• Neill: Flash Forward to 2009 (Part II)


    The cemetery serves the City of Monterey as its official place of entombment. It boasts a Columbarium (burial chamber with recesses for holding urns containing ashes) and the markered graves of such notables as David Jacks (a pioneer who came to the peninsula in 1841), Flora Woods-Adams (the madam of Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck), Tadeusz Rudiger (heir to the Smirnoff fortune), and Sam Powers (famed bronco buster and stagecoach driver). Edward Ricketts (author and Steinbeck friend) is there as well … as is a young woman allegedly buried beneath a huge, natural stone to which is affixed a modest, patina-encrusted brass plaque.

    The plaque’s inscription reads:

    Violet M. Neill

    Died at Del Monte

    June 19, 1909

    The reporter was dumbfounded. In writing about the history of the old Del Monte Hotel, now part of the Navel Postgraduate School, he had discovered the story of Violet Maya Neill, read how she had been met by her maker at the then-elegant hostelry. The writer wanted to see what the 1909 press had to say about her death. Two resources addressed the matter of Violet Neill’s final disposition. One, the Pacific Grove Review, indicated that Miss Neill had been buried in Pasadena, the place of her birth, not in Monterey, the place of her death.

    Yet here was a monument indicating that this, Monterey’s burial ground, was the place of Violet M. Neill’s final resting.

    Michael Leach, who formerly headed Pacific Grove’s golf course, is now ensconced as the cemetery coordinator for Cementerio El Encinal. Kip Johnson had served as the grounds keeper for the past eleven years. The reporter headed for the cemetery’s office. “I telephoned Pasadena,” he explained to the two men. “They told me Violet Neill was buried there, according to their records. This report was corroborated by the Pacific Grove newspaper’s editor. Do we have evidence of Violet’s burial here? Could this marker be a cenotaph, a monument erected to honor a dead person buried elsewhere?

    That natural stone would make an outstanding cenotaph, although it appeared as if the boulder actually marked the location of a ground-level burial chamber.

    Kip tugged at his ear and said that if the reporter would hold on a minute, he’d check the records and see what could be learned. Kip looked first in an old-fashioned card file. The identity card read: Neill, Violet M. The name was followed by the plot and section identification: 9 – 121, then came that single word: interred.

    Kip nodded. “She’s buried here all right. I’ll get out the big book.”

    The “big book” was a collection of records—dusty, frayed, hand-written—that had been assembled years before the City of Monterey became the cemetery’s owner, in 1933. There, on a page’s bottom line, a mortician named J. E. Freeman had testified with his signature that Violet M. Neill had, indeed, passed on and was buried exactly where she was supposed to be buried. Mike also pointed out that the plot, and two adjacent plots, had been purchased by Mr. James Neill at a cost of $65, each. Mr. Neill paid $16 for his daughter’s interment service.

    Decades later, May Coleman and Fred Coleman (probably May’s husband or brother) were interred next to Violet. Fred, buried in 1938, had a parrot buried with him, probably for a long-term companion with which to chat. May followed Fred into eternity in 1942. Although no address was entered for Fred, May’s address was given as 400 Arroyo Terrace, Pasadena, Cal. This was the address where Violet’s home was located in Pasadena. No other connection could be established between Violet, May, Fred, and the parrot (whose name has been withheld by history).

    What is the answer to the conundrum surrounding Violet Maya Neill’s interment? This reporter does not pretend to know. He can only confirm the pleasure of a walk that carries one past the monument to a young lady’s passing, one century ago. Cenotaph or tombstone, this boulder marks a place of harmony and peace, the site of a magnificent mystery.

    One century after Violet’s demise, a contemporary reporter (the author) took a break from his writing to enjoy a relaxing stroll with the ghosts of Monterey’s Cementerio El Encinal (the cemetery of oaks), a place of shade and quiet pathways, and respite … the latter for both the living and the deceased.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 27, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition


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