Digging the Dead

History and mystery, six feet under

The dead aren't the only ones lying around the graves at Pioneer and Military Memorial Park.

On a sunny Tuesday morning, there is clear evidence that someone has been hanging out near the headstones during the night: An uneaten bagel sits atop the grave of a Civil War veteran, a chicken bone dries in the sun on another plot, and near the grave of I. Torigoe -- a Japanese cook who was shot and killed by his best friend in 1902 -- someone has left an empty 40-ounce bottle of Bud Light.

Marge West and Diane Sumrall, volunteers with the Pioneers' Cemetery Association, say the trespassers are probably from the homeless shelter across the street. But ask some of the people who've stayed in the 108-year-old Smurthwaite House on the park property, and they might tell you that there is something supernatural going on.

Grave warning: Is the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park haunted?
Niki D'Andrea
Grave warning: Is the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park haunted?

Details

9:30 a.m. Monday, May 30. Admission is free. Call 602-534-1262.
Pioneer and Military Memorial Park, 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street

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"There are a couple of people who've stayed in the house that heard noises and stuff," says Sumrall. "Personally, I'm not a believer in it."

But there are 3,700 known graves in the seven cemeteries that span the park -- which hosts its 22nd Annual Memorial Day Remembrance Ceremony and tours on Monday, May 30 -- and only 700 or so markers. And by at least one account, some lost souls have come looking for their resting places. "We have things like Josiah Ward, who was one of the discoverers of the Gunsight Mine, out here somewhere," says West. "And in the newspaper one day, there's a little item to the fact that Josiah Ward is saying, 'Where, oh, where is my grave?' His marker was sitting in the backyard of somebody, waiting to get put down there."

Could the secret of the Lost Dutchman gold mine also be buried here? Maybe mediums should channel at the grave of Jacob Waltz, who died in 1891 without revealing the location of the gold mine he allegedly discovered in the Superstition Mountains.

Waltz is one of many early, local notables buried here. Other historical figures interred in the cemeteries include B.J. Franklin, Arizona's 12th territorial governor; William Augustus Hancock, who laid out the first Phoenix townsite in 1870 and later became Maricopa County sheriff; and C.J. Dyer, a Phoenix city councilman and acting mayor.

"We have one madam. Lot 41 was the red light district," Sumrall says, pointing at an early township map. "And she had an establishment there, and I guess she helped out some of these old guys . . . so she was a very benevolent madam. And she was murdered."

Madams and early Phoenix politicians aren't the only occupants of the grave plots. The cemeteries are also the final resting place of veterans of the Civil War, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War. The park's remembrance ceremony for the fallen soldiers includes 21-gun salutes. Several organizations will participate, including the Buffalo Soldiers, the Arizona Rangers, the Civil War Council, and the Masons. After the ceremony, guests are invited to tour the Smurthwaite House and the seven cemeteries.

And if guests hear any weird sounds, it might be the wind. Or it might just be a murdered madam looking for revenge.

 
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