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John Muir's Gravesite


"Birds, insects, bears die as cleanly and are disposed of as beautifully as flies. The woods are full of dead and dying trees, yet needed for their beauty to complete the beauty of the living. . . . How beautiful is all Death!" -- John Muir

John Muir Burial Site

John Muir's burial site is in a quiet, tree-shaded spot near the banks of Alhambra Creek, about one mile south of the Muir homestead and the National Historic Site visitor center. For many years privately owned by the Muir-Strentzel family, this 1.27 acre site is now part of the John Muir National Historic Site, managed by the U.S. National Park Service.

John Muir, the champion of wilderness, died on Christmas Eve 1914 in California Hospital, Los Angeles. He had been visiting his daughter Helen and her family in Daggett (near Barstow), California, when his cold developed into pneumonia. John Muir was buried here beside his wife, Louie Strentzel Muir, on Sunday, December 27, 1914 (as reported in San Francisco Chronicle). Over 100 members of the Sierra Club went to Muir's burial from San Francisco and bay cities in a special train. Muir's close friend and Sierra Club colleague William Frederic Badè, a professor of Semitic literature at the Pacific Theological Seminary, officiated, and gave an eulogy at services at the Muir house an hour before the internment, later published as "To Higher Sierras" in the Sierra Club Bulletin, John Muir Memorial Number, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January, 1916) and as the introduction to the Manuscript Edition of John Muir's Complete Writings.

Dr. John Strentzel (John Muir's father-in-law) and his wife Louisiana Strentzel chose this site as their final resting place. Dr. Strentzel planted the pear orchard, as well as the large manna gum eucalyptus, the California bay laurel, and the incense cedar in the southwest corner of the cemetery area. The actual enclosure for the cemetery is located at the back of the property next to the creek, nestled by trees. For many years, the ground cover in the enclosed part of the cemetery used to be covered with low-lying green creeping myrtle (aka "Periwinkle"), readily seen in older photographs. Family lore says that Mrs. Strentzel planted the myrtle, though the National Park Service considers it a non-significant and invasive non-native plant.

Enclosure of Gravesite at Muir-Strentzel cemetery

 

Headstones and Markers

John and Louie Muir's tombstones

 


John and Louie Muir's headstones are made of Black Academy Granite with Raymond Granite bases. Both display an ornate floral design believed to be the thistle, the national emblem of John Muir's Scottish homeland.

The cemetery plot is defined by a curb (cope) of Raymond Granite (now called "Sierra White") from the Raymond quarry near Knowles, California, The Strentzel monument and family headstones are also cut from the same granite.  

 

John Muir and Louie Muir headstones photo by Harold Wood


 

A Family Cemetery

Strentzel Headstone in Strentzel-Muir gravesiteThe largest monument in this family cemetery is a mutual monument for Muir's father-in-law and mother-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel and his wife Louisiana. John Strentzel died October 31, 1890, while Louisiana died September 24, 1887. The obelisk also has inscribed the name and their son, John Erwin.

Several additional small markers in the enclosure honor other deceased family members. Louie Strentzel Muir, (July 6, 1847 - August 6, 1905) John Muir's wife, had two siblings, both of whom passed on at an early age. Her sister Lottie died after only four months of life. Though this loss occurred in 1851, long before the Strentzel's came to the Alhambra Valley, the infant's body was most likely moved because a headstone at the site bears the name LOTTIE. Louie's other sibling, John Erwin Strentzel, died at the age of nine in 1857. Louie's uncle, Henry Christian Strentzel, was buried at the gravesite in 1865.

The last two people buried at the gravesite were Muir's oldest daughter Wanda Muir Hanna (in 1942) and her husband, Thomas Rae Hanna (in 1947). The flat-bottomed granite headstones for Tom and Wanda came from an old arrastra (a mill for grinding and pulverizing gold or silver ore) at Lundy, eastern Sierra, where the Hanna family had a small cabin.

Other relatives of John Muir are buried elsewhere. His brother David Muir, and his sisters Sarah Muir Galloway, and Margaret Muir Reid and her husband John are buried at the Martinez Cemetery (off-site link). Other of John's siblings are buried at various locations around the country, including Michigan, Oregon, and Wisconsin. His father Daniel Muir is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Ann Gilrye Muir, is buried at Silver Lake Cemetery, Portage, Wisconsin (off-site link). Muir's younger daughter Helen Lillian Funk Muir is buried next to her husband, Buel Alvin Funk at Bellevue Memorial Park, Ontario, San Bernardino County, California.

Pilgrimages to the Gravesite

Since Muir's death in 1914, many people have made pilgrimages to the gravesite to honor Muir and his contribution to the conservation movement. Historically large gatherings including members of the Muir family, the Sierra Club, local historians, and the John Muir Memorial Association, came to the gravesite to commemorate Muir. In the years immediately following Muir's death, these pilgrimages were annual. Typically held in the spring on or near John Muir's birthday, in one such ceremony, each pilgrim stepped forward to lay a rose upon John's grave.

Pilgrims included such people as William Colby, co-founder of the Sierra Club; David Brower, long-time Executive Director of the Sierra Club; and Linnie Marsh Wolfe, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of John Muir. Of course Muir family members have been frequent visitors over the years. Muir descendant Susan Flynn recalls, "I grew up about an acre away from the gravesite. My brothers, cousins, also Muir descendants, and I used to play there, climb the trees, and make rubbings off the tombstones. There used to be a pilgrimage on the anniversary of Muir's death with speakers, bagpipers, and quite a few people in attendance. I have pictures when I was a toddler with my grandmother, Wanda, under the big Eucalyptus tree. My mother, Sherry Hanna, took care of the gravesite after Joe (Jose) Figuerado died and often took people to see it. "

Muir commemorative event at gravesite circa 1935

Modern pilgrims have included Lee Stetson (right), who performs as John Muir in Yosemite, and Harold Wood, webmaster of this website, the John Muir Exhibit.

 

 


 

Professor Bill Swagerty from the University of the Pacific's John Muir Center, brought his students in 2004 for a visit, where they met John Muir's grandson, Ross Hanna, as shown here:

Bill Swagerty with John Muir grandson Ross Hanna at gravesite in 2004 (Photo courtesy of Bill Swagerty)

 

Management and Providing for Visitation

Through the efforts of a private land conservation group, the Strentzel-Muir gravesite parcel was added to the John Muir National Historic Site in 2000. Because the small parcel is surrounded by single-family residences to the north, west and south, and bounded by the creek to the southeast, visitation to the gravesite has been problematic for many years. Indeed, providing visitor use in a manner that respects surrounding landowners who live in close proximity to the gravesite, as well as the desires of the Muir family and the general public, has been a challenge.

The original John Muir National Historic Site was established in 1964 and was comprised of the Muir House, the Martinez Adobe, and their surrounding grounds. In 1980, the National Park Service conducted a study to assess the feasibility of adding the gravesite to John Muir National Historic Site, finding that the addition would in fact be feasible. At that time the 1.27 -acre parcel was owned by the Muir-Hanna Family Trust. In 1988, Congress passed legislation to add the Strentzel-Muir gravesite parcel to John Muir National Historic Site. Though the parcel remained in private ownership, in 1991 the National Park Service completed a General Management Plan for the entire National Historic Site that included a conceptual strategy for managing the gravesite parcel for when it will come into NPS ownership. In 1993, the American Land Conservancy purchased the property from the Muir-Hanna Family Trust with the intent of transferring it to the National Park Service when funds became available. The National Park Service purchased the gravesite property from the American Land Conservancy in 2000.

Between 2000 and 2017, planning was delayed as the NPS, neighbors, and the public all struggled with what the NPS termed "uncertainty regarding appropriate levels of visitor use and appropriate resource management strategies." During that time, the site was officially not considered "open" to the public; however "those in the know" could walk to the site, and the NPS provided occasional van shuttle to the site upon special request. Those who tried to drive to the site quickly found that there was not only no parking spaces available, but barely room to even turn around. The gravesite is difficult to find even when visitors have a map directing them to the site, because the gravesite is tucked away at the end of an obscure access-driveway, surrounded by shrubbery and fairly large single-family home parcels, has no directional sign age leading to it, and the NPS would not disclose the location to visitors. Neighbors have remarked that visitors attempt to drive and park along nearby lanes and driveways in search of the gravesite, sometimes asking residents for directions, and often trespassing on their private land. These problems have been a long source of conflict between people who would like to visit the site, and the residents adjacent to the property.

As of December 2017, finally a visitation plan is in place that addresses these problems.

John Muir NHS staff initiated planning for the Strentzel-Muir Gravesite Plan in spring 2013, and developed a range of 4 alternatives following a public alternatives development workshop in 2014.
In 2015, an Environmental Assessment was submitted for public review and then an amended Environmental Assessment came out in June of 2016, with a "preferred alternative" identified as "Alternative 4" in the plan.. A Finding of No Significant Impact was adopted in late September, 2017.

The final adopted alternative provides that pedestrians and bicyclists can access the site only during weekday hours, and no private vehicles will be allowed at any time, but NPS will provide daily shuttles from the Muir House to the gravesite both weekdays and weekends. The plan states: "The Selected Alternative will encourage a sense of reverence for Muir's life and legacy as the primary desired visitor experience at the gravesite, which will be ensured through the preservation of the historic landscape and through limiting group sizes and duration of stay. The NPS will actively manage visitor use at the gravesite by providing information via the park website, at the visitor center, and by providing a set number of ranger-led shuttles to the site described in detail below. Rules regarding how to access the site, when the site is open, and details regarding the gravesite's constraints within a quiet single-family residential neighborhood will be readily available. In the Selected Alternative, the entire 1.27-acre parcel will be fenced, greatly minimizing the ability for people to access the site when closed. Pedestrians and cyclists will have access through a pedestrian gate Monday through Friday from 10:30am-4:30pm , but through regulatory and interpretive signage, they too will be encouraged to respect the solemn, reverential character of the site. The Muir family will continue to have open access, and will also have the right to hold an annual, private, family commemoration at the gravesite—closed to the general public. Individuals, groups, universities, and non-profit organizations could request special use permits for tours and activities at the gravesite. These special requests will be managed on a case by case basis, as they currently are for the rest of John Muir National Historic Site, and will be accepted if determined appropriate to the site and protective of the resources and site character."

This plan will take some time to fully implement. In a press release, the NPS stated "Permanent site improvements, including fencing, paths and a parking area for the shuttle will be completed as funding becomes available. In the meantime, temporary facilities such as wheelchair accessible mats and perimeter fencing will be installed to accommodate visitation in the interim. Until permanent facilities can be completed, pedestrian and bicycle access will not be permitted." The van shuttle service from the National Historic Site visitor center began in December, 2017, and is now operating on a regularly scheduled basis.

As of this writing, tours via a van shuttle are scheduled at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, beginning at the Visitor Center of the John Muir National Historic Site at 4202 Alhambra Ave. in Martinez. Reservations are required by calling (925) 228-8860. Visiting the site is free and a short walk is required.

For more information:

Credits: Photos except as noted by Harold Wood, taken in November, 2009.

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