Cemeteries are one of the best places to learn about a city’s history. Pioneers, civic leaders, and early business tycoons are often found buried side by side along with the settlers and town folk. This past spring, the Mesa Historical Society highlighted the lives and final resting places of some of these founding fathers (and mothers) of Mesa, Arizona.
The City of Mesa Cemetery was first established in 1883 following a smallpox epidemic that claimed the lives of 44 residents of small community. As Mesa’s population began to grow, more space was needed for the dearly departed. In 1891, land was purchased along Center Street—just north of Brown Road for this purpose.
Part of the original Mesa Cemetery was on the land where the Circle K at University and Center now stands. Clerks at the Circle K have noticed paranormal activity inside the convenient store from time to time. The graves of these early pioneers where moved to the historical section of the current Mesa Cemetery. Just north of the cemetery office is a section dedicated to “those persons unknown buried during the Great Depression.” These folks were buried during a bleak period of time when permanent memorials were often a luxury.
Informative guides walked groups of history seekers to several gravesites. Some of the notables included country singer-songwriter Waylon Jennings, William A Burton who operated Mesa’s first mortuary, and Daniel Webster Jones who founded the neighboring town of Lehi.
The tour visited the grave of Confederate soldier, Martin Worthington, and entertainer and member of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show Powder River John L. Lee and his wife Kitty. There was a bittersweet stop at the tombstone of Zedo Ishikawa—a young athletic Mesa High School football player who’s last wish of “Carry On” is still his school’s motto.
The group was led to the grave site of Nurse Helen Dana who operated a maternity home, took in unwed mothers, and delivered over 12,500 babies in the Mesa area; to the tombstone of Ernesto Miranda, after whom the Miranda Rights were named. There is even a memorial for the RAF pilots who lived and trained in the valley near Falcon Field.
And don’t forget the business people like the Goodman’s who operated Apache Drugs, Orley Stapley who ran the hardware story that sent supplies up to the Roosevelt Dam, and John Riggs and his blacksmith shop.
Now the pioneers all lay side by side in a city of the dead under the protection of cypress trees in the historic portion of the Mesa City Cemetery. At dusk, these tall shadowy trees or “spook trees” as the youngsters like to call them, hold the tales of history and mystery of the old settlers for all eternity.
Visit the Mesa Cemetery website: http://www.mesacemetery.com
1212 North Center Street
Mesa, AZ 85201
Arizona Haunted Sites examiner: Debe Branning firstname.lastname@example.org