The Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays group had tours of the Mountain View Cemetery in 2018 and 2019, but missed their visit last year because of the pandemic. With Dr. Ron Bachman as their tour guide, the walkers turned out in force on Wednesday, June 23, with 40 people on the tour.
The cemetery had been closed to the public until recently because of the pandemic, and is now still only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This was Dr. Bachman’s first docent tour in over a year too, so he was pleased to see so many people. The walkers met in front of the entrance to the main Mausoleum which is just beyond the fountain in front of the cemetery’s main office. Dr. Bachman is a retired Kaiser pediatrician with an additional area of expertise in epidemiology. His knowledge of Mountain View Cemetery and California history is that of a professor. After a brief introduction, he told the group that if they were fully vaccinated he was comfortable with them not wearing masks during the tour. He also explained the Messenger RNA science behind the vaccines which made the walkers all the more comfortable.
Dr. Bachman told the group that Mountain View is a 226- acre cemetery established in 1863 by a group of East Bay pioneers led by Samuel Merritt. At that time there were a few local cemeteries, but Merritt’s group wanted to create a truly beautiful space for the final resting places of the area’s growing and prosperous population. The association they formed still operates the cemetery today. They bought 200 acres of land for $3,000, and an additional 26 acres were later purchased from the original Blair Park.
Mountain View was designed in 1864 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of New York City’s Central Park and much of the University of California in Berkeley and Stanford University. Many of California’s important historical figures are buried at the cemetery, including five California governors. Early California senators and many UC Berkeley presidents and professors are also buried at Mountain View. Its first burial was in 1865, and there is a section with Civil War veterans whose remains were moved to the cemetery after their deaths. Currently there are between 175,000 and 200,000 people buried at Mountain View, which has room for an additional 200,000 graves.
Dr. Bachman took the group to the back of the Mausoleum. To show them the Strangers Plot that was established in 1870 for people who could not afford burials. This included many Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroads and worked in the California gold mines.
Dr. Bachman took some time to tell the story behind a large Egyptian pyramid that the walkers came to. See the also attached photo of Dr. Bachman and members of the group. It is the mausoleum of U.S. Senator William Gwin. He was a medical doctor, politician, and a senator from Mississippi and later California. He and John Frémont were California’s first US senators. He died in 1885 at a time when Egyptian archeology and motifs were very popular.
The histories of prominent architects Bernard Mayfield and Julia Morgan, as well as many other notable people and cemetery events, were also shared by Dr. Bachman. There are many grandiose crypts in tribute to the wealthy at Mountain View.
Dr. Bachman concluded his tour by pointing out a ridge section of the cemetery with a set of large, tall buildings and a view of the Bay and San Francisco. It is known as “Millionaires’ Row,” and houses the mausoleums of the early California “Big Four,” the influential businessmen who funded the Central Pacific Rail- road – Leland Stanford, Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker.
They built the western portion of the transcontinental railroad during the middle and late 1860s, creating routes that crossed both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada range.