Three decades ago, Redwood City’s historic Union Cemetery was a mess of untended overgrowth and vandalized graves and monuments. Local resident Jean Cloud, who had labored for years to get the cemetery on Woodside Road both recognition and restoration, told a newspaper reporter in 1991 that the situation was so bad that families had removed their forebears’ headstones. “People take these things,” Cloud said. “They say, ‘When it’s safe, I’ll take them back to the cemetery.’”
Spin forward to 2022. Kathy Klebe, today’s cemetery board president, wants anybody who may have a headstone or other marker stashed away in a garage or toolshed to know it’s safe to bring it back. Not only is the cemetery now on the National Register of Historic Places in a much better state of repair, Klebe says, but several restoration projects have recently put “puzzle pieces” back together.
For years, many stray chunks of granite, marble and wood have been stored in a windmill on the cemetery grounds. Klebe found what turned out to be the missing top piece of the monument for the Eikerenkotter family from the nineteenth century. People from the Roman Marble Company of Redwood City have put it back into place. Similarly, disjointed fragments that demarcated the final resting place of George and Willie Bullivant, who died in early childhood around 120 years ago, have been reassembled by the V. Fotana Company of Colma.
All the improvements, Klebe adds, help make the landmark cemetery more accessible and interesting for visitors. After all, the grounds capture much of the mid-Peninsula’s early history and connect today’s residents with people whose lives may still touch them in unexpected ways.
In Woodside’s early days, for example, the Dalve family owned what is today the Pioneer Saloon. Descendants still reside in the area, Klebe says. She recently got their permission to have their family’s wooden markers repainted by Redwood City parks department employee Benny Morales, who volunteered his time. Along with another wooden memorial, the markers have been treated with a preservative to keep them from deteriorating further.
Though decades have passed since Cloud put out the call, Klebe thinks residents may have a headstone or perhaps a decorative cemetery item and not realize where it came from. “I think people don’t know what they have stored if they’ve put their tools or rakes on it,” she says. Perhaps a family has inherited a house and found an old headstone in the garage but didn’t know where it came from. Klebe wants to assure people their discoveries will be cared for. She encourages people who think they may have a piece of the old cemetery to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.