The 149-year-old St. Joseph’s Cemetery on 21st Street, just south of Broadway, is one of the city’s oldest existing cemeteries.
Regarding that cemetery and an earlier established Catholic cemetery, on Sept. 8, 1864, The Sacramento Union published the following words: “Several years ago, a tract of land was purchased on the Lower Stockton Road, four miles from the city, by the St. Rose Church for burial purposes, which was afterward known as St. Rose Cemetery. On account of the distance from the city, it was finally determined to abandon that locality as a cemetery and purchase a new one, more conveniently situated. A week or two ago, a tract of land was purchased, and yesterday the first interment in it took place. It is located south of Poverty Ridge and embraces about twenty acres. The ground was formerly known as Russell’s ranch, but was recently purchased of L. Stanford and others. No name has yet been adopted for the new cemetery.”
The first interment at St. Rose Cemetery was that of former Sacramento County Hospital steward Martin Kennedy, who was buried on November 18, 1860. The cemetery grounds were consecrated on May 12, 1861.
As part of the establishment of the new Catholic cemetery, which would become known as St. Joseph’s Cemetery, arrangements were made for the remains of those who were buried at St. Rose Cemetery to be transferred and reinterred at the newly acquired site.
A reference to the Catholic cemetery on today’s 21st Street appeared in an article in the April 21, 1893 edition of The Union.
It was noted in the article that the rails for a 21st Street branch of the electric railroad, which would extend south to St. Joseph’s, were in transit by ship and that the branch would be constructed as soon as the rails arrived.
Another 19th century article provides evidence that vandalism and thievery are far from new topics when it comes to cemeteries.
On Nov. 22, 1898, The Union ran an article, entitled “Graveyard raids.”
It was noted in that article that the headboard from the gravesite of the Silva children, who burned to death three years earlier, had been stolen during the night of Nov. 20, 1898 and then discarded in Capitol Park, where it was later discovered.
Also mentioned in the article were occurrences of the thievery of flowers from multiple Sacramento cemeteries.
Among the gravestones at the cemetery are those of priests and nuns, Civil War veterans and athletes.
One of the great tragedies on the Sacramento River involved the steamer Washoe.
While the Washoe was traveling about 35 miles below Sacramento on Sept. 5, 1864, about half of its 175 passengers were killed as a result of a boiler explosion on this vessel, and about half of the survivors were severely injured.
Among those who were killed by the explosion were Irishmen James O’Hara and John Cluney.
Two days following the Washoe explosion, O’Hara and Cluney became the first people to be buried at today’s St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
In another local tragedy, an automobile carrying four men was struck by a train on Feb. 1, 1925.
The collision proved fatal for the car’s passengers, Marian Sabich, 41, his cousin Mate Sabich, 29, John Puljiz, 41, and Marijan Bitanga, 28.
Another person to be interred at St. Joseph’s was Antone Rodrigues Perry, who was born as Antone Rodrigues Pereira in Faial in the Azores islands on March 26, 1831.
In the early 1850s, Perry became one of the earliest, if not the earliest of the Portuguese to settle in today’s Pocket area.
Perry farmed in the upper Pocket area and during his early days as a farmer, he operated a freight produce business, in which he delivered fruits and vegetables to miners in mining communities northeast of Sacramento.
At the age of 34, Antone married Maria Gloria Silva and together, they eventually had 10 children.
In 1868 and 1869, Maria’s godfather, Manuel Da Rosa, and Antone purchased about a 44-acre parcel, which included the site of today’s Lewis Park at 6570 Park Riviera Way in the Pocket area.
Antone passed away on May 2, 1917, and in honoring him, as well as Maria, who died on Jan. 30, 1909, and five deceased infants and children of their family, during the late 1990s, several of his descendents worked on a project to have new markers placed at the Perry plot in the old section of the cemetery. The markers were installed on Dec. 9, 1999.
Sacramento native Lisa (Vierra) Turrentine, who has her own Portuguese heritage, is quite familiar with St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
In continuing the former work of her mother, Billie (McKinney) Vierra (1923-2006), Turrentine delivers flowers to the gravesites of her deceased ancestors at St. Joseph’s, St. Mary’s and East Lawn Memorial Park about nine days per year.
“My grandmother [Uva (White) McKinney] went to pay homage to her ancestors and relatives at East Lawn, because they contributed so much to our family. I know she took flowers there. Following in her footsteps, my mother would take flowers to East Lawn, as well as St. Joseph’s. I started going with my mother to the cemeteries after my father (John Vierra) passed away in 2002. I go to visit all of the different gravesites, because I just don’t think that those people should be forgotten. My daughter (Katie Roberts) occasionally goes to the cemeteries with me and I hope that she will (one day) take the torch and carry on the tradition.”
Turrentine, who graduated from Burbank High School in 1973, said that her cemetery visits eventually led her to the discovery of her great-grandmother’s gravesite at St. Joseph’s.
“When I was taking flowers to my grandmother’s (Maria Silveira Vierra) grave, there was a large tombstone next to her (gravesite) that had the name Maria Silveira Fuzila on it. I asked my uncle about it and he had never heard the name, Fuzila, before. The more I looked at it, the more curious I became. I always had an interest in my family history. I suspected that it could have been an aunt of my grandmother’s. I knew that her parents had both died when she was very young and she was raised by one of her aunts. So, I finally went downtown to the recorder’s office and requested a death certificate for Maria Silveira Fuzila. They asked me if it was a relative and I told them that I didn’t know and it could possibly be my great-grandmother. The clerk pulled up the death certificate and when she handed it to me and I saw the names on the death certificate, I knew that it was my great-grandmother. And I just literally got chills.”
Turrentine added that the confusion with the name on the tombstone was she knew of her great-grandmother solely as Mary Perry. Maria Silveira Fuzila was the daughter of Jose “Joseph” Pereira Beirao, who immigrated from Sao Jorge in the Azores islands to the United States in about 1854 and commonly used the Anglicized surname Perry.
With her initial success in discovering the burial site of her great-grandmother, Turrentine continues to expand her genealogical research and has also discovered that her aforementioned great-grandfather is buried in an unmarked grave next to her great-grandmother.
In regard to the latter years leading up to the opening of St. Mary’s Cemetery, The Sacramento Bee reported on Oct. 5, 1917, that during the previous night, the Curtis Oaks Improvement Club had made a decision to request that the city commission close St. Joseph’s Cemetery.
The article noted that Alfred J. Argall, the club’s president and a resident of 2208 2nd Ave., near the cemetery, would name a committee to appear before the city commission to present its opinions that the Catholic Cemetery Association should find other grounds for burials somewhere out in the country, and that further burials at St. Joseph’s should be discontinued.
Additionally, the article noted that the poor condition of a section of the old Freeport Boulevard, including the cemetery’s frontage area, was “retarding the development of the West Curtis Oaks and Curtis Oaks communities.”
The article mentioned that that section of the road, which was a main artery into the city, had been declared as one of Sacramento’s worst streets.
About 11 years would pass before a new Catholic cemetery site “out in the country” would be acquired and developed. That cemetery – St. Mary’s Cemetery – had its first burial in 1929.
St. Joseph’s Cemetery, which still has occasional burials, presents many opportunities for people to learn about Sacramento’s past. The cemetery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.