From Pet Cemetery to Baker County: A Forgotten Monument Finds a Home

April 13, 2021

By Kristine Deacon

In a June 7, 1979, letter to the Oregon Historical Society, a representative from the Pet’s Rest Cemetery described a memorial to Sen. Edward Baker found in its barn. It began a series of events and negotiations that eventually brought the monument home. The letter is held in the Oregon State Archives, Cecil Edwards Papers, 2018A-034, box 1.

In a recently rediscovered June 7, 1979, letter held in the Oregon State Archives, Phillip C’de Baca of the Pet’s Rest Cemetery, Crematory for Pet Animals in Colma, California, got right to the point: The cemetery had discovered Oregon’s memorial honoring U.S. Sen. Edward Baker, the only member of Congress to die in a Civil War battle, abandoned in its barn. C’de Baca then asked if Oregon might like it back. Thus, began the story of how a pair of Oregon history buffs saved a monument to U.S. Sen. Edward Baker — a long forgotten memorial in Oregon — from being chopped into pieces for pet tombstones.

C’de Baca explained in his June 7 letter to Oregon Historical Society: “We have discovered this marble Grief Cover Amongst a collection of old monuments, [p]robably moved from San Francisco, Laurel Hill Cemetery about 1930. We thought the State of Oregon might be interested.” The letter found its way to Cecil Edwards who served as the Oregon Legislature’s historian from 1975 to 1993.

Edwards called C’de Baca, and according to a September 23, 1979, article in the Statesman-Journal (Salem), Edwards said Oregon would like it back, but it would take time for the legislature to appropriate money for the monument. Edwards, however, was willing to buy it himself. The conversation went something like this:

“$400,” said C’de Baca.

“$200,” countered Edwards.

“Sold,” replied C’de Baca.

Letter to from Phillip C’de Baca to Oregon Historical Society, June 7, 1979. Oregon State Archives. Oregon State Archives, Cecil Edwards Papers, 2018A-034, box 1.
On Pet’s Rest Cemetery letterhead, Phillip C’de Baca wrote to the Oregon Historical Society on June 7, 1979, to ask if Oregon would like to reclaim its memorial to Sen. Edward Baker, which eventually ended up in the pet cemetery’s possession. The letter is held in the Oregon State Archives, Cecil Edwards Papers, 2018A-034, box 1.

There was only one problem: Edwards didn’t have $200. He then walked to the office of his longtime friend Eugene “Debbs” Potts, Oregon state senator from Grants Pass, and asked for help. Potts owned the Hawthorne Cemetery in Grants Pass, and the Statesman-Journal explained on September 10, 1979, that he “just happens to be in the cemetery business and understands the value of a big hunk of granite.” Potts volunteered to drive his pickup truck down to Colma to collect the monument.

So how did a memorial to a senator from Oregon end up in California? Sen. Baker, for whom both Baker County and Baker City in Oregon are named, was a former law partner and close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Baker was sworn into Congress on December 5, 1860, and when the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Union army but did not resign his Senate seat, thinking the war would end in a few months. On October 21, 1861, while leading troops at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, Baker, then 50 years old, was shot eight times and killed.

Baker’s widow, Mary Ann Baker, chose to live in San Francisco after her husband’s death. Although Oregonians urged her to have the Oregon senator buried in Salem, she had his body buried in the Lone Mountain Cemetery (later renamed Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1867), in San Francisco. Baker’s coffin rested on top of a black velvet catafalque with a statue of a golden eagle with spread wings. Oregon’s monument to Baker, seven-foot slab of Columbia Marble, covered his grave.

Black and white portrait of Sen. Edward D. Baker. OHS Research Library, bb004278
Edward D. Baker was born in London, England, and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was five. He served as a U.S. Senator from December, 5, 1860, until October 21, 1861, when he died during a battle in the Civil War. OHS Research Library, bb004278

Baker was buried on Lone Mountain Cemetery’s highest hill, atop a grassy mound surrounded by a rock wall. In 1940, the cemetery, near the site of the future Golden Gate Bridge, closed. The San Francisco Examiner reported on March 4, 1940, that the 13 surviving members of the Colonel E.D. Baker Camp No. 21, Sons of Union Civil War Veterans, held their last annual Ceremony of Remembrance at Baker’s gravesite the day prior. Over his grave they spread the torn and blood-stained flag in which Baker’s body was wrapped after he died.

Two months later, soldiers moved Baker’s coffin to the San Francisco National Cemetery, located at the Presidio army base. “The members of the Grand Army of the Republic [GAR] — sort of the American Legion of the Civil War — had arranged to move the body but not the monument,” Presidio historian John Langeillier told the San Francisco Examiner on July 15, 1979. “I guess by then they didn’t have the funds…. By the time the cemetery closed, the Civil War had been over for 75 years and there weren’t many GAR members left.” Engineers dumped many of the cemetery’s tombstones in the San Francisco Bay to form the Golden Gate Bridge’s foundation. Thirty-nine years later, C’de Baca found Baker’s monument.

Potts drove to Colma days after the 1979 legislature adjourned, and he paid $200, cash, for the monument just before a group of California military history buffs arrived and suggested Baker’s memorial should stay in California. Edwards recalled the scene where Potts listened to the Californian’s request, as reported by the Statesman-Journal on September 23, 1979:

As [Potts] looks down at the tombstone, he thumbs his straw hat back on his head. “Well,” he says, “the way it’s covered with straw (and various other materials which he described with one short expressive word) it doesn’t look as though it has been very highly prized by the state of California. Besides that, it is bought and paid for.” Then he looked up at that ring of sober California faces surrounding him and said: “So now grab hold of this thing and help me load it.”

Which they did.

Potts then drove the monument back to Oregon. State senate president Jason Boe suggested the monument be installed on the Oregon State Capitol grounds. Instead, Edwards and Potts offered it to Baker County. Henry Levinger, then chairman of the Oregon Trail Regional Museum in Baker City, wrote in an August 1, 1979, letter to Edwards that the city was “very enthusiastic over the prospect of providing a fitting resting place for this historic marker.”

Large, stone grave marker standing on a base in the Baker County Courthouse. Image courtesy of Lisa Britton.
Edward Baker’s seven-foot-tall grave marker is pictured here on display at Baker County Courthouse. Image courtesy of Lisa Britton.

Not everyone was excited about providing a place for the maker. A rededication ceremony at the Baker County Library stalled when the library board refused to keep the stone there. As reported in the Democrat-Herald (Albany) on August 28, 1979, the library chairperson, Mrs. Jack Ferguson stated: “We decided we’d rather not have it…it’s really not fitting…. A number of the members felt it was rather a morbid thing to have in the library.” Ferguson also added that board members received many telephone calls from local residents objecting to placing the gravestone in the library.

Leona Fleetwood, another board member, said the grave marker “changes the feeling” in the room where children might frequent, and expressed that “he was just a slick politician.”

Baker City Manager George Hiatt arranged for Baker’s monument to be installed temporarily inside the Baker County Courthouse, planning to transfer it to the Oregon Trail Regional Museum when the museum was completed. Edwards and Potts delivered the monument in Potts’ pickup.

Baker’s monument still stands in the courthouse. In 2011, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber proclaimed that February 24, the anniversary of Baker’s birth, would be Oregon’s annual Edward D. Baker Day.

The inscription on Baker’s memorial reads:

Edward Dickinson Baker
Born in London Feb. 2, 1811
Killed while leading the forlorn hope
at the Battle of Balls Bluff, Va.
Oct. 21, 1861
At the time of his death, he was a Senator
of the United States from the State of Oregon
and although holding an appointment as Major General, was acting as
Colonel Commanding a Brigade of U.S. Forces
enlisted and organized by himself.

Sources

Associated Press, “Gravestone: Baker Mulls Future of Namesake’s Memorial,” Democrat-Herald (Albany, OR), August 28, 1979, p. 10.

Bill Boldenweck, “Historic Grave Marker Turns Up in Colma Pet Cemetery,” San Francisco Examiner, July 15, 1979, p. 3.

Henry Levinger to Cecil L. Edwards, August 1, 1979, Cecil Edwards Papers, 2018A-034, Oregon State Archives, Salem, Oregon.

Jerry Easterling, “Requiem for a Tombstone,” Statesman Journal (Salem), Sept. 23, 1979, p. 6G.

Phillip C’de Baca to Oregon Historical Society, June 7, 1979. Cecil Edwards Papers, 2018A-034, Box 1, State of Oregon Archives, Salem, Oregon.

“Rites Held For Last Time At Hero’s Grave,” San Francisco Examiner, March 4, 1940, p. 1.

Ron Blankenbaker, “Pity The Poor Hapless Hero,” Statesman Journal (Salem), Sept. 10, 1979, p. 5.

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