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Portland Spirits Inspire Musicians On Lone Fir Cemetery CD

On Halloween, the spirits walk in Oregon. But there are places where some say the dead speak every day of the year. Portland’s historic Lone Fir Cemetery has inspired a new musical project that brings the Dearly Departed to life. April Baer reports.

Mary Miller is chair of the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery.  As she walks through here, crunching  drifts of yellow leaves, she never feels quite alone.

 Lone Fir
 Watch an audio slideshow tour of Lone Fir Cemetery

Mary Miller: “This is the safest place in the world to me, and very peaceful, but one thing I’ve noticed is I feel like sometimes people want to be found, and some people want their stories told.”

Miller is an unofficial champion to the thousands of Portlanders who lie buried here. This month, that  close connection has blossomed into a CD of songs, written in the voices of the departed. 

Mary Miller: “What we did was identified a lot of um — so-called untimely departures that might make for inspiration.”

A slate of Portland musicians then interpreted those stories in song.

“Charity, Charidum / was a lady alone / and she lived on Asylum Road….”

Cabaret diva Storm Large found her natural subject in Oregon’s first convicted axe murderess, Charity Lamb.

Storm Large: “I love the idea of paying homage to someone who never really got a fair shake, someone who was kind of voiceless, yet had an amazing story.”

She tapped into Lamb’s identity as an abused wife who snapped.

“…I’m damned if I’ll suffer / Another long summer / Alone with no lover/ And your brutal hands….”

Charity Lamb is just one of thousands buried at Lone Fir. The CD reflects that diversity, with songs for pioneers, poets and policemen, Chinese immigrants, even a French courtesan.

Many songs are sentimental and spooky. Others show a more unrepentant side off the dead.

“Plastic flowers on my grave / And I won't be saved / Passing strangers passing time / While I recline / Do you think your tears can make amends? / Well, that depends on you, I guess. /  'Cause I'm gone / Yeah, I'm gone…."

 lone fir
 Watch an audio slideshow tour of Lone Fir Cemetery

Musicians who worked on the project clearly relished using imagination to fill out Portland history.

Performance artist Holcombe Waller wrote about two men buried at Lone Fir, Dr. John Wells and William Evans.

Holcombe Waller: “There wasn’t a lot of information on them, it’s two guys who came out west together in  the late 1800s. One of them, a lawyer succumbed to typhoid and pneumonia. His friend who was a doctor tended to his care. When the lawyer died, the doctor actually died shortly thereafter from the same illness, and they were buried side by side.”

Holcombe Waller: “Death to me isn’t gloomy or creepy. It is the beautiful endpoint of living. Since within mortality, we find most all of our high spiritual missions and ideals, I thought that a song about these men dying would be best presented sort of as an ascendant celebration, really.”

Holcombe Waller and fourteen other artists are featured on the new compilation, Dearly Departed: True Lies in Song, Unearthed at Lone Fir.  If you’re in Portland Halloween night, you can hear more about their untimely departures, at Lone Fir’s annual Halloween tour.


Lone Fir tour info

Dearly Departed CD info