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MailTribune.com
  • Historian wrote the book on Jacksonville's cemetery

  • JACKSONVLLE — Bill Miller decided to write to the first book about the town's 155-year-old cemetery while working as a volunteer on a headstone-cleaning crew.
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  • JACKSONVLLE — Bill Miller decided to write to the first book about the town's 155-year-old cemetery while working as a volunteer on a headstone-cleaning crew.
    During one of the work parties, Dirk Siedlecki, president of the Friends of the Historic Jacksonville Cemetery, mentioned to Miller that he often finds books about other cemeteries, but no one had never written one about the site that overlooks the town.
    Miller was a historian with the Southern Oregon Historical Society and previously penned a Sunday history column for the Mail Tribune.
    Miller's book, "Silent City On the Hill: Jacksonville Oregon's Historic Cemetery," tells stories of everyday people who were part of Jacksonville. He takes the cemetery story into the early 20th century and says he may write a second volume covering subsequent periods.
    There are now more than 5,500 graves, and the cemetery has added land over the years. Miller recounts the establishment of the cemetery in 1859, when J.N.T. Mille donated a portion of his land claim after another local burial ground, which was prone to flooding, was reaching its limits.
    Miller likes the discovery process of historical research, particularly when it throws new light on history.
    "I love finding things that are wrong or misunderstood," said Miller.
    Common knowledge said there was an entire section for burial of Chinese residents in the 19th century, but that someone removed all the bones and returned them to China during the 1920s.
    "I always assumed everyone knew what they were talking about, but that is always a bad assumption," said Miller. Instead, his research showed that bones were removed regularly every five to eight years, at least as early as 1883, and probably even earlier.
    Miller recounts an elaborate ceremony that a newspaper reporter witnessed to recover the bones while showing proper respect for the deceased as the remains were prepared for return to China.
    A photo of a praying angel that is on the book's front cover recounts another popular tale. The praying angel is on the grave marker for Willie Robinson, 6, and Lea Robinson, 5, who died in October 1890.
    According to legend, the two children would always look at and touch the praying angel whenever they went by a monument company at California and Oregon streets. Upon their deaths, their father, Dr. James Robinson, purchased the angel for their monument.
    "This is a story. Who knows for sure?" said Miller.
    Vandalism and a lack of upkeep have taken a toll on the cemetery, the author said.
    "In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the cemetery was unbelievably beautiful," said Miller. "It's a shame so much is gone. But part of this is (that) Jacksonville almost disappeared for 50 to 60 years."
    This is Miller's first book.
    "In the eighth grade, I said, 'I'm going to write a book,'"‰" Miller recalled. "I got about six pages and that was about it."
    A second book by Miller, "Eugene Ely, Daredevil Aviator," about the first pilot to land and take off from a ship, will be published by McFarland & Company later this year.
    "He's donating a generous amount of the proceeds to the Friends," Siedlecki said of the cemetery book.
    A book signing will be held at Caprice Winery, 970 Old Stage Road, from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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