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Black and White Friday and the cemetery that was forgotten…

I wandered around the old cemetery, across the street from the San Luis Rey Mission. A cemetery that for years was forgotten. 

The mission was founded in 1798. It is known for the “King of the Missions,” and is a National Historic Landmark. The largest of all the 21 California missions. What I didn’t know was that there was a graveyard across the street. 

There are two graveyards, one sits in the shadow of this lovely cathedral. 

#1 San Luis Rey Mission

The mission is located in Oceanside, California. I took this photo a few years ago. 

#2 This is how it looked

in 1815. 

#3 It has been painted white, with blue a blue top.

Just to the east or right hand side in this shot is the entrance to the mission's cemetery. The entrance is that arch.  It is a really well kept up cemetery all pristine and very old, but that is not the cemetery I walked through.. 

At the time this was the only cemetery and was reserved for Catholics. 

#4 Old ruins

From 1798, to the mission which was built 1815 you see in the distance. 

The whole mission grounds covered 950,400 acres, but they had no place to bury the pioneers and settlers. Sometime in the late 1860's land was sesignated for a cemetery on a small hill, just southwest of the Mission. 

#5 It was called the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery

The first person to be buried here was a one year old named Catherine Foss, who died in 1869. 

In 1875 Isaac Kolb donated the land to "reserve for public burying ground". 

The following year the cemetery was deeded to the San Luis Rey School District "to hold in trust for a public burying ground".

#6 How did this happen?

While commuters busily drive Mission Avenue or Highway 76 they scarcely look up at the resting place of the valley’s pioneers. They may never notice when vandals littered the area, pushed over headstones or even worse, dug into the graves and even stole the headstones, the very record of those buried there.

#7 120

 Early lists estimated 84 burials, but recently, with more in-depth research, that number has risen to 120, and I bet there are many many more. 

#8 So sad, again, how could this happen?

The San Luis Rey Township was a tight-knit community. The settlers knew where their loved ones rested and must have assumed that someone would always know and never planned for what lay in store for the cemetery or the fate of their own final resting place.


The San Luis Rey School District, although the legal owners of the cemetery, seem to have kept no official record or count. School Trustee Shirley Woodruff filed the tax exemptions yearly and was responsible for pointing out available burial sites to families looking to bury their dead. He was for years the cemetery’s only "caretaker".

In the late 1940’s the Oceanside Unified School District took over the San Luis Rey School District, and unknowingly acquired the cemetery. Shirley Woodruff, then retired, still continued to file the annual tax forms for the cemetery until his death in 1989. Shirley was buried in this cemetery in the plot that was reserved for him several decades ago, alongside family members.


As the population grew and construction increased in and around the valley, the cemetery on the hill seemed to fall into the cracks. Progress went unimpeded and no one seemed to notice or care about its fate as vandals frequented the cemetery, leaving beer cans and litter strewn about in the cemetery. Sometimes the wooden crosses were taken out of the ground and tossed and gravestones were pushed off their bases.

The Oceanside Historical Society formed a cleanup in 1991, calling on descendants of these pioneers, as well as their own members. Marines from Camp Pendleton also volunteered and after much effort, toil and sweat, bags of trash were removed and entire dumpster of brush and weeds were cleared and some headstones placed back on their bases. 

This is how it looks today. It is mowed twice a year. 

Odd that a whole cemetery can be forgotten. 

History in black and white... 


What do you think?


Written by Kim_Johnson

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  1. Sometimes we have to share the stories about things that have been forgotten. I would say you have done that today!

    Consider yourself a member in good standing of the Wander project. There is nothing finer than remembering things with the pictures and dreams!

    • You’re welcome Sandra, thanks you!
      There were none of those in this one, but several across the road in the Catholic cemetery. I would like to go there and shoot, but people watch you like you are crazy. It’s way too small of an area to feel comfortable.

  2. I love your article. I’ve always found cemeteries fascinating, All those people that lived and walked around as we do now .. and one day we will be like them. Vandalism is common in such places but it is horrific. When I visited Greece one year I was struck by how beautiful and untouched their grave yards were .. it was totally different there. They had a great respect for the dead.

    • Thank you Linda, so glad you liked the article. I too have always been fascinated by old cemeteries. I have found a few that I will never forget that’s for sure. This is one.
      So sad about people vandalizing cemeteries.
      Sounds like we should follow their example in Greece. I can’t believe we don’t .

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