Even if the freeway didn't lour over it the neighborhood, what there is of it, is insalubrious; a cheerless waste of mid-century industrial erections characterized principally by a complete lack of anything resembling elegance, grace or dignity. The Slough, which meanders along the north edge of the Columbian Cemetery, is infilled wetland as foetid sump, known throughout the greater Portland basin for its toxicity, sediment laced with heavy metals and trash-choked bywaters.
But for all of this, there is a certain mournful peace about the old burying ground.
The plot as just a part of a donation land claim filed by one "Captain" Lewis Love, pioneer, farmer, logger and eventual timber baron and merchant. A New Yorker who crossed the continent in 1849 with his wife of 13 years (who we know from his mouth only as "Mrs. Love" - the captain's autobiography mentions only that the worthy's maiden name was Griffith. I see from the cemetery register that he is buried next to an Alice R, who is probably the doughty missus.) and, presumably, children to hack out a homestead on the lowlands of the Columbia South Shore.
Homesteading the swampy flats south of the Columbia wasn't a game for weaklings. Here's the captain telling his granddaughter Harriet about the rich bounty of the Columbia Valley:
"In the spring I moved in a little log house joining my farm on Columbia Slough and soon after we all took the Mountain or Camp Fever, and also ran out of provisions, yet we had good friends. The year before we moved there, there was a good crop of potatoes raised on the place, and that year there was a few volunteer potatoes came up. Our friends, the wood rats, would dig them up and bring them in a pile them up in the log cabin and we would steal them from the rats and make our soup of them. This was our living for some time. We had no doctor only from the Hudson Bay Co. and he charged $50.00 per trip besides his ferriage which brought his bill to $52.00. Between him and the wood rats we weathered it through."
Tough? You could say so.
Some time during the family's stay on the flats north of what would be Kenton they buried one or more of their own there. Neighbors and friends were probably interred along with them, and eventually the site became a public burial place in 1857.
Today roughly whatever remains of about 5,000 souls are entombed there. The grass is rank and the trees are rough because there is little money to pay for the mowing or trimming of them. Many of the older headstones are illegible, some have fallen, and most have the sort of lonely, dejected look of an object no longer cared for by the living.But the old Long burying ground is, in its way, a part of the living North Portland, part of the soil which my own children spring, Cadmus-like, and, as such, has its own sort of sad, orphaned dignity.