Cemeteries hold a fascination for me. Not because they are spooky, but because they embody many historical moments. The details of each stone, each chiseled name and inscription tell a story about the person and the times. While the passing years have erased many of those stories, cemeteries hold clues to the lives that came before.
Knowing that, it should be no surprise that I attended the Sunnyside Cemetery Heritage Tour in the small town of Coupeville, WA. I expected the cemetery tour to focus heavily on Coupeville’s earliest settlers, but it also went into the history of cemeteries and the Rural Cemetery Movement.
Sunnyside Cemetery is in a stunning location. It overlooks Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve with views of expanses of prairie that lead to the deep blue waters of Admiralty Inlet and beyond the humpbacked Olympic Mountains.
Coupeville Quick Facts
- Coupeville is Washington State’s second oldest town and named after a Captain Thomas Coupe who settled the area in the 1850s.
- Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve is named Issac Ebey.
- Sunnyside Cemetery dates back to 1868.
Sunnyside Cemetery Heritage Tour
Island County Historical Museum has tours twice a year: one on Memorial Day and one on Labor Day. As I drove from Anacortes to Coupeville, I worried I would be the only one to show up since it was a holiday (Labor Day). But, I had nothing to worry about. When I pulled in, there were already a handful of cars there, and many of them had two or more people. By the time the tour started, there were around 40 people in attendance.
Tour Cost: $8 (Approx. 1.5 hours long)
Sunnyside Cemetery Heritage Tour Guide
I knew it was a good sign when our guide Theresa Trebon told us she was a Tribal Archivist, author of Sunnyside Cemetery: The History of a Pioneer Burying Ground , and spent time researching burial practices and visiting cemeteries.
Note: The tour doesn’t always have the same tour guide.
Sunnyside Cemetery Heritage Tour Highlights
- Learning about Coupeville’s earliest settlers and the Ebey family.
- Raiding Native Alaskans had come to Ebey’s Landing to murder Doctor John Kellog, also known as the Canoe Doctor, but he was out on a call. So instead,they killed and beheaded Issac Ebey. In the 1860s, his scalp was retrieved, and for awhile it remained in the hands of family members. Since 1914, its whereabouts are unknown.
- Learning about how Sunnyside Pioneer Cemetery started.
- In 1865, the random gravesites around Coupeville were becoming a problem. In 1869, the county asked Mary Bozarth, if she would donate a portion of her land for a public graveyard. She sold one and a quarter acre plot to Island County for $1.00. The cemetery’s first name was the “County Grave Yard on the Hill.”
- Learning about the Rural Cemetery Movement.
- The Rural Cemetery Movement happened in response to the overcrowding of cities and church burial grounds. The first rural cemetery was Paris’s Père Lachaise in 1804. Rural cemeteries are more parklike with natural landscapes and tranquil spaces. In 1831, Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery became America’s first rural cemetery.
- Learning about symbols on the gravestones.
- If a gravestone has a fraternity symbol on it, like the Masonic symbol, it means they helped with the burial costs, and raising funds to support widows and children.
- Learning about the history of cemeteries.
- The type of gravestone is an indicator of the era. Ex. During the Victorian Era, gravestones were full of symbology and very decorative.
If you can’t attend a cemetery tour I would still go.
Other points of interest at the Sunnyside Pioneer Cemetery:
- The Davis blockhouse, which is a single cabin fort-like structure. This style of home was used to keep the occupants safe from hostile attacks.
- Alternate trailhead to Ebey’s Landing Bluff Trail, which passes another blockhouse.
Links to other Coupeville psts:
- Airbnb on the beach
- Knead and Feed – the best breakfast in Coupeville
- Fort Casey Historical State Park and Fort Casey Inn
- The Oystercatcher – My favorite restaurant in Coupeville
- SUVA – Coupeville’s heritage vessel
- Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival