Newcastle Cemetery

 

4 Responses

  1. Pamela Merrien
    Pamela Merrien November 27, 2017 at 12:17 am | | Reply

    Hello,

    I grew up in the Newport Hills area, and used to wander the hills around Lake Boren as a kid in the 1970’s and ’80’s.

    It seems that no Chinese grave markers have been found in the Newcastle Cemetery or in the Newcastle area.

    I find this baffling for the following reason: As a kid, I saw gravestones with Han characters carved on them in the woods near Lake Boren. They were green with moss. There were at least half a dozen of them, some fallen over. They left a deep impression on me.

    I would welcome any comment, explanation or questions.

    Thank you for your assistance.

    Sincerely,

    Pamela Merrien

    1. Judith
      Judith May 5, 2018 at 11:21 am | | Reply

      Your post raised my interest and I found this.
      http://www.wingluke.org/newcastle-coal-miners-cemetery-newcastle

  2. Elly M
    Elly M November 12, 2019 at 4:02 pm | | Reply

    Sadly, the page Judith referenced above no longer exists. I’m getting an error message 404 when clicking on her link. Curious what information it shared…

    1. Justin
      Justin April 17, 2020 at 12:46 pm | | Reply

      Nothing is really deleted on the internet, here is an archive ot the parge from the Wind Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience:

      https://web.archive.org/web/20170725050445/http://www.wingluke.org/newcastle-coal-miners-cemetery-newcastle

      Newcastle Coal Miners’ Cemetery – Newcastle
      The Washington Cemeteries webpages reflect a special project conducted by Cassie Chinn, The Wing’s Deputy Executive Director, in Winter 2016.

      Map of Newcastle, Washington. Courtesy of City of Newcastle.

      What’s in a Name?

      From 1863-1963, over 11 million tons of coal were excavated from the hills of east King County. Coal Creek. Black Diamond. Familiar place names whose origins come directly out of the ground.

      And what about China Creek that cuts through the town of Newcastle? This name too seems to have its origins in coal mining. The Coals of Newcastle: A Hundred Years of Hidden History describes an idyllic settlement of Chinese miners along China Creek:

      “… built among the trees a group of small huts, steep-roofed, weather-reddened, and long-shingled; planted narrow gardens on the river bank, and set up tiny coops for the beloved ducks and chickens, until they made as picturesque and foreign a scene as though it were a home village the Yang-tse-kiang.”

      Chinese laborers also built a railroad in the late 1800s that shortened transport of coal from the mines to Seattle. Before the Chinese-built railway, it was five days by water. After, it was cut to three hours by rail.

      The Newcastle Cemetery gives us clues to what the outlook on life may have been for these laborers. Although no markers remain, it is believed that there were once Chinese buried in the cemetery, segregated to the southwest corner. The Newcastle Historical Society writes, “Today, nothing remains of this settlement (along China Creek) nor are there any Chinese burial plots in the local cemetery. Instead, remains were shipped back to China for a proper burial in the ancestral family plot as soon as enough money could be gathered.” Life for the Chinese in Newcastle was never fully integrated nor intended to be permanent – even in death.

      Indeed, the experience of the Chinese in Newcastle, as well as other mining towns in King County, was far from peaceful. Art and Doug Chin, in their book Chinese in Washington State, give us glimpses into the reality of life for them during the height of the anti-Chinese movement in 1885:

      “Shortly after the Squak Valley incident, on September 11th, a Chinese working for the Oregon Improvement Company at the Coal Creek Mines at Newcastle was kidnapped by a dozen or more masked men and taken to a house which was then destroyed by fire. Soon after, the quarters of the Chinese where 37 were sleeping were set on fire. The Chinese lost all of their belongings. The next morning, they and 13 others who had been working the night shift left the area. The Chinese claimed $3,956 in damages, but the men who set the fire were never identified… In yet another clash, a party of masked and armed men entered the Franklin Mines and forced the Chinese onto a special train to Seattle. Similar occurrences were reported at Newcastle and Renton. In all these incidents, no one was brought to trial.”

      Exhumation: The Practice of First Burial

      Interpretive signage names immigrant groups that made the cemetery their “final resting place.” Photo taken February 5, 2016.

      Like the Port Townsend cemetery, the Newcastle Cemetery was a site of first burial and exhumation for the Chinese. In her work conducting archaeological excavations at Chinese cemeteries in Virginiatown, Nevada, Wendy L. Rouse distinguishes three stages in the Chinese death ritual: funeral, followed by burial, and then exhumation. She writes:
      “Usually hired by the appropriate district association, professional exhumers arrived in the cemetery after several years to remove the remains. Exhumers often used a small washbasin to clean the bones before packing them for the return trip to China.” [Chinese American Death Rituals, 97]

      Terry Abraham and Priscilla Wegars, exploring Chinese cemeteries and burial practices in the interior Pacific Northwest, further describe the exhumation practice:

      “Disinterment was not uncommon in southern China, where the relocation of remains to ensure favorable fengshui placement was carried out in a similar fashion. There, after seven to ten years, specialists would excavate the wooden coffins, scrape the bones clean, and place them in large urns for reburial. This practice, adapted to new conditions in North America, resolved one difficulty a Chinese laborer faced when traveling abroad for what was often dangerous work. He could be assured that after death his remains would receive proper care by his family in China and that traditional rituals would ensure a good afterlife in the spirit world. Although the exact time for exhumation varied in the United States, it was usually at least three years after death and burial. At the appropriate time, an agent of the CCBA [Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association], as successor to the family associations that had earlier managed this task, would appear in the community and direct the exhumations.” [Chinese American Death Rituals, 153-154]

      Some may perceive that exhumation and the lack of permanent graves in a cemetery point to the temporary presence of the Chinese in the area. Instead, the existence of an exhumation site seems to indicate that the Chinese community was established enough – both in size and length of stay – to warrant a site for burial and exhumation. And though lack of funds is often cited as a reason for the delay in returning the dead to the China, this is too is misleading. Individuals would become members of associations in their lifetime to ensure care after death. The delay was more a matter of practice, following ritual norms and the work of the professional exhumer.

      The Newcastle Cemetery stands out as one of the few identified Chinese exhumation sites in Western Washington. As noted by the Newcastle Historical Society,

      “The cemetery is a testimony to historical American immigration trends. The Scots and Irish came first… while the Welsh, Swedes, Belgians and English swept the early 1900s. Scattered in between were the Germans… Italians, Croatians, Serbians, Slavs and Finns.”

      And also the Chinese.

      The Newcastle Cemetery is only open to the general public two days a year – on Memorial Day and Newcastle Day in September. Visit the Newcastle Historic Cemetery facebook page for updates on events and activities.

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