Santa Cruz County History - Disasters & Calamities



Voices of the Heart: Memorial Poems
by Phil Reader

The following collection of "verse" appeared in the local press during the Diphtheria epidemic of the late 1870s. They were abstracted from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Santa Cruz Courier-Item , the Santa Cruz Local Item , and the Watsonville Pajaronian. Those were the only journals which were being published in the county at the time and it is obvious that the different editors were eager to reproduce these efforts. The various editorial staffs at these publications understood full well the personal importance of the works being forwarded to them, this is especially true in the case of Duncan McPherson at the Sentinel, who had lost a son to the scourge.

These poems, pseudo-poems, and memorials, usually appended to a death notice in the newspaper, were the literary manifestations of deeply felt sorrow. They are glibly written, reeking with pathos and religious imagery, and, in many cases, largely devoid of any literary form. But style was never the important factor to the authors of this doggerel, it was the emotional content. An attempt to reach out, share the sorrow, and perhaps find some latent meaning in the death of a child. This reason alone does indeed make them worthy of study.

In all cases, the original spelling, punctuation, and structure have been faithfully reproduced.

For Addie Mehwalt, Age 2 gears, 7 months

Alex and Mary Mehwalt, a young Santa Cruz couple, were so devastated by the death of their daughter that they found it necessary to move away from the area to contain their grief. They left behind one of the most beautiful poems in this collection.

"Oh, sweet be thy sleep in the land of the dead;
For our dear little angel we sorrow.
The spring shall return to thy low, narrow bed,
Like the beam of the day-star tomorrow.

Oh, still we behold thee, lovely in death,
Reclined on the lap of they mother;
When the tears trickled bright, the short, stifled breath
Told how dear you were to each other.

My child, you are gone to the hole of thy rest,
Where suffering no longer can harm you;
Where the songs of the good, the hymns of the blest,
Through an endless existence shall charm you."

For Moses Meder Hoyt, Age 7 years, 7 months

Written for Moses Meder Hoyt Jr. the only son of a Davenport businessman and grandson of Santa Cruz pioneer Moses Meder.

"We miss him for the good that he has wrought us,
And for the good that yet remained in store.
We miss him for the lessons that he has taught us,
We miss his presence, yet we mourn him more."

For Amy Bennett, Age 11 years, 8 months

Mansell V. Bennett, son of the much-fabled "Widow" Bennett, and his life Mary were working at their mill in the Santa Cruz mountains when their oldest daughter died of Diphtheria. The loving parents interrupted their mourning long enough to compose this short poem.

"Let the dead and the beautiful rest,
Make her grave 'neath the willow by the stream,
Where wind-harps will whisper o'er the blest,
Like the song of some angel in our dream."

For Mattie Lorenzen, 7 years, 8 months

German immigrants, Lorenz and Maria Lorenzen kept a small hotel on Main Street in Watsonville and were quite active is school and community affairs. During the plague, they lost one of their four daughters.

"In the Memory of Mattie"
"One sweet flower had drooped and faded,
One sweet youthful voice has fled,
One fair brow the grave has shaded,
Our dear loved one now is dead.

She has gone to Heaven before us,
But she turns and waves her hand,
Pointing to the glories o'er us,
In that happy spirit land."

For Elizabeth Jane Comstock, Age 14 years, 1 month

Civil War veteran Harvey Comstock and his wife Alta came west to California following his enlistment in the Union Army. They were the parents of four children, all of whom would die before reaching adulthood. One child, a daughter, died of Diphtheria in 1876 and the others during an outbreak of influenza ten years later. The Comstocks sent these poems to the Sentinel along with the announcement of their daughter's death.

"Blossomed in higher life!'.
This is what the spirit said,
Then she read upon the page
That 'The damsel lieth dead.'

Death is not in the Summer land;
Think of this, oh, mother dear,
And although, we miss the form
Know I still am with you here,

In and out, I come and go,
Standing often by your side;
Darling mother, grieve not so
For I have not really died,

More alive then e're before,
Able more to help and bless,
I still hear your tearful words,
You must feel my fond caress.

All the promise you saw
In my budding womanhood,
Summer land will quite fulfill;
Mother, God is truly good."

"Weep no more the damsel lives,
And her heart is pained with tears;
Home shall brighten as before
By her help in coming years."

Death Notice for the Santa Cruz Sentinel

COMSTOCK - In Santa Cruz, June 13th, 1876. Jennie E, the only Daughter of L. H. and H. A. Comstock, aged 14 years, 1 month, and 11 days.

"A few days ago the subject of the above notice, was the life and light of a happy home. Every day, all day long, she was the sweet source of joy to her parents, and the solace of their lives. Everything sterling in character and a amiable in disposition, was exhibited in her actions, and shone with a steady lustre in her deportment. Those who knew her the best will grieve that the King of Terrors should have culled so fair a blossom from life's garden. When the aged tree whose branches are torn, and whose roots are loosened by the storms of time is stricken to the earth, we may remember sorrowfully the days when it gave us shelter, but we cannot deeply mourn so natural an went. But, when the fair young sapling just springing into buoyant, graceful, and exuberant vigor, is blasted by the frost, we bow our heads in sorrow and mourn for what "might have been." So must we mourn the untimely departure of the fair flower that has so suddenly been transplanted to the upper garden. The friends of the bereaved household will deeply deplore the irreparable loss it has suffered. Slight indeed, in the acute moments, will be the consolation derived from such condolences. May the afflicted ones gather strength from the same arm that struck the blow, and glean hope from the reflection that in a few short summers they may again clasp the sweet flower thus hastily removed from their loving grasp.

For Ella Louisa Gray, Age 5 months, 10 days

From her home in Santa Cruz, Emma Gray wrote this poem to the memory of her infant daughter, Ella, who died on November 3, 1877.

"Vainly will thy mother seek thee,
Vacant is thy cradle bed:
Lovely Ella, in the cold grave
Low is laid thy little head."

For Harry F. Whinery, (Age 5 years, 9 months) and Martha Whinery (Age 7 years, 5 months)

Henry Whinery, who drove the stage coach between San Jose and Santa Cruz, saw two of his children die of Diphtheria on December 6, 1876. He and his wife Amelia included this poem with their obituaries.

"Quiet the little feet that trod
So merrily the floor
The little hands that clasped my neck
Will clasp my neck no more.
Ah! Children mine and yet not mine
For a few years were given
And then recalled to draw my heart,
Nearer to God and Heaven."

For Alexander McPherson, Age 5 years, 11 months

The families of Duncan McPherson, longtime editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel , and his wife Amelia Hinds were struck hard by the Diphtheria scourge. The McPhersons lost their eldest son, while Amelia's brother Alfred, saw his entire brood of four little ones, two boys and two girls, carried away by the disease. In his grief, McPherson published this long poem for his beloved son.

"The air is full of farewell for the dying,
and mourning for the dead;
The heart of Rachel, for her children crying,
Will not be comforted.

Let us be patient! These severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise,
But often times celestial Benedictions
Assist this dark disguise.

We see but dimly through mists and vapors,
Amid these earthly damps;
What seems to us but sad funerals tapers
May be Heaven's distant lamps.

There is no death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of life erysiar,
Whose portal is called death.

He is not dead - the child of our affections,
But gone into the school
Where he no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.

In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
He lives, whom we call dead."

For Edward M. Reed, Age 12 years, 11 months

On February 18, 1876, the WATSONVILLE PAJARONIAN carried this poem, written for young Edward Reed, who had died five days earlier.

"Sleeping, only sleeping,
Free from care and pain;
Let us cease our weeping,
He will rise again.

Sleeping, sweetly sleeping,
In his mossy bed.
While the flower are blooming,
Where we gently tread."

For Lena Heath, Age 10 years, 6 months

Lucien and Julia Heath, owners of a Hardware Store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, published this poem following the death of their daughter, Lena on July 19, 1876.

"Early, bright, transient,
Chaste as the morning dew,
She sparkled, was exhaled,
And went to heaven.

None knew her but to love;
None named her but to praise
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower in all the fold."

For George Charles Haun, Age 3 months, 15 days

The tiny village of Corralitos suffered greatly during the Diphtheria epidemic, witnessing the death of a large number of it's children. George Haun, an employee at the paper mill, lost his infant son and name sake George Jr., after previously burying two small daughters, Franka and Hattie.

"Child of the spheres invisible beyond,
Thy image fair we hold within our hearts.

Darling, our souls go out in love for thee.
Sweet flower, unfolding in that higher birth.

But thou are gone in all thy babyhood's grave,
To bloom in the beautiful summer lands.

A gentle star beam stole o'er our path.
We see no more for thy dear presence here.

Bright star that faded from our mortal sight,
Until the morning of thy life had fled.

We lift the vail that hides the golden strand,
And let us view our Franka, Hattie, and babe so dear."

For Cora J. Longley ( Age 3 years, 2 months), Alonzo Warren Longley ( Age 4 years, 8 months), and Luella C. Longley (Age 3 years, 2 months)

In the fall of 1876, Diphtheria struck hard claiming dozens of tiny victims including three children of Otis and Matilda (Hecox) Longley. With the passing of each casket they penned a short verse of remembrance.

For Cora J. Longley.
"A lovely bud, so soft and fair,
Called hence by early doom;
Just sent to show how sweet a flower
In paradise could bloom."

For Alonzo Warren Longley
"Oh, Mother! Tell my sister dear
And brother too;
While living on that lower sphere
Yet ever keep Heaven in view.
And tell my father that his son,
Heir to all heavenly joys,
Will meet him when his race is run,
In his home beyond the skies.

The birds sing sweetly round my grave,
Sweetly they sing to thee.
Sweet-scented flowers there you leave,
With bitter tears for me.
'tis but my body 'neath the sod,
I've reached a better haven.
My precious soul has gone to God.
Mother! My home is in Heaven."

For Luella C. Longley
"Thus have the angels gathered
Another fair flower home
Through the casket so loved has faded,
The jewel to Heaven has flown.

Gone, ere her soul had learned
The weight of years of sin,
With truer, tenderer love than ours,
God called thee home to him."

For May Isabella Miller, Age 1 year, 10 months

Cephas Miller, a gold rush pioneer from Canada, and his wife Mary Longley were living at the Grover's Mill lumber camp when Diphtheria took their daughter Isabella. In her memory, Mary authored the following poem.

"Open wide the golden gate
That leads to the shining shore,
Our lassie has suffered in passing through
But her troubles now are o're.

Weep not for me my parents dear
because I died so young.
The fewer years, the fewer sins,
God's will it must be done."

For Roselia Boomer

George Boomer, the former city marshal of Santa Cruz, and wife Barbara were another couple who left town in sorrow following the death of a child during the epidemic. Before departing, they left this poem at the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

"Sweet angel! Babe,
Thou wert not long given,
Here on earth to dwell,
But called from earth to Heaven;
It's well, It's well, It's well.

There safely moored,
A11 dangers o'er.
My little barge shall stand,
There sorrow shall cross
My Rosie's path no more,
In that thrice happy land.

Adieu, dear lamb,
Till next we meet,
Round God's dear throne above
We will cast our crown,
Beneath his feet,
And praise our Savior's love."

For Kate Handley (Age 7 years, 5 months), Mary Agnes Handley (Age 5 years, 7 months), Lizzie Handley (Age 3 years, 7 months), and John Bernard Handley (Age 1 year, 3 months)

Thomas and Kate Handley, impoverished immigrants from Ireland, lost four children to Diphtheria during the early months of 1877. The bereaved parents composed memorial poems to their little ones.

For Kate Handley.
"Dearest Katie, thou hath now left us,
And thy loss we deeply feel;
But t'is God who hath bereft us;
He can all our sorrows heal.

Open wide the silvery gates,
That lead to the heavenly shore;
Our dear Katie suffered in passing through,
But her sufferings now are o'er."

For Mary Agnes Handley
"Dear Agnes, Thou were not formed for living here,
For thou were kindred for the sky;
Yet we held thee all so dear,
We though thou wert not formed to die.

For Lizzie Handley
Sweet Lizzie was but as a smile
Which glistened into a tear,
Seen but a little while
But, oh, How loved, how dear.

For John Bernard Handley
To us for sixteen anxious months,
Little Bernard's infant smile was given,
And then he bade farewell to earth,
And went to live in Heaven.

For Dock Franklyn Cole (Age 1 year, 7 months) and Edwin Monroe Cole (Age 7 years, 1 month)

James H. Cole, a Santa Cruz teamster, and his wife Survina lost two children to Diphtheria during the summer of 1877. For each child they wrote a small poem.

For Dock Franklyn Cole
"Weep not for those whom the will of the tomb
In life's happy morning hath hid from our eyes.
Ere sin throw a blight on the spirit's young bloom,
Or earth had prepared what was born of the skies."

For Edwin Monroe Cole
"We'll miss our Eddie when we gather
Around our blazing hearth at night
With pleasant talk of years to come
Those years our fancies frame,
Ah, he had a home that bears another name."

For Hannah Josephine Butler, Age 4 years, 3 months

Joseph and Hannah Butler, a Santa Cruz farm couple, had one daughter, whom they named after themselves, calling her Hannah Josephine Butler. She died March 3, 1877.

"She is not dead, this child of our affection,
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection
And Christ himself, doth rule."

For Joseph Silvester Turner, Age 8 months, 2 days

John and Annie Turner were among the countless number of Irish immigrants who fled their homeland to escape the great famine of the 1840s. They made their way to Santa Cruz where they took up farming at Blackburn Gulch. They lost a son to Diphtheria in 1876.

"Our Babe"

"Ah! little bud, to pure to grow
In such a world as this.
He is gone, gone to bloom
Beyond the tomb,
Where all is beauty, all is bliss.

Sweet babe, tranquil be thy rest -
Our early loved and early lost,
Submit our heart; 'tis god's behest."

For George Maxwell, Age 9 years

John and Ella Maxwell of Watsonville watched helplessly as their son George died of Diphtheria during the late summer of 1877. The anguished mother took leave of her beloved son in the following fashion.

"Mother's darling boy has gone to rest. Oh, what a wealth of comfort in those bright lustrous eyes. He cannot speak, He cannot cheer with gentle words my listening ears; oh, Georgie, I must bid farewell."

"It is hard to give you up
But we must drink the bitter cup
For our Lord has willed it so."
M.C.M.

For Harry Ambrose, Age 7 years, 6 months

On August 4, 1877, the following death notice appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

"FRASER - In Felton, July 1, Harry Ambrose, the oldest child of Angus and Carrie Fraser, aged 7 years, 6 months, and 2 days."

Appended to the notice was a paragraph obviously authored by the aggrieved parents.

"Our dear little Harry was taken sick with Diphtheria on the 20th of June. On the Sunday night following, he sank very low, and about four o'clock on the following morning he said, "Papa, I think I will die." His papa replied, "Harry, I think you will," and then asked him if there was any one he wished to see. He replied "Edie," his little sister. His papa then asked him if he had any little to say before he died. He said, "Yes," and then repeated his morning prayer. He then said, "Mamma, which is the best place - Heaven or Earth?" to which she replied, "Heaven, for good little boys." He seemed pleased and dropped off to sleep - Alas! the sleep of death. During the week our hopes for him were revived at times. On July 1st came the final struggle, and after a few hours of suffering he died at 6 o'clock P.M."

>>Continue with: Voices of the Heart: Cora E. Drew

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Published by Cliffside Publishing, 1993. Copyright 1993 Phil Reader. Text and photographs reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader.

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