Exploring the past: Greenwood Cemetery

I spent a bit of time exploring the “old” Cle Elum cemetery when I was in the Homeland this summer. And in doing so (and talking about it with others on Facebook) I realised that not many people know about the place. So I’ve decided to share as much information as I can—with a hope that others will chime in to share any information they have.

What (and where) is the Greenwood Cemetery?

The abandoned graveyard, Greenwood Cemetery, was an active burial place for people in the Upper Kittitas County area from 1903 until 1923 when Laurel Hill Memorial Park became the main cemetery. When Greenwood closed, most of the inhabitants of the graves were moved to Laurel Hill. Most, but not all. The five-acre plot of land is still owned by the City of Cle Elum, though the grounds are no longer maintained. [The cemetery is located off of Westside Road past Gobblers’ Knob.]

It is unclear how many graves were left behind or the reasons they were never moved. One theory I have for the latter, however, is that some families couldn’t afford to pay for re-internment—or they simply were not interested in moving their loved one. (And others may not have had someone left around to know that the cemetery was closing.) As time went on, the cemetery was forgotten by most people. Unless you happened to have a family connection or lived near the grounds, you were unlikely to know it existed. Especially after the land became overgrown with trees and shrubs.

I first learned of the cemetery as a teenager in my local history class. At the time, our history teacher (Mr Fred Kreuger. Really.), had students work on cemetery clean-up projects there and in the historic Roslyn Cemeteries. I was re-introduced to the grounds in 1999 when a member of our community had stumbled upon the grounds when she was out exploring one day. At the time, she had begun a (failed) campaign to re-open the grounds to allow for simple, traditional burials. Her request was denied for legal and practical reasons, but it did help to spark a bit of renewed interest in the historic burial ground to at least some extent.

But even with that renewed interest, it seems that the full story has yet to be uncovered. And so there remains very limited information available about the old cemetery. However, I will endeavour to share everything I can here. (Which means I will update this post with new information when and if it becomes available.)

Call to action: If you have any details that you can provide, please contact me or comment below. I will update this post as new information comes to light and will share any new information with the local libraries and historical groups. Verifiable evidence is great but even family stories would be great. I will note the difference between the two sources of information.

What is already known about Greenwood Cemetery?

What is clear, and what I learned from school and the local history book, “Swiftwater, History of Cle Elum 1848-1955”, is that the cemetery was closed because of “seepage”. At that time, many of the residents were relocated to Laurel Hill.

What is unknown about Greenwood Cemetery?

What is unclear, as previously mentioned, is why some people were never moved—and, maybe of greater interest, how many people were never moved.

Online searches only came up with limited answers from sites such as Find a Grave. There are 154 listings for Greenwood Cemetery. These were all added by Rob Goff, a former Kittitas County funeral home employee. The records are based on the information found in the funeral registers from T.M. Jones Undertaking Parlor in Cle Elum (these are now held at Stewart-Williams Funeral Home in Ellensburg). Some of these entries include notes that tell if the body was moved, the cause of death, plot numbers and grave locations, or information about ages, residency, or family members. Others have only a name.

Despite there being more than 150 entries online and in the records, there are only photos of a dozen or so markers (some with inscriptions on multiple sides). I am assuming that the markers indicate graves that still exist. [Note: There are fewer visible and/or intact headstones now than there are photos on Find a Grave.]

However, I have found myself wondering if there were more graves than headstones—especially as there are now fewer headstones than what was photographed online, yet no evidence that bodies have been dug up.

So, it possible that some of the headstones were damaged (and therefore removed) or stolen over time? Is it possible that some families opted to take their loved one’s headstone elsewhere, but not the body? (In which case, I would assume there would be stories of family headstones hidden in someone’s backyard and I’ve never heard those stories around Upper County.)

I wrote to one of the former funeral home directors who had been researching through the funeral home registries for more information. One of my primary queries was related to the register of existing burials versus the number of headstones. I wondered if it was possible that there were a large number of unmarked graves as the names found on the listings for Greenwood Cemetery were not repeated at Laurel Hill, where a great number of the graveyard’s residents were moved in the 1920s.

It seems that my question is the same as the funeral director’s, based on his readings of the registers. But, alas, there is no way to know for sure without digging holes or using fancy equipment—neither of which are likely options that the city is prepared to deal with.

If it is the case that there are more bodies than headstones, what happened to the stones? Is it possible that families who were unable to afford a formal re-burial took matters into their own hands and moved their loved ones to their own property? Or maybe just the headstones were moved to give families a backyard memorial of sorts? But that could be more than 100 relocated bodies and surely a small community like this couldn’t keep that kind of secret for nearly 100 years.

So then, where are the headstones for those bodies listed as being at Greenwood Cemetery but whose grave isn’t located at Laurel Hill?

For now, these are just questions I’m asking of myself (and of the wider connected world that may stumble upon this blog). I hope to find a few more answers over time.

What research have I already done?

I began my quest for information as I normally do: With the Interweb (including asking others on Facebook) and the local library. I also searched through the online information from the special collections archive at Central Washington University. Sadly, those searches did not bring me any new information.

I have since contacted Mr Krueger (as previously mentioned, a retired history teacher and local historian in Upper County) to find out what he knows about the site. Sadly, he does not have much more information that I already have. The additional information that Mr Krueger was able to share, however, is that there was a bit of local research done in the late-1970s as a high school project. It seems that work might include some maps and diagrams plotting out graves. That information mightbe held in the physical archives at Central Washington University, which is something I will look into when I am home visiting next. (Unless someone wants to volunteer, in which case I will share the details of what I know.)

I have also contacted the City to ask if they have further information. The clerk there has said she will look through the records to see if she can make sense of it all. Of course, she has a busy job without requests for records of long-abandoned cemeteries so it may take a while to get the answers.

In addition, I have put out a couple of feelers to others who might have some additional information. Hopefully, they’ll get back to me soon.

What happens now? How do we get more answers?

For more answers, there must be more investigation! I will keep asking questions and I will follow up on the leads I already have. But if you know something or someone that might be able to help fill in the blanks, please do let me know. 

Also, if you chose to explore the cemetery, please do let me know what you find. For example, if you find more headstones than those I have photographed below or if you find something that looks like a possible unmarked grave, I would love to hear from you.

If you are someone with a bit of time on your hands, you could even draw a map of the site to help us understand where everything is.

As for those graves that have been relocated, they are spread around Laurel Hill which might be a fun exploration for those who are interested in tracking them down. There are several of the large obelisk stones just inside the main gate at Laurel Hill, which is also where my late husband’s grave is located—with a large headstone in the shape of a Celtic cross. It was these old obelisks that made me feel a bit better about opting for a large “old fashioned” headstone.

Anyhow, I would really like to add to this post as and when new information comes to light. So if you have any further information to share, please do get in touch. You can comment on the post below or contact me privately. I really would love to include a few personal stories if possible, too. And I will give credit to anyone who helps to contribute to this post (including copyright attribution for new photos).

Please note: I own the copyright on all photos. If you wish to share them, I ask that you give proper credit to me, Frances Ryan. Thank you!

Join the conversation!