Looking Back: The first burial grounds in Edmonds and mysterious happenings

The recent photo shown here was taken looking east from Dayton Street towards 9th Avenue South and the possible site of the former burial grounds.

In an earlier Looking Back column regarding Edmonds when it was called The Ten-Mile Beach Settlement, the old Edmonds burial grounds were mentioned. The little that is known of the existence of that early unofficial cemetery can be found in Ray Cloud’s 1953 publication “Edmonds, The Gem of Puget Sound, A History of the City of Edmonds” and in the archived hard copies of the early Edmonds newspapers found at Sno-Isle Genealogical Society, located at Humble House in Heritage Park, Lynnwood.

In his book, Ray Cloud, the former owner and long-time editor of the Edmonds Tribune-Review, related a story told by Mrs. Flora (Deiner) Koelsche. Flora was the stepdaughter of John Lund, the founder of Meadowdale. In 1889, when she was 13, Flora decided that some kind of Memorial Day service should be held at the old Indian cemetery which had once existed east of Ninth Street in the vicinity of Dayton Street in Edmonds. Without the knowledge of the school teacher Willard Allen, Flora led eight school children in an observance of this special day. In addition to Indian graves, Flora evidently had knowledge of three white people being interred at the burial grounds. As the children under Flora’s leadership were on the way to the burial grounds, they picked bouquets of wild flowers which she said grew in profusion in the area. The children then made their way to the three graves, and with Flora conducting solemn ceremonies, they placed the flowers on the graves.

In 1910, before Ray Cloud’s days as the owner/editor of the Edmonds newspaper, an article involving the former burial grounds appeared in the Edmonds Tribune. Written by the publisher/editor William H. Schumacher, and under the headline “Old Burying Ground in the Way of Progress,” the story of the final days of the old cemetery was related.

According to the newspaper article, the no-longer-used burial grounds were within the corporate limits of Edmonds. Editor Schumacher identified their location as lying east of the public school and in the path of a contemplated street improvement project, involving the building of the Ninth Street highway and continuing the Maple Street improvement project. The article went on to state that some of the graves would be disturbed and that whoever had authority in the removing of the remains should be notified at once. In 1910, the Edmonds school mentioned here was the Edmonds Graded School, which was located on 7th Street between George and Dayton Streets (today Main and Dayton Streets).

Further, Editor Schumacher told of two of the graves. One was the burial spot of George Ames, who was killed in the woods in the early days. He was considered to be the first white person buried in Edmonds. The other grave was that of a James O’Connor, who had died in 1890 at a hotel owned by Mr. Schumacher. In addition, Editor Schumacher in his article mentioned the graves of several unremembered children buried at the old cemetery. By 1910, the site of Mr. Schumacher’s hotel had become the location of the State Bank.

In 1931, the subject of the former burial grounds was in the news again. In his 1953 book, Edmonds Tribune editor Ray Cloud wrote of a rather grim story which appeared in a June 1931 issue of a Seattle daily newspaper. It seemed that a Seattle man was fishing off the end of the Edmonds ferry dock when the hook on his line caught onto something.   When he pulled his line in he discovered he had snagged a sack containing human bones. At first the authorities thought the bones could be the remains of James Eugene Bassett, a naval officer who had disappeared in 1928. The fate of the young naval officer had never been determined, although his automobile was found in the possession of 33-year-old Decasto Earl Mayer, who lived with his mother in Richmond Highlands.

Upon further investigation, it was determined the bones were the partial remains of George, aka William, Ames, one of the white men buried at the old burial grounds that had been located between 9th and 10th on Dayton Street. Mr. Ames had been killed in 1888 or 1889 by a falling tree on the Bell Street property of Christopher T. Roscoe, Sr. and buried at the old Dayton Street burial grounds.

To clear up some of the mystery, a few weeks before the finding of the sack of bones in Puget Sound, three Edmonds’ men, Leo Doty, Wilbur Wilson and Gordon Sill, while digging in the area of the old burial grounds, had dug up some bones, placed them in a sack and hid them in a stump. A few days later, Walter Wilson and Russell Berg discovered the sack, took out the skull and an arm bone, then they threw the rest of the bones into Puget Sound from the end of the ferry dock. There was no mention of the final resting spot for the remains of the ill-fated Mr. Ames.

As to the other mystery, the disappearance of the young naval officer James Eugene Bassett, it is still a mystery. However, information from the Washington State Digital Archives tells of the fate of Decasto Earl Mayer, the suspect in the Bassett disappearance.  Mr. Mayer was tried in the King County courts, found guilty of being a habitual criminal and in 1929 he was incarcerated at Walla Walla State Penitentiary. Mr. Mayer was later released, and died in Seattle on Dec. 11, 1938 at the age of 44.

The recent photo shown here was taken looking east from Dayton Street towards Ninth Avenue South and the possible site of the former burial grounds.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County. She is also on the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

8 Replies to “Looking Back: The first burial grounds in Edmonds and mysterious happenings”

  1. Interesting story. Thank you for the reference to Ray Cloud’s publication. A shame that the burial grounds were deemed ‘in the way of progress’ and the only progress they were disturbed for was housing. Thanks for the story.

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  2. There must be a way to survey the dirt under the roadway. As you have noted before Betty, if this was the site of the burials, then the bones will be there.

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    1. I imagine we have several places such as this, Jim. It has been rumored there is another spot near Holmes Corner where there were some burials. In the early times it was not uncommon for people to bury their loved ones on their property. I can remember when I was a child (1938) that a skull was found on the back of our place at what is now 212th and Highway 99, where Magic Toyota is today. When Duncan and Jennie Hunter on the hill above Alderwood mall lost their baby daughter Jennie in 1897, they first buried her on the east side of their property; where 36th Ave. West in Lynnwood is today. When the roadway, North Trunk North as it was called earlier, was widened, the Hunters had a tussle with the road commissioner about moving Baby Jennie, but for a while the Hunters prevailed, and for several years the road had a bend in it so as not to cover her grave. Little Baby Jennie is now buried with her parents at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. Gordon Hunter, the baby’s older brother, wrote an article about it which he read at the 1967 Old Settler Picnic in Edmonds. The story was featured in the March 2010 issue of Alderwood Manor Heritage Association’s “Clippings.”

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  3. Factual article. My neighbor, God rest his soul, grew up in Edmonds. Just passed away two years ago at age 91. He told me the story of the bag of bones that his brother and the Doty boy were involved in. All the facts in the article align. He also told me that the northern border of the pauper’s cemetery (that’s what he called it) was Maple Street and the western border was 9th. He said they buried loggers, native Americans, and paupers there. I was retelling that story about 10 years ago to a group of locals. As it turned out, one of the persons in the group was living in the house on that corner (east side of 9th, south side of Maple) at the time. She became very quiet as I described the location of the cemetery. When I finished, she took me aside and said “That explains a lot of weird things that go on in my house.”

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  4. Around 1960, a friend lived at 10th & Spruce, and there were old gravestones near his house, scattered amongst the scotchbroom

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  5. Great story as always, Betty. Interesting just yesterday my brother brought over an original letter from Florence from 1949, containing her “Reminisces of Early Pioneer School Days” which she sent to her niece, Jessie Deiner Fleetwood. Plannng giving to the museum for safe keeping. I’ll send you a copy.

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