This Article was published in the Martinez News-Gazette on 10/22/2017
After completing our last day of work for the year in Potter’s Field of the Alhambra Cemetery, we could not help but reflect on our project’s progress. We started May 9, 2015 to cleanup, restore, and preserve the site. Over the course of the project, 70+ enthusiastic volunteers have given generously of their time, knowledge, and physical work, while others have worked quietly behind the scenes to gather more recruits and spread the word verbally and through social media.
It is hard to believe how much we have accomplished in just a few months regarding the Chinese Funerary Burner. The foundation brick has been completely excavated, mostly cleaned and sorted for its rebirth. We discovered that from the time the burner was built (earliest 1906) approximately two feet of silt has accumulated throughout the location. When we start up again in the New Year, who knows what gems may be discovered in its obscured grip.
The delightful weather along with the large amount of advertising for the Fall Cleanup brought the most spectators we have ever seen. Fans stopped by our information booth to give us praise on the project and our articles. There was a bittersweet celebratory quality to the day as all of us were looking forward to the break that was soon to come, while missing the community we all had a hand in creating.
A glitch in sand delivery did not cause the volunteers to loiter. They immediately got right back into their Zen-style brick cleaning, with others removing debris and weeds from the area. Once bags and sand arrived, they were filled and placed strategically within the empty burner space. After weed cloth and more bags were procured, the site was sealed preventing debris from accumulating while allowing moisture to evaporate. Additionally a sandbag wall was built to divert water runoff away from the location.
It would have been hard for anyone passing by not to have noticed the festive decorations spread throughout Potter’s Field celebrating the Chinese Double Ninth Festival, Halloween and Day of The Dead observances. It definitely brought spice to an otherwise bland landscape. Smiles appeared on little and big kid faces as they found the Edgar Allan Crows perched on or near each original Potter’s Field headstone. Volunteers were treated to iced Chrysanthemum tea and Halloween trick-or-treats.
There is something to be said for projects that create a labor of love. On Saturday, words could not express the slight sadness everyone was feeling. After a wonderful lunch provided by E. Clampus Vitus, the crew stopped by to say their year-end goodbyes. No one talked about his or her plans for the holidays; instead, they wondered about winter site undertakings. Moreover, like an echo of those who were not able to make this replacement date, they voiced, “When do we begin again?” With one goal in mind, we had surprisingly formed a bond that protested taking time out for the inclement weather that Mother Nature would soon be providing.
During the dormant months, a subcommittee will form to design the rebirth of the Chinese Funerary Burner and Altar. We will continue our articles on the history and decedents of Alhambra Cemetery’s Potter’s Field. As always, another much-appreciated "Thank You!" goes to all of our enthusiastic volunteers: Crowley Brynn, John Burgh, Kevin Crane, Carolyn & Devon Knight, Carolyn Mac Kenzie, Christopher Lowman, Dan Mosier, Shauna Mundt, Kyle Rainey, Christian Rousset, and Tamara Starr.
Do you have a Potter’s Field resident story to tell? We welcome any pictures or information on anyone or anything regarding Potter’s Field & the Alhambra Cemetery. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (925) 335-9396, to volunteer or share your information.
To find out more about Martinez and Contra Costa County history:
Martinez Museum – 1005 Escobar Street, corner of Court Street. Open Tues and Thurs 11:30 a.m. to 3p.m. First 4 Sundays 1-4 p.m. 925-228-8160; martinezhistory.org
Contra Costa County History Center – 610 Main Street, Martinez. Open Tues through Thurs, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 3rd Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 925-229-1042; cocohistory.com
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.