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There's a rich history in the hallowed grounds of Ceres Memorial Park
Averill web
The 1929 grave of Civil War veteran George W. Averill. It is said that he was wounded in the war and while recuperating at a Potomac area hospital he was visited by Mary Todd Lincoln who handed out oranges. Legend has it that 6-foot-4 President Abraham Lincoln visited the wounded soldiers and asked George, who was also tall, to stand up to see who was taller. - photo by Graphic by the Ceres Courier

Last week I was drawn to the pioneer section of the Ceres Memorial Park on two days to do some historical sleuthing.

wI wanted to concentrate on the oldest section of the cemetery, which now abuts to a massive concrete wall that forms the shoulder of the new Whitmore interchange and overpass. In the shadows of that wall rest the remains of the pioneers of Ceres.

There is no quiet standing on these hallowed grounds. The brushing sound of tires against asphalt of Highway 99 drowns out the sounds of any birds chirping. The overpass seems to amplify the sounds through a concrete megaphone.

The lawn, which is a patchwork of greens and browns that is stressed in this drought, bears both flat and monument headstones, some of which have also decayed over the years. I'm looking at the pedestal of the monument for Samuel S. Rairden. The top is gone, exposing a bolt that was once connected to the top portion. The pedestal indicates that Mr. Rairden was born July 8, 1828, and died on Oct. 29, 1878. In stone I read he was a native of Maine. Someone saw fitting to include the phrase "Gone but not forgotten."

Unfortunately, he is forgotten today to all but one. God.

As a local history enthusiast, I've never heard of Mr. Rairden. But I have heard of Daniel Whitmore and his family who are buried just across the street.

As I gaze at a stone monument taller than myself I am wondering if George Tully, who died on Halloween in 1906 at the age of 74, is the namesake for Tully Road in Modesto. I think not, for a reference to Mildred Lucas' history book notes that he was one of the 12 original members of First Baptist Church formed in 1879. Judging by the size of the headstone - it must weigh over 600 pounds - this Tully was a wealthy man. All the tombstone tells us is that he was a native of Frederick, Md. Lucas recounted that Mr. Tully was a great help for the Ceres Sewing Society's fundraisers. He supplied eggs, chickens and ice for the ice cream in his wagon at ice cream socials. If you've never heard of the Ceres Sewing Society it's because it was founded in 1880 and has since disappeared.

As I walk toward the Whitmore family plot, I hear the crunching dry grass under my feet and am sure that the pioneers were no strangers to dry conditions. When they left the planet, irrigation was either non-existent or in its infancy. Some never saw the canals that were fed by the La Grange Dam in 1900. Indeed, the reason pioneers came to Ceres was because the ground was great for growing wheat, its thirst quenched only by the rains that fell.

I come to the grave of John Greany Annear. I recognize the name for he had the first blacksmith shop in Ceres after he arrived in 1872. England born, Annear lived from Nov. 3, 1841 to January 7, 1928. He was naturalized in 1879. Next to him is his wife Tabatha who died eight years prior in 1920. At one time they owned 300 acres south of Ceres on land once owned by Levi Carter, one of the first settlers of the area near Ceres. John once served as an early-day Ceres school district trustee.

One of the Annear children, Edgar Annear, attended school in what is now Whitmore Park, and became the county surveyor who picked the spot where the current Seventh Street Bridge is located. He supervised its construction, with its lions standing guard at both ends, in 1917.

A large piece of carved stone is nearby. I have to walk around to its west side to see that I am standing in the family grave plots of Richard Whitmore, the brother of Daniel Whitmore, the founder of Ceres. Richard is the man who laid out the city of Ceres in 1875 and his tombstone is an obelisk that must weigh as much as a car. Richard arrived in Ceres in 1869 as Daniel was building the first in Ceres on Fifth Street.

Richard Whitmore was born March 1, 1822 and died Oct. 11, 1878. His tombstone includes the phrase "Adieu. Adieu, O, well beloved tender and true!" Such poetic prose in a day before modern tombstones scattered across the cemetery bear portraits of the dead beneath them.

I don't see the grave of Richard's wife, Hannah Maria Whitmore, but online I later learn that I'm not the only one. A note indicates that she is there somewhere but "unable to locate stone." She lived from 1824 to Dec. 18, 1908.

If you grab a burger at Carl's Junior at the corner of Mitchell and Whitmore, you're on their old homestead.

I do spot the grave of their 15-year-old son, Harry Havelock Whitmore who died on Oct. 2, 1874. Etched in Harry's stone is a small lamb, peacefully perched atop a shield that bears his vital information. You just don't see such endearing art any more reflecting a more innocent youth. In fact, today's cemeteries are streamlined with flat markers for easier mowing.

You must remember there are three Richard Whitmores in Ceres history. I've mentioned the pioneer grandfather. Then there was the son, Richard Keith Whitmore II (1853-1911). His small marble tombstone indicates that he was in the 6th California Infantry during the Spanish-American War. Richard K. was affectionately called the colonel because of his war service. Next to him is his wife, Annie Pagles Whitmore who lived from 1855 to 1931.

A son was Richard K. Whitmore III (1894- ?) who served in France during World War I . He is not buried here, as best I can tell.

One over are the remains of Gertrude Whitmore who lived from 1882 to 1915. It is said she died just before her marriage. She was just 33.

A few feet over I see the graves of their daughter, Blanche A. Whitmore who lived from 1876 to 1956. She is buried with her infant son John Whitmore. Standing there I cannot help but feel this woman's personal tragedy.

Truly, I'm in a field of tragedy for death is the chief enemy of man.
I'm taking oral notes on my iPhone by speaking into my iPhone. My train of thought is interrupted as my auto correct on my smart phone comes up with some weird gobblygook. If these dead bodies suddenly came to life and popped up out of the grave I wonder what they would think of me talking into this small device with glass on it.

A historical geek, I get a bit giddy when my eyes scan the horizon and I see a tall monument marking the grave of Cyrus Lee. I recognize his name because he was the agent in charge of the railroad depot that was along the tracks not far away. In poetic timing, along comes a diesel locomotive pulling a long train of cars. The vibration on the ground is probably rattling the bones of Mr. Lee, who died on Dec. 10, 1893 at the age of 77 (the ‘77' looks more like a set of 2's turned upside down). What I remember about Mr. Oddly, Lee is said to have been a spiritualist, AKA somebody who tried to make contact with the dead. We also know that he was also an early-day Ceres school trustee.

The train has passed as I see a faded blue set of silk flowers with plastic stems laying at the grave of Douglas Ray Fletcher who died in 1968. Somebody still remembers, reminding me that the Whitmores are so far back in history that nobody has flowers on their graves.

I cross the cemetery road to a large rectangular plot that is bounded by a border of thick stone. In the center is a large stone that details the first residents of Ceres. This is the grave plot of Daniel and Lucy J. Whitmore, the first residents of Ceres. The stone details Daniel lived from May 31, 1816 to Jan. 30, 1893. His bride, Lucy, lived from Feb. 15, 1826 to Sept. 30, 1898.

You'd have to be a local historian to understand the simple initials engraved on top of small unassuming slabs of concrete that measure a foot by two feet. CNW stands for Clinton N. Whitmore who hands down did more for the development of early-day Ceres than anyone else. The son of Daniel Whitmore was instrumental in getting the Turlock Irrigation District off the ground and promoting the sale of farm land in Ceres. The slab of concrete belies his importance in Ceres history. Then there is MEW for Maria E. Whitmore (1857-1939), Clinton's bride and the first woman to occupy the Clinton Whitmore Mansion which now belongs to the city. "Gene" is on one slab. That would be Gene for either Daniel's boy or Clinton's. Of course, LJW is Lucy J. Whitmore and DW being Daniel Whitmore.

The monument is grand but tilting to one side because of ground settlement but the graves really are simple for the people represented. The south side of the monument is etched with the names of Daniel and Jane Whitmore. Their children, Leonard H. Whitmore was born March 12, 1847 and died August 23, 1873; while Eugene Whitmore was born June 18, 1860 and died June 3, 1870. Eugene is believed to be the first body buried in the cemetery.

Clinton and Maria Whitmore had more children. Two died young. They are buried in the family plot. The north side of the monument details that Elmer D. Whitmore who was born Nov. 12, 1875 and died Dec. 10, 1876. His brother Eugene was born July 29, 1892 and died Nov. 25, 1894.

A myriad of other Whitmores - records say 20 in all - are buried in the cemetery. Here lies Charles Nelson Whitmore who was superintendent of the Whitmore Ranches in the 1920s and who died in 1980; Annette Whitmore who died in 1977; Kate Whitmore who died in 1988; Vaughn D. Whitmore, a former county supervisor, who died in 1952; and Jennie Whitmore Caswell who died in 1966. Jennie was quite the social butterfly in Ceres and married Wallace Caswell in 1910 at the Clinton Whitmore Mansion. He took her away to Cherokee, Iowa for 20 years but returned to Ceres to inherit and care for his dad's peach ranch.

A single slab testifies that sisters Victoria Whitmore Day and Laura Whitmore Dunne - the daughters of Vaughn D. Whitmore, are here. On my computer back at the office I have Laura's photo as she sits on a coupe - just as alive as I am now - somewhere in the hills.

There is an elegant tombstone of Amos A. Hatch, 19, son of Ephraim and C.M. Hatch, born Jan. 20, 1863 and dying June 29, 1880. The inscription at the base says "What sad emotions fill our minds, as o'er the grave we bend, where sleeps a son so true and kind, our dear and earthly friend." The Hatches would go on to raise two children in prosperity - Herbert Mavro "Bert" Hatch, and Cora Hatch. They would later live in a large mansion at 11th and Santa Clara avenues in San Jose in the late 1890s. The mansion would be destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco quake.

There are no other Hatch family members buried here. Where they are, I have no clue.

Towards the main gate, used to haul in the dead so long ago and forever cut off from Whitmore Avenue, is a monument to David K. Woodbridge who died Oct. 27, 1907 at the age of 85. He lived at Sixth Street and Whitmore Ave. But after my cemetery visit I learn more about him.

At age 28, D.K. headed to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, boarding a whaling ship from Maine to San Francisco. The journey took 150 wearisome days. He mined for gold in Tuolumne County and then farmed in Stockton for 25 years, moving to Ceres in 1876. Ironically Woodbridge was one of the first overseers of this cemetery. He walked the same dirt I am today.

Of course, there are names here that I've never heard of, including Chase and Elizabeth Wiggin who died in 1883 and 1893 respectively. Both were natives of Maine, a state as far as any away from California. I found out later Elizabeth was the sister of Mr. Woodbridge. The story is that widow Wiggin died in her house and that it mysteriously burned to the ground during a nighttime fire.

Interestingly, I find out that the Woodbridges were from the region of Woodbridge Corners, Maine.

As I search for more names, it dawns on me that most of the headstones in Ceres are facing the east. The common explanation is that they are faced that way because of the Bible, which states that Jesus Christ's Second Coming will occur when he comes from the east and that the dead shall rise to see Him. Hence, if the bodies were to come out of the grave they would be facing the east, or the direction from where the sun rises.

I stop in my tracks because I spy the name Hughson on a tombstone. It's for the infant son of H. and L.R. Hughson who died Nov. 5, 1885. He was only three days old and the headstone bears a lamb. That would be Hiram and Luella Rosalee Hughson, who owned 2,080 acres that would later be bought by C.W. Minniear and Charles Flack and developed into the town of Hughson. Hiram died Nov. 22, 1911 at age 70 and was buried in Modesto's Citizen Cemetery away from his infant son. Luella was 102 when she died. They had nine children who survived.

Just when I think I've seen about all of the old gravesites that I wanted to see, my eyes stumbles upon the name of Averill. I have stumbled on the entire Averill family and their in-laws. Their faces have graced the pages of the Courier in past editions.

Jesse O. Averill (1846-1906) and brother George Averill (died 1929) came to Ceres from Maine. The early-day blacksmiths rest here. Their sisters followed: Angie C. Averill Hall (1860-1938), town reporter, librarian and once postmistress Allura E. Ulch (1852-1936), Florence Ulch Richards Worrell, Lavina Rollins (1843-1911); Susan W. Hall (1839-1900), and husband blacksmith George B. Hall (1837-1919).

On my way back to my car, I spot a more recent name - that of Claude McKnight, who was mayor of Ceres and the town druggist who died in 1980.

There are thousands of bodies buried in the 20-acre Ceres cemetery. Only a small portion would make the Who's Who of Ceres history. When it started out on Nov. 8, 1879, the cemetery was only two acres in size.

I have more sleuthing to do and I just may be inspired to come up with another article on a cemetery. But I have to cover the news of the living in Ceres, a job which I have enjoyed for the past 28 years last Saturday.