For the past year, Joseph and Judie Palmer, in addition to running their business in downtown Martinez called Natural Healings, have been working on restoring the Potters Field at the Alhambra Cemetery.
They were approached about possibly restoring what is referred to as the Chinese American Funerary Burner in Potters Field. Although this Burner looks like a large brick oven, it was used by the Chinese Americans of long ago to burn incense and paper offerings to honor their ancestors. The Burner had fallen into disrepair and Joseph and Judie were interested in giving the Chinese American community their due and restoring this piece of their history.
However, once they began to try and restore the Burner, they realized that the entire Potters Field needed attention. They, with the help of others in the Martinez community, began the Potters Field Restoration Project to address this.
This journey of restoring the Potters Field and hopefully giving a name to those buried there has been fascinating for them. They have delved into County historical records and learned, among other things, that what is now the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center on Alhambra, before approximately 1892, used to bury their dead behind the hospital. Many bodies are still there and are currently paved over. In March 1892, Contra Costa County bought four privately held lots that made up the original Potters Field to bury their dead instead of behind the hospital.
The history of the Alhambra Cemetery is quite convoluted. It has gone through many permutations over the past 150 + years. In addition to the Burner, two iron posts were discovered in Potters Field dating from around 1870-1890. They contacted a specialist. Jack da Silva in Pinole, a former board member of the California Blacksmith’s Association. When he examined these posts, he determined that the bottom was made of cast iron and the top portion was made of wrought iron. These posts were possibly part of a large fence surrounding the Burner and demarking the large Chinese American Community Plot.
In addition to cleaning and restoring Potters Field, the Palmers have developed a website that they invite you to view at www.martinezcemetery.org. Their ultimate goals are to restore the Burner and eventually actually use it, restore the stones marking the graves and possibly determine who is buried there, restore the metal fence around the Burner and organize the history of the cemetery so that others might benefit and learn as well. Most importantly they would like to honor and respect those that are buried there by bringing their history to light.
If you have any additional information about anyone who might be buried in Potters Field or any history of the Martinez cemetery, you may contact the Palmers and the Potters Field Restoration Project via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Judie & Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Potter’s Field Restoration Project and its Martinez Cemetery Committee for the Martinez Historical Society. Joseph is also a MHS Board Director, chairman of the committee and webmaster of its website. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology.