Odd Fellows Cemetery

Visitors gather under the new archway at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Half Moon Bay back in 2014. Review file photo

Beyond a white picket fence lies a peaceful space that time has forgotten. It is a place where both the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, rest peacefully together while the rest of the world spins on into the future.

Nestled on just three acres and tucked away alongside Highway 92, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery sits quietly near the entrance to Half Moon Bay.

Established in 1875, the graveyard served as the final resting place for non-Catholics as well as suicide victims, indigents, and sailors who had washed ashore.

The cemetery is also where many prominent Half Moon Bay historical figures sleep. Blacksmith and inventor of the sidehill plow Robert Israel Knapp is buried here as are James, William, John and Thomas Johnston. The brothers, whose family name is stamped across significant local historical sites, all rest in peace in several large family plots.

The last burial recorded was in 1994. The decline in local burials was due to the establishment of Skylawn Memorial Park in 1959. In 1993, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery was sold to the Half Moon Bay Historical Foundation for $1 with the expectation that the foundation would maintain the cemetery as a historical site. The parcel changed hands one again in 2000 when Eddie Andreini acquired the land. Andreini agreed to record the cemetery with the California Historical Resources Information System as an archaeological site.

As part of the process, Andreini hired Dr. Laura Jones who works as the university archeologist at Stanford University.

“As an archeologist, I manage Stanford’s archeological sites,” said Jones. “Occasionally I take a project just to learn a little bit more about the history of the area that’s not Stanford-specific.

“I was hired to record the cemetery with the state of California as a historic site, and I did that,” she continued. “I became fascinated with the process of trying to figure out who is buried there. I went through multiple archival sources, none of them complete.”

As she conducted her research, Jones became enthralled by the personal stories attached to some of the cemetery’s occupants.

“I was curious about diversity in Half Moon Bay. The Odd Fellows buried Chinese people, at least one African American, and an Alaskan native,” said Jones. “There are a lot of children, which is common in the 19th century. There’s a family in there who buried five children.

“You really start to get a feeling for the individual stories,” she continued. “There was an explosion at the blacksmith shop. There were hobos found in the woods. All of that human tragedy is in those stories in addition to some really important pioneers in Half Moon Bay. There are people that history has forgotten.”

Jones concluded that there are over 400 people buried in the cemetery, while there are only about 160 remaining headstones. In order to reach this conclusion, Jones consulted funeral home records that were kept by the Francis and Dutra Funeral Home.

“There’s a map of the cemetery that Andreini got from the funeral home that’s dated 1940,” Jones said. “There is a ledger at the Odd Fellows lodge that talks about grave plots they sold between 1875 and 1927. I also looked at newspaper obituaries, most of them I looked at online.

“What’s interesting about the cemetery, one of the things, is the connection to the Odd Fellows in Half Moon Bay. The Odd Fellows are a very old social organization in the U.S. Founded in 1819,” she continued.

“The Odd Fellows are a hybrid in that they are a fraternal organization with rituals and initiation sequences. What’s different about them is that they were also a social service organization. The group’s missions are to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan, ” said Jones.

According to Jones’ historical documentation report titled “Friendship, Love, and Truth: The IOOF Cemetery in Half Moon Bay,” the Odd Fellows are credited with being the first national insurance provider in the United States.

“Originally, it was an insurance system. They offered funerals as a service to their members,” said Jones. “They also buried indigents as a charitable service. There are over 800 Odd Fellow cemeteries in the U.S. It was really important in the westward expansion because you could take your benefit with you. This was very important in the 19th century as people moved west.

“The people buried there are sleeping peacefully as long as the community of Half Moon Bay continues to carry on understanding who these people were and why they need protection,” she continued. “An abandoned cemetery just looks like real estate to some people, which is why the town and Mr. Andreini asked me to record it with the state of California as a historical site.”

Jones will be discussing her findings during the next Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows Speaker Series event. Her talk, “Discoveries and Unsolved Mysteries at the IOOF Cemetery, Half Moon Bay,” is scheduled for 7- 8:30 p.m. on April 11 at the Odd Fellows Oceanview Lodge, 526 Main St. in Half Moon Bay. An Odd Fellows Cemetery cleanup day is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 14 at the Odd Fellows Cemetery on Highway 92. For more information on either event, visit hmb-odd.org.

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