the diary from the original notes.


The preface to the first edition of Dr. Wierzbicki's book on California was dated September 30, 1849.  The preface to the second edition, with some added pages, was dated December 30, of the same year.  The printing was done by Washington Bartlett, No. 8 Clay Street.  This was the Washington Bartlett who published the Journal of Commerce in 1850, and did the state printing for the first California legislature.  Years later he was elected mayor of San Francisco; but probably his most notable achievement was the publication of Dr. Wierzbicki's book in 1849, the first book in English language to be printed in a State of California.


Fresh flowers are often found on the grave of Dr. Lewis Lisser (1850-1919), much-love teacher of the piano.  Born in Stettin Germany, November 29, 1850, son of Emil Lisser, he came to San Francisco in July, 1879, and at once the key and became a leader in musical and artistic circles.  He was founder of the San Francisco Symphony Society, and became a member of the Art Association; he joined the Bohemian Club in 1900.


The name Richard L. Yanke, another of our musicians who is buried in "Laurel Hill, at once recalls the waltz, the mazurka, the schottische, and the German--dances almost known to the youth today.


Rudolph Herold, who was born in Prussia March 29, 1832, and died in San Francisco July 25, 1889, was a favorite in his days.  He was the pioneer orchestra leader in San Francisco, and organized the Philharmonic Concerts.  His large family plot at Laurel Hill was taken over by his son Rudolph Herold, Jr., who was for many years a trustee of Laurel Hill Cemetery Association.


On the west side of Pioneer Path stands the vine-covered vault of the Woodworth family.  Long years ago Samuel Woodworth, printer, editor, and author, living in New York City, in an outburst of longing for his country home, wrote the much loved poem "The Old Oaken Bucket." He was born in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, January 13, 1785; he died in New York City, December 9, 1842.  After a time his family came to live in San Francisco.  His son, Commodore Selim E. Woodworth (1815-1871), crossed the plains in forty-six, promptly took command of an expedition outfitted in Yerba Buena and at Sutter's Fort to rescue a party of starving emigrants, was elected State Senator from Monterey, and was universally known as a high-minded and generous citizen.  William M. Woodworth, one of the sons of, Commodore Woodworth, became an assistant professor of natural history at Harvard University.  In the Spring of 1896 he made a short stay in San Francisco.  He was bound for the South Seas on a expedition undertaken by Alexander Agassiz, with a party of scientists, for the purpose of exploring the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.  Commodore Selim E. Woodworth and his brother Frederick acquired considerable real estate in early days, and came to be ranked among the wealthy man of San Francisco.  They were prominent men of the Society of California Pioneers.


In the "Chronological History of Principal Events," as set down in the opening pages of the San Francisco Directory for the year 1866, appear the following paragraphs which tell their own story:


February 2, 1865.  Frederick Woodworth, and old and highly respected citizen, son of Samuel Woodworth, the author of the "The Old Oaken Bucket," died today.


September 28, 1865.  The remains of Samuel Woodworth, author of "The Old Oaken Bucket," arrived on the ship Orpheus for interment with the family dead.


In the family vault the author of "the old oaken bucket, the moss-covered bucket that hangs in the well," was buried; and there for more than fifty years he rested.  But his descendants have recently removed his ashes to another city.


He is gone!  The young and gifted!

By his own strong pinions lifted

To the stars.


Thus mourn the friends of another much-loved poet, Edward Pollock (1823-1858), who came to Philadelphia to make his fortune in the new Eldorado.  He was one of the contributors to Ferdinand Ewer' s Pioneer Monthly.  He was admitted to the bar but did not live to practice law.  Finding the grave of Edward Pollock at Laurel Hill, an Old Timer is inspired to plead with San Francisco's city fathers for the preservation of Laurel Hill Cemetery as the Memorial Park.  This earnest plea appeared in The Recorder of April 21, 1937:


An Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors


GENTLEMEN: Those of us who follow your doings from afar, this is to say, through the columns of the newspapers, are frequently puzzled to penetrate the meaning of this, that or the other action that you take.  For instance, are we to understand that you have given the quietus to the noble plan of converting the eastern part of historic old Lauren Hill Cemetery into a Memorial Park?


There are many of us who have our roots in the life, yes in the hallowed ground, of San Francisco, who firmly hold that the bodies of our Pioneer Great should not be ordered out of that sacred place.


We feel that the final passage of an ordinance directing the transfer somewhere beyond the county line of the venerated dust of the makers of our history is quite too brutal in its finality.  Hence, knowing you to be gentlemen of good hearts and warm human impulses, we prefer to believe it you do not proposed to obliterate ALL of Laurel Hill.



Unlike the Western reaches of this burial ground, the eastern part of that confronts the passerby on Presidio Avenue is beautiful, it is lovingly tended, it is the Stroke Pogis of San Francisco, and its tombs bear names that explain why San Francisco became the great city.


Gentlemen, you must know--because you have had every opportunity of knowing--how many of our United States Senators, how many of our Governors, how many of those others who made our beloved city, lie at rest in those few acres--in the fine old phrase, in God's acre.


Why should they not be permitted to lie in peace?  The living who speak for them, have asked that the urban rest be undisturbed; that the glorious old trees of Laurel Hill continue to guard their mortal remains; and that we be permitted to keep in San Francisco this garden spot that is as dear to us as Mission Dolores church yard--that should be as inviolate to all of us as Trinity churchyard in New York.


Among the great of Laurel Hill, the great whose names have been recited to you so many times by the God-blessed champions of our prior traditions--among those great men of earlier years a poet rests.  Have you ever heard of Edward Pollock?  Perhaps not.  His is a humble grave, but not too hard to find.  And it is in the part of Laurel Hill that should be preserved for a Memorial Park


Edward Pollock has rested there since the Christmastide of 1858.  Gentlemen, that's a long time, as we count years in this city of ours.  Why cannot Edward Pollock's dust remain there forever?  A sign painter when he came to San Francisco in 1852, Edward Pollock was admitted to the bar the Supreme Court of our State three years later.  Meanwhile he had won more than local renown as a poet.  His "Chandos Picture," a noble tribute to Shakespeare, has won the immortality of many anthologies of verse.  When he died in' 58 at the age of thirty-five, his of brother poets of San Franciscowept at his grave in Laurel Hill.  W. H. ("Caxton") Rhodes was one of these.  And Frank Soule who wrote our Annals.  And most distinguished of all, Charles Warren Stoddard.


Here are the eloquent lines that our Stoddard was inspired to write when he stood at Laurel Hill resting place of his brother-poet:




One seared leaf quivering down

From the green choir that walls thy brief renown;

This is the poet's crown!


Where is thy skillful lute,

That could prevoke the birds to sweet dispute?

Alas!  forever mute!


The hand that drew the balm

Of ravishing music from tuned strings and calm;

The worm feeds on thy palm.


Not be majestic sweet

Of subtle melodies thy nerve could keep

From out the dusty heat.


The eager sun-rays dart

Through silken grasses, searching for thy heart,

Of perfect gold a part.


The frail vine mantling

Thy undeserved nakedness doth cling

About thee, perishing.


Though no cut alter-stone

Is set to tell these ashes are thine own,

Thou are not all unknown.


Nor dost thou, voiceless, wait;

A thousand whispering tongues shall penetrate

The Heavens pearly gate;


Singing thy unsung songs,

Chanting thy praises out of tuneful throngs,

And righting all thy wrongs.


           *     *     *


I would some songs dispense,

But falter in my homely utterance,

For music is flown hence.





Shakespeare's epitaph invokes the curse on any rash enough to move his bones.  We do not go to that far nowadays.  Yet our great, at least, should remain in the place of their resting when the surroundings are an inspiration, as they are in the part of Laurel Hill where Edward Pollock sleeps.


Gentlemen, despite the final passage of your ordinance on Monday afternoon, let us hear from you again--let us hear from you in complete and in San Francisco sympathy--on the subject of a Laurel Hill Memorial Park.







© 2003 Nancy Pratt Melton

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