Cemeteries tell boom town tale
Cemeteries tell boom town tale By Charles Hillinger The Los Angeles Times EUREKA, Nev.-A mantle of death hangs over this old Nevada mining town. In the hills high above the century-old building left over from Eureka's halcyon days, are the cemeteries. Only 200 people live here but the town has nine cemeteries. There's a cemetery for tho men, women and children who died of smallpox, diphtheria and other contagious diseases; a Jewish cemetery; a Catholic cemetery; a Chinese cemetery; an Indian cemetery; the Odd Fellows Cemetery; the City and County Cemetery, and the Masonic Cemetery. And an exclusive cemetery for the well-to-do, owned and operated for years by a mortician named Schwamb. With so many cemeteries, obviously there are many more dead than alive in Eureka. During the 1870s and 80s, however, Eureka was the second largest city in Nevada. Upwards of 10,000 lived here. There were three opera houses, 125 saloons, 25 casinos, 2 breweries and 16 smelters. Millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and gold were pulled out of the surrounding hills. By 1890, when the price of silver tumbled, the mines closed, the smelters stopped belching black smoke and all but a handful of Eurekans headed for other mining camps. Most old Nevada mining towns have no more than two or three cemeteries. Usually there is one main graveyard with various sections for different ethnic or religious groups. But not Eureka. "The really odd one is the pest cemetery," said Marcia Elliott, head of the town's historical society. "It's weird. When someone died of a contagious disease, that person's remains couldn't be buried in the family plot. The body was interred in the pest cemetery. "It was almost as if they were afraid the contagious disease would spread from grave to grave after death." The pestilence, Indian, Chinese, Jewish and Schwamb cemeteries are no .longer used, but burials still take place in the other graveyards from time to time. All the cemeteries of Eureka, however, are in sad shape. Iron and wood decorative fences around the graves are bent with age and collapsing. Old headboards are no longer legible. Many marble headstones have toppled. The graveyards are choked with weeds. Relatives of most of the dead left the area decades or more ago. And the nine cemeteries of Eureka are perishing with the passage of time.