Cemetery Park Reveals the Dark History of Ventura, CA.
By: Casey Saumure, Preservation Ghost Hunts
The seaside town of Ventura, California has a dirty little secret. In December 1964, the City of Ventura demolished 3 pioneer cemeteries. The clearing was to make way for a memorial park meant to honor Ventura’s settlers. But, construction crews left the remains of the dead under the park and cleared the tombstones. Today the site is a dog park. Now, hard questions need to be asked. How could such a gross oversight happen? And who is responsible for fixing the mistake?
A City Cover-Up?
“Put your shovels down if you see camera’s” – Ed Lupton, City of Ventura
The City owned the land which had been an overgrown eyesore for years. Later, when the tombstones were cleared, no one noticed. The City Council says they followed instructions. Relatives were notified to collect the grave markers. But, records were scarce and progress was slow. The pressure was on to remove what had become a vacant lot. Consequently, notices were not received. At the site, workers must have felt odd about removing markers. For example, the film reveals advice for the awkward business of digging up graves. “Put your shovels down if you see camera’s,” wrote Ed Lupton, City of Ventura.
Reverence for the past was absent in 1964 Southern California. The markers were dumped into Hall Canyon and the Arroyo Seco creek bed. As a result, Ventura County citizens carted them off like tiny ants. By the way, this story is not uncommon.
In my hometown of Sacramento, a similar story unfolded. City founder John Sutter set aside 10 acres for The New Helvetia Cemetery. When the city demanded more land in the 1950s, the cemetery was moved. Unlike Ventura, bodies were moved. Similarly, Tombstones were removed. Neighbors remember the stones being stacked on the sidewalk and ignored. Before long, they carted them off thinking they were discarded.
Today, Sutter’s cemetery is the site of Sutter Middle School. Stories surface infrequently of ‘found’ markers. Once, over 70 markers were found behind homes near the site. Gardens in East Sacramento are said to have many more. Over 4,000 remains were moved to a mass grave at East Lawn Cemetery.
Sacramento decided to fix the problem. The City built corners to mark the New Helvetia site. A memorial was installed. Subsequently, as large flat markers surfaced, they were used to line the perimeter. Perhaps Ventura could use Sacramento as an example.
In the past, it would be viewed as industrious to re-use a piece of granite. One need only to turn it over to find the names beneath. Like Sacramento, Ventura now struggles to answer an unanswerable question. Whose awful idea this was, to begin with?
A Trip Back In Time
Alvis includes historic documents and rare photographs. His exclusive interviews tell the story of mistakes. Cemetery Park is filmed in Alvis’s hometown of San Buenaventura, California. His story is particularly detailed, documenting cover-ups and responsibility dodgers. His tale is coupled with rumors of a cursed building and missing bodies. This filmmaker wraps his dark story beautifully around this quaint seaside hamlet. The rich history of Ventura rises again under Alvis’s artistic eye. Cemetery Park is an hour worth indulging.
Follow This Filmmaker
Historian and documentary filmmaker Brandon Alvis premiers his film Cemetery Park this Fall. Catch the premiere and follow his film at https://www.cemeteryparkfilm.com/.
Steve Schleder, whose battle with the City of Ventura is featured in the film, can be followed at http://restorestmarys.org/.
Casey Saumure is a writer and ghost hunter from Northern California. Preservation Ghost Hunts is her paranormal travel company. Her team is currently working on an Augmented Reality app that will allow visitors to experience stories from the past. For AR film locations and scheduling contact Casey directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (916)759-7880. http://preservationghosthunts.com/