Founded in 1890, the Kirkland Cemetery is part of the City of Kirkland’s park system and Kirkland author Matt McCauley, the cemetery’s unofficial historian, says that the Victorian vision of cemeteries was consistent with designating them parks:
“Kirkland was to have been a steel manufacturing company-owned town. The cemetery was part of the original 1888 Kirkland townsite planned by Peter Kirk and S.J. “Leigh” Hunt’s Kirkland Land and Improvement Company. It was to be located well outside of town, about a mile and a half from the planned central business district at 7th Avenue and Market Street and about a half mile south of the mill complex near Forbes Lake. It was designed as a garden-style cemetery, laid out in a square, subdivided into four quadrants, further divided into blocks—separated by smaller roads and alleys just wide enough to accommodate a horse-drawn hearse–20 by 20-foot lots, each containing eight five by ten-foot graves. In the center was a circle, intended for a statue or fountain. Combined with this layout was a mixture of trees, flowers and benches to give it a park-like atmosphere. In this era before public parks were common, people would use the cemetery as not only a place of silent reflection, meditation and to pay respects to dead family and friends, but for picnics, walks and similar activities”.
For several years now McCauley has led annual historic tours of the cemetery. He said that for various reasons a number of historically significant early kirklanders were interred in the cemetery without grave markers.
“About six or seven years ago KHS’s Loita Hawkinson discovered that Louis “Louie” Todd, a prominent feed store owner murdered in 1931, did not have a marker. She suggested we correct that. Over the years we discovered to our surprise that several others were also unmarked. People started donating money during tours and we have created a small committee through KHS to raise additional funds to get these people proper markers. We have a list of five people so far and we should be able to mark several before the end of 2017”.
McCauley will speak on Wednesday evening about the history of the cemetery and of the colorful individuals for whom KHS will be providing grave markers. In addition to Louie Todd, McCauley said one of unmarked graves belongs to Mrs. Bessie Wittenmyer. She and her husband, George Wittenmyer, Jr., grew up locally, him on Totem Lake, then called Lake Wittenmyer, and he eventually rose through the ranks of King County government until he was elected King County Treasurer.
Wittenmyer lived a double life. He and Bessie were pillars of the Kirkland community in Kirkland, but a ferry ride across the lake in Seattle he was well-known for frequenting nightclubs, often in the company of women half his age, and spending freely on them and his friends while out partying. He disappeared in 1934 and with him over $31,816.79 from the King County treasury! George was never seen again, but Bessie was left holding the bag: liability for his considerable debts. Impoverished and humiliated, she lived out the remaining decade or so of her life in Kirkland and in death was interred unmarked in a plot purchased before her husband’s flight that had somehow escaped her creditors.
“Given all this poor woman endured through no fault of her own we just knew we had to do something for her”, McCauley said.
His talk at the Kirkland Heritage Society is at 7pm and is free/by donation and the public is welcomed. Heritage Hall is located at 203 Market Street.
Kirkland Heritage Society