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Mountain View Walk

The weather was sunny, clear, and mild last Wednesday morning for our

Piedmont Recreation Department's Walking on Wednesdays group's special

pre-Halloween tour of the Mountain View Cemetery. It was a perfect fall day,

and a strong turnout of 48 participants and one K-9 best friend were at the

front of the cemetery's main office to enjoy it and the tour. This was the

fourth time in our group's four plus year's history that we have visited the

cemetery, and it has always been one of our most popular walks.

Long time cemetery docent Jane Leroe was back for her second year leading

the tour. Jane is a retired, ground-breaking, trial attorney who described

herself as a "feminist" in her earlier days, and says she still is.

Additionally, Jane and Bob Wong are former Cal classmates. She has developed

an extensive knowledge of the Mountain View Cemetery and has a passion for

sharing it.

Jane told us that in the early 1860s a group of twelve, leading, local

businessman led by Samuel Merritt, a San Francisco physician and also the

13th mayor of Oakland from 1867 to 1869, created the cemetery. His group

bought 200 acres of fields far from the center of Oakland for the cemetery

because they wanted it to always be in a rural setting. Mountain View

Cemetery was established in 1863. Twenty-six acres were added later, so

there is a total 226 acres. One hundred and seventy thousand people are

buried in the cemetery, and there is room for an additional 170,000. The

founders paid Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who also

designed New York City's Central Park and much of UC Berkeley and Stanford

University, $1,000 to design it.

Many of California's most important historical figures decided to be buried

in the cemetery. Some of them include: Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan,

Anthony Chabot of the Chabot Observatory, railroad tycoon Charles Crocker,

Domingo Ghirardelli of Ghirardelli Chocolate, and Oakland mayor Samuel


One of the cemetery's main attractions is "Millionaires' Row." It is a

section where the most grand, elaborate crypts stand, housing some of the

cemetery's most famous and wealthy residents. It is located at the peak of a

hill with an expansive view of Oakland, the Bay, and San Francisco. After

Jane Leroe concluded her introductory remarks to us, she made Millionaires'

Row a destination for her tour, and off we went.

Jane first took us to other graves and shared the peoples' stories. There

was the "Strangers Plot" where hundreds of poor and unknown people were

buried long ago. Among them were the first and last people hanged in Alameda

County. Next was the Outdoor Children's Plot with pinwheels, flowers,

balloons, other decorations, and a touching statue of two young children at

its front. There was physician, geologist, UC Berkeley professor and early

California conservationist Joseph LeConte, who loved Yosemite so much that

his headstone is a large piece of the park's granite. The mausoleum of

California's first US senator, William Gwin, is huge Egyptian pyramid

mausoleum. Jane shared that the Washington Monument in Washington DC is an

Egyptian obelisk and there are a number of them marking graves in the

cemetery. This is because soon after the time the cemetery was created,

Egyptian archeological discoveries were first being made by the western

world, and everything Egyptian was the rage.

As Jane led us, she also noted many other people with remarkable histories.

They included: Ina Donna Coolbrith, California's first poet laureate, Frita

Ehmann, an early champion of workers' rights and feminist, and famous

architect Julia Morgan, whose name is included on a plaque with other family

members because she wanted to be buried with them. These women were all

wonderful people, but Jane had less admiration for writer Frank Norris whose

Cal Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers still leave empty gin bottles at his

grave to this day.

Jane and the walkers then made our final climb up the hill to Millionaires'

Row. She noted that these were smart, very successful businessmen, just

about all of whom came to California around 1850. They did not use picks

and shovels during California's gold rush to make their fortunes. Rather,

these were the men who sold the miners the things they needed. Jane started

the Millionaires' Row tour at its right side with one of her favorites,

Samuel Merritt. He was a large, 6' 3", 340 pound man, who created many

beneficial things for the area, most still bear his name. One is Lake

Merritt, which he humbly wanted to name for the Spanish explorer Luis

Peralta, whose Spanish land grant originally gave him much of the East Bay.

However, locals realized it was Merritt who was responsible for the lake and

they simply referred to it as "Lake Merritt." The steps of Merritt's tomb

provided good tiers for us to pose for the attached group photo. I've also

attached two more of us with Jane.

We were guided down Millionaires' Row by Jane, and she told us the histories

of Charles Crocker, Domingo Ghirardelli, and many others. These stories were

all very interesting, but for many of us the most enjoyable aspect of the

tour was Jane Leroe herself and her animated storytelling. Her candor,

opinions, and especially humor gave life to these long dead people. No

matter how hard they might have tried, they were not as interesting, and

certainly not as much fun, as Jane.

At the end of the row, it was time to go back down the hill to our cars.

However, one extra, bonus stop along the way was the plot for the Grand Army

of the Republic soldiers. They were Civil War Union veterans who died in

California, or whose bodies were moved to Mountain View. It was also an

opportunity for us to thank Jane for a most enjoyable tour on a beautiful



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