Mount Pleasant Cemetery sits on the northern side of Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill. Since its opening in 1879, the graveyard has been the resting place for the victims of some of Washington’s most infamous tragedies.
There, a mass grave holds the remains of the unidentified victims from the 1906 sinking of the S.S. Valencia. The ship foundered in foul weather in the Strait of Juan de Fuca while traveling with 173 passengers from San Francisco to Victoria and Seattle.
Unable to make it to safety, the ship was battered by high winds and crashing waves. Would-be rescuers who could not reach the ship watched as the passengers drowned, succumbed to hypothermia, or were crushed as the vessel broke apart over a 36-hour period.
Only 37 men survived and every woman and child onboard died. Of the 136 dead, only 33 bodies were ever recovered. Twenty-six of the corpses remained unidentified and were buried together in the mass grave at Mount Pleasant.
The graveyard also holds the victims of a different transportation disaster that struck just four years after the Valencia sank. In 1910, a train making its way to Seattle became stranded in a blizzard. A lighting strike then triggered an avalanche on the slopes above the train, causing a cascade of snow to tumble down the mountain and take with it two train cars and the lives of 96 passengers. Mount Pleasant holds the remains of 18 of those lost souls, including six train employees who were never identified.
Sadly, these two catastrophes aren’t the only unfortunate events linked to the cemetery. During the early days of World War I, yet another tragedy befell Washington’s working class citizens. While trying to unionize dock workers, five Industrial Workers of the World members (known commonly as Wobblies) were gunned down by city officials in Everett, Washington in an event that became known as the Everett Massacre. The Wobblies were buried together during a ceremony at Mount Pleasant shortly after the violent incident.
Another Wobblie named Joe Hill, who was executed for murder in Utah and later cremated, had his ashes spread among 47 states (his remark that he wouldn’t be caught dead in Utah was apparently honored, and Alaska and Hawaii weren’t yet a part of the Union). During a ceremony on May Day 1917, his ashes were spread on the grave marking the victims of the Everett Massacre.