This featured memorial is about Hugh Emmerson who is buried in Sultan City Cemetery, in Snohomish County, Washington. When we visited this cemetery it was overgrown with an overwhelming number of dandelions which left yellow marks on the bottom of our pants (which luckily came off after a good wash). But the first thing that caught my eye as soon as I stepped off the road was a large ornate headstone sticking up from the sea of dandelions…
What struck me the most about this headstone was the epitaph written near the bottom:
His friends and kindred all unknown, he died as he had lived; alone.
Of course, being the person that I am, this made me want to learn more about him. Who was Hugh Emmerson? Who were his friends and kindred? Why were they unknown? Why did he move across the country in 1876 and who had bought such a large ornate headstone for him?
My first thought was that Hugh had travelled to Washington by himself and made a large impression on the city that he finally settled in. No-one knew him before he arrived in Washington, so they hadn’t met his family or prior friends, but he did something, something that made the people of Sultan care so much about him that they erected a large headstone to remember him. The problem with this idea was that according to his poetic epitaph, his friends were still unknown. Wouldn’t the people of Sultan now be his friends?
Another idea I had was maybe he was a criminal. He travelled quite far to escape his prior life, and lived as a hermit “died as he had lived; alone” until the end of his days. But what about that headstone? Even the simplest of headstones are very expensive, and this one was pretty ornate for someone who lived as a hermit with no friends or family.
As soon as I returned home, I set out to find more information about Hugh. I exhausted every avenue I could think of to learn more about him. I searched public records, Ancestry.com, old newspapers, even took a peek at the FindAGrave profile someone had already created for him.
I would like to say that after such an exhaustive search I learned all about him, that I found his “unknown” kin, and deciphered the puzzle of who bought the headstone, and why he would travel to the other side of the country at the (estimated) age of 54. But I didn’t.
What I did find, is that I couldn’t find any record of Hugh before he moved to Washington. He is recorded as living in Snohomish County in the U.S. Census of 1880, and the Snohomish County Census’ of 1883 and 1889, but no earlier. To confuse the matter more, his birthplace is recorded in one census as “New York” and just a few years later as “Vermont”.
This in itself I realize could be very telling. I imagine that in the late 1800’s it was rather easy for someone to change their entire life; their name, where they were born, where they lived. Maybe Hugh was running from something, maybe he changed his name and fudged his birthplace to gain anonymity so that he could live the last years of his life the way he wanted; alone.
There is still the question of that headstone. One possibility is that the people of the area, not knowing who to give his final possessions or money to, had used them to purchase the headstone. I wonder how Hugh would feel about this if he knew. A man who seemed to have wanted to spend the last years of his life quietly and without companionship, is memorialized with such an elaborate headstone and poetic memorable epitaph.
I know I won’t soon forget him and will continue to search for his story.