In 2004, Portland Abandoned Plans to Develop an Old Graveyard After Learning People Were Still Buried There

The exciting conclusion of…Has a cemetery ever been sold to a developer?

(Austin Kowitz)

This week's action—or lack thereof—takes place in Lone Fir Cemetery, which you may recall from the days when you could still afford to live in close-in Southeast Portland.

Beginning in the 1890s, the southwest corner of Lone Fir (formal designation: "Block 14") was reserved for Chinese immigrants. This area became known as the Old Chinese Burial Ground, allowing future historians to practice the delicate skill of writing about obviously racist shit without sounding racist.

The Chinese dead were supposed to be interred only temporarily, and indeed, most were subsequently dug up and shipped back to their homeland for final burial. But, as always, some of the dead failed to get the memo.

In 1948, the county decided to convert Block 14 into a maintenance lot for county vehicles. In fairness, it first excavated the site and repatriated all the bodies it could find—265 of them, as it turned out.

Assuming all was now well, county workers graveled over the lot, erected a nondescript building, and began using the space to alphabetize their snowplows or whatever.

Fast forward to 2004. Multnomah County officials, observing the white-hot real estate market, decide now's the time to sell this juicy piece of land to developers.

This plan sparked outrage among Lone Fir's dead, or at least among their supporters. Some of the latter commissioned an archaeological study of the site, which confirmed that at least two of the Chinese departed never actually departed.

Worse, further study indicated at least 50 deceased mental patients from James Hawthorne's Oregon Hospital for the Insane were buried on the eastern edge of the property.

Given all this, plans to sell were abandoned, and a memorial Heritage Garden is now planned for the site.

And that, kids, is how Portland missed its best chance for a true Poltergeist scenario—although I would remind the undead that if you're really thirsty for blood, it's just a short shamble across Southeast Morrison Street to the luxury apartments of Belmont 21.

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