The Tour of Untimely Departures rises again at Lone Fir Cemetery this Halloween night

The Tour of Untimely Departures at Lone Fir Cemetery will be resurrected this Friday celebrating the eighth installment of the Halloween tradition.

On National Geographic’s list of the Top 10 Cemeteries to Visit, a trip to Lone Fir is described as “turning the pages of a Portland history book.”

The Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, the non-profit that puts on the event, embraces just that as guests embark on their tour on All Hallows’ Eve. With an all-volunteer crew transformed into the ghosts of those buried beneath the beautiful stonework found there, guests will be lead down a candlelit path to hear many of their true and unique stories.

“This year’s ghosts are a blend of new souls such as William Wood and Ansel Johnson who died in a torpedo test boat explosion,” said Friends board vice chair Wendy Palmer in an email, “and crowd favorites such as James Reed, Portland’s first fireman to die in the line of duty, and Charity Lamb, the first convicted murderess in the Oregon Territory.”

The first burial at what is now Lone Fir was in 1846 on privately owned rural land. In 1855 the property became known as Mount Crawford Cemetery, renamed Lone Fir in 1866 in honor of the one tree that stood there. Today Lone Fir has grown into a large natural area, host to 500 trees of 67 different species. It is the only Portland cemetery to make the National Register of Historic Places.

“Roaming this natural landscape is like turning the pages of a Portland history book.” – National Geographic

The Tour of Untimely Departures was launched in 2005 as Friends of Lone Fir tried to solve the problem of vandalism at the cemetery on Halloween nights of years past. They decided the solution wasn’t in keeping people out, but rather inviting people in, said Friends research committee chair Frank Schaefer in a video promoting the 2011 event.

The creative solution carries the added benefits of bringing awareness to the historic site, and funding for the breadth of projects lead by the volunteer run non-profit. From their One Stone at a Time preservation program in partnership with Metro, printing of tree maps which are donated to local schools, the acquisition of headstones for local figures, to occasional free events.

The tour is “a chance to learn about Portland history through a place that is relatively undiscovered by a lot of residents,” said Lupine DeSnyder, Metro volunteer coordinator for parks and cemeteries. “It’s a chance to do something different on Halloween – to see a side of Portland that is unique, and pretty informative because it’s a lot of Portland’s founders.”

In its first seven years the tour grew to become a Portland tradition. Attendance jumped from 200 in its first year to 2,000 in 2010. The event takes months of preparation, however, putting many important restoration projects that it is meant to support on the back burner.

After a two-year hiatus freeing up the Friends of Lone Fir to focus on major restoration projects, including efforts towards restoring 20 headstones damaged by vandals in June 2013, the event is back and ghoulish as ever. With haunting music provided by Sacred Harp, owls to visit from the Audubon Society, and, for the first time, special event T-shirts will be available for purchase.

While it’s too late to volunteer to be part of the Tour of Untimely Departures this year, the Friends are accepting jack-o-lantern donations delivered to the front gate until 4 p.m. Halloween day.

In addition to the 100 volunteers working on the tour, the Friends need volunteer support throughout the year. Find out more about headstone cleaning workshops and other volunteer opportunities on their website.

If you can’t make the Tour of Untimely Departures but are interested in learning about the historic place, check out one of their regular tours on the second Saturday of every month.

The Tour of Untimely Departures takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. on Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31. Presale tickets are sold out but walk-in tickets will be available that night.

Visit Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery

Original feature appeared at Metro News.
Photo credit: Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery. Edited by Jennifer Park.