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Poulsbo's city cemetery turns 100; 'Dick and Jane' author, famous reindeer herder among those interred there
How do you celebrate a historic cemetery? Roz Heffner and Judy Driscoll just hope to clean it up a bit.
Quietly, without fanfare, Poulsbo’s city cemetery turned 100 in August. More than 1,500 of the city’s early families and others are buried in the area’s first community cemetery.
It has become the unofficial project for Heffner and Driscoll to identify old grave markers and “connect the dots” among the first settlers, current families and unmarked graves. Heffner, office manager for the city’s Public Works Department, manages the sale of cemetery plots and coordinates burials with funeral homes. Driscoll is secretary of the Poulsbo Historical Society, caretaker of the city’s historical documents.
By 1905, the only cemetery in town, at First Lutheran Church, was filling up, and residents pointed out that drainage from the cemetery might be contaminating the water systems of the homes surrounding the church (Poulsbo did not have a city water treatment system yet). The Kitsap County Herald reported in August that year, “A grave yard ought to be removed a mile or so from the city so that dangers of this kind can be prevented. The more that are buried there the greater becomes the danger.”
The city council decided in 1910 to open a “union cemetery.” A 10-acre plot on the north end of town was purchased, according to council records, but soon after all records refer to a five-acre plot along what is now Caldart Avenue, opened in 1911. After the city opened its cemetery, First Lutheran closed its cemetery to members-only.
At the Poulsbo cemetery, there’s a section for children, and a section for residents of Martha and Mary. Local victims of the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 are entombed near the top.
The cemetery slopes upward, with trees dotting the landscape. Driscoll said many family members would plant a tree in memory of a loved one, not realizing the tree’s growth would eventually disturb their family member’s burial site, as well as neighboring sites.
Public Works maintains the cemetery -- mowing and removing old flowers from graves -- and Heffner said Poulsbo is one of the only municipal cemetery in the state that does not include an annual maintenance fee. According to Heffner, the city charges a low fee for plots — $400 for a full, and $200 for cremains.
Heffner and Driscoll are working to identify graves that are obscured by trees or shrubs, those that have just a number, and those that they can’t even find.
“It's a fun job, because it’s different than your everyday work,” Heffner said. “I never thought I’d be interested.” She got involved in cemetery research when looking for her dad’s mother, who is buried in Oklahoma.
Several notable people are buried in the cemetery. Elizabeth Montgomery Julesberg authored the “Dick and Jane” children's books. Anders Bahr, an immigrant Norwegian Saami reindeer herder, is famous for his five-year trek to move a large herd of reindeer across northern Alaska and the Yukon to the Mackenzie Delta to help the starving Inuvialuit of the western Arctic. His five-year trek was the subject of a Canadian documentary drama, “The Herd.”
Other well-known families, such as Brauer, Jensen and Noll, have family plots.
Driscoll said people from all over come to them looking for their ancestors.
“We get together with old family members and they have these stories ... we try and piece [them] together,” Driscoll said. The women have made it easier to identify where someone is buried, with old surveying notes and family stories. They also have photographs of all the tombstones, available to the public.
Heffner and Driscoll said they plan to spend one nice day in the cemetery, cleaning old headstones and maybe learn something new.
But “we need volunteers first,” they said.