Old stones have stories to tell

One of my favorite things to do each fall in Gilroy is to drive
around and see all the Halloween lights and spooky decorations.
One of my favorite things to do each fall in Gilroy is to drive around and see all the Halloween lights and spooky decorations. This town has more Halloween spirit than any place I’ve ever lived, and each year it seems people get more and more into the “spirit.” Fourth and Fifth streets are my two favorites to drive down, each having one of the best-decorated houses in town. Every year I drive around to see what I can see. This year I got more than I bargained for: Imagine my surprise when I came upon a cemetery I didn’t even know existed. There’s a cemetery tucked away in a neighborhood between Hanna Street and Leavesley Road. How could I not know about this? In the darkness, suddenly my headlights were picking out gravestones surrounded on all four sides by residential homes.

Today, I went back in daylight to see who these forgotten Gilroyans could be. Where did they come from; who were they; when did they die? And why is every stone in the cemetery facing east?

The names and dates on the Gilroy markers haunt me: “John E. Ryan, Died Jan. 19, 1887, Aged 32 years,” and the top of his marker is broken off but looks as if it may once have been a cross.

“Michael Kehoe, Died 1886. Mary Kehoe, Died 1888.” “Margaret Brown, Oct. 16, 1881, Aged 68 years, from Ireland,” her marker filled with lacy green moss in the crevices. “Anne Hudson Miller, Native of Dublin, Ireland,” and buried with her is the “Very Rev. MGR. Thomas J.F. Hudson, Founder of St. Mary’s Parish, Pastor 43 years.” The largest stone is for the Dunne family, a huge monument with six plaques marching across it. There are a number of graves for people who died at only 35 years of age, and I wonder what caused their early deaths.

I read the McStay stone; it is one stone dedicated to three sisters: Mary Jane, born 1854; Annie, born 1860; and finally Catherine is listed as being born in 1856. The thing that gives me chills is the death date for all three: 1931. What tragedy struck all three of their lives the very same year? What stories do these stones have to tell? What history do they hint at … the names go on: Cleary, Murphy, Tobin, Fitzgerald, Roach and Regan: all Irish names. I had no idea there had been so many Irish immigrants in 1800s Gilroy.

What is the story of this graveyard where only one grave has any flowers on it, a place containing the remains of lost and forgotten Gilroyans, a final resting place perpetually guarded by a locked gate and high chain link fence? Some of the tombstone inscriptions are no longer legible; some stones are falling down; some have pieces broken off; some have been repaired with new segments grafted onto the old, and some are returning to nature. The grounds are no longer kept up, and the area looks run down with trash all around it, including discarded items being dumped by people such as bed frames.

These were once some of the early settlers of Gilroy, now forgotten, their remains lying beneath weather-worn stones on a quiet street, hidden amongst us, seen yet unseen, the ghosts of our past.

“The monuments that honor best the dead/Are those which they themselves while living raised./In coveting not the gift of future praise,/But brightening the paths that others tread.”

(By an anonymous Gilroyan; Gilroy Advocate, June 11, 1927, reprinted in “Pieces of the Past; A Story of Gilroy,” by Claudia Kendall Salewske).

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