Underground Echoes: Bricks and sticks

Special to the Gazette

Brick for the restoration of the Chinese Funerary Burner\Altar Complex cleaned and stacked
Brick for the restoration of the Chinese Funerary Burner\Altar Complex cleaned and stacked

MARTINEZ, Calif. – City of Martinez’s Annual Spring Cemetery Cleanup. Due to the numerous winter storms, there was quite the renaissance of those pesky annoying plants we all call “weeds” and the accumulation of numerous fallen branches. Although much was accomplished, more still needs to be done and hopefully more cemetery cleanups will be scheduled over the summer.

Outside of clearing Potter’s Field of debris, work renewed on the restoration of the Chinese Funerary Burner\Altar Complex. We were fortunate to receive a large donation of brick that morning from our brick expert and uber volunteer Dan Moser, owner of the California Bricks website. Meanwhile, we finally completed the cleaning, sorting, and stacking of the burner’s original brick in preparation for its future rebuild. All our volunteers commented on how much fun they were having while engaged in their Zen-like meditative activities.

As has been previously written, a committee formed during the winter of 2017 was tasked with designing the rebirth of the Burner\Altar Complex utilizing all the original elements within it. Christian Rousset (our project manager) led the committee’s efforts to create a new design, since not enough evidence has been found to restore the structures to their original form. Once the new design was selected, Christian crafted the blueprints needed for gaining the City of Martinez’s authorization and to build from. During the process, a drainage system was added to prevent future water damage to the complex and allow for its use by future generations.

Once the plans were approved, we were ready to break ground last summer. However, due to unforeseen issues the project was forced to be delayed. To resume the project a new nonprofit, focused on the restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the cemetery, had to be created. Hence the formation of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) earlier this year. Like many other nationwide “Friends of…” cemetery organizations, the MCPA’s main goal is to support an important outdoor historical museum through volunteer coordination, donations, and increased awareness. This day then marked the debut of the MCPA’s work at the cemetery as the new coordinator of the PFRP.

MCPA members pitched the information, first aid and volunteer coordination booth to welcome all visitors. PFRP volunteers signed in prior to entering the cemetery grounds, receiving access to bottled water, and a variety of snacks. Shortly after, Dan arrived with a smile and the brick he had been storing for the burner. Most of it was from the Port Costa Brick Company founded in 1905 which matches the original burner’s brick. With the help of several volunteers, the more than 200 bricks were quickly unloaded, sorted, and stacked neatly.

Next came the removal of mortar from the remaining recovered brick before they could be integrated into the stacks. Keith Park and his daughter Aleksandra wasted no time in joining Shauna Mundt, Dan, and Christian in their preparations for the Zen art of brick cleaning. Their efforts were successful as all the brick is now cleansed. However, we are expecting another donation of Port Costa brick removed from a building on Pacheco Blvd in the next couple of months that will also need mortar to be removed. With offsite storage of yet more donated brick, we just may have enough to rebuild the burner!

(left to right) Harland Strickland, Joseph Palmer, Judie Palmer, and Shauna Mundt
(left to right) Harland Strickland, Joseph Palmer, Judie Palmer, and Shauna Mundt

The rest of our crew took on the mission of beautifying Potter’s Field by pulling weeds while picking up fallen branches and other debris. The undertaking was made easier with the use of bright orange buckets generously provided by Sean Dexter of Country Condor Consulting Inc. for their collection. We had a couple of students (completing their community project needs) join our group of regulars and other new helpers. One was a descendant of a Potter’s Field resident, who came to honor her ancestor by helping with the cleanup.

Remaining at the booth, MCPA’s Judie Palmer greeted the curious passersby. She introduced visitors to the project while handing out tri-fold brochures on the MCPA, the PFRP and a Potter’s Field self-guided tour. As before, the tour contains a synopsis of the decedents history and their photographs that will lead you to their gravesites where red and white flowers have been placed in reverence during the project’s workdays.

Judie was also able to utilize her amateur genealogy experience to help a cyclist who had stopped to ask if we could help him locate his grandfather’s gravesite. After much discussion, he left excited from the exchange. He has since been in contact and we are honored that he has chosen to become one of our newest members.

As ever, are heartfelt thanks go to our many participants, who gave so unselfishly a few hours of their time; Cathy Basen, Richard Blue, Shauna Mundt, Chris Rousset, Dan Moser, Jennifer Wiseman, Caroline Lawler, Alejandra Leon, Keith Park, Aleksandra Park, and Michael Steele. Thanks again to our Corporate Sponsors Dan Moser of the California Bricks website for the brick donation and Sean Dexter of Country Condor Consulting Inc. for the use of his buckets. Look for updates in our column as work progresses regarding the Chinese Funerary Burner\Altar Complex rebuild.

Judie and Joseph Palmer are two of the founding members of the Martinez Cemetery Preservation Alliance (MCPA) and the Potter’s Field Restoration Project. Both have a passion for discovery, history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology. The MCPA is always looking for any information or photographic evidence regarding the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, Potter’s Field, or its residents as well as monetary or material donations to finish this and other future projects. If you have anything to share, would like to donate, become a member, or volunteer, please visit their website martinezcemetery.org, email them at martinezcemetery@gmail.com or call them at (925) 316-6069.

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