New signs of life at Empire Cemetery
A turnstile squeaks and trembles with decades of built-up neglect at the entrance to the Empire Cemetery on an eastside hilltop in Carson City. The buzz of ATVs come and go with gusts of the cool wind. It is a lonesome place at first sight, deserted except for lumps of sage brush and piles of broken stone, enclosed by a humble order of chain-link fence.
For years, the turnstile was the only sign of life to discourage would-be grave robbers and vandals from disturbing the weathered final resting places of many of the community’s first settlers.
When 16-year-old Douglas High School sophomore and Troop 33 Boy Scout Michael Barnes first came across it, the place was littered with broken tombstones and ripped gates.
The dirt feels like wet clay under foot in the sparsely populated cemetery as Barnes displays one instance where someone had actually come in with wire cutters and removed the hand-carved medallions from one side of a century-old wrought-iron gate surrounding a plot.
“Some sections of a gate were even found up at a guy’s house in Lake Tahoe,” he said.
Now, many of the sites are adorned with flowers. “The Girl Scouts come and do that,” said Barnes.
Barnes started the project to clean up and repair the cemetery in October for his Eagle Scout project, hoping to bring some new life and respect to a little-known hilltop resting place adjacent to the Carson River, with sweeping views of the city and the Sierra.
The job involved around 170 hours of intense labor and culminated Saturday with a flag raising ceremony with about a dozen people in attendance.
The work involved a lot of on-site epoxy, according to Barnes. “The tombstones are pretty heavy,” he said. Many are made of hand-carved marble and date from the mid-1800s. Some are nothing more than wooden plaques, exposed to the elements for a century or more.
One chunk of white marble contains the last line of a long-forgotten poem, written in honor of one of the cemetery’s many native Germans, whose name has long been erased by the vandals of time. “Du warst uns stutz und treuer Vatter, ach wir vergessen deiner nie. (You were our support and faithful father, oh, we will never forget you.)”
The site is home to the grave of Nicholas Ambrose, founder of Empire City and perhaps its most famous resident.
Eagle Scout Committee Chairman, Dan Webster, coordinated getting the markers repaired and planting a flagpole by the entrance.
“A couple of men from the foundry (next door) have volunteered to raise and lower the flags every day,” he said.
The addition of the American and POW-MIA flags bring a needed sign of daily life to the cemetery and also honor the Vietnam veteran who is buried there.
“There are also a lot of miners buried here,” said Barnes, guiding an impromptu tour. “And a lot of children who died young, some during childbirth or from the harsh conditions and lack of medicine.”
As Barnes raised the flag, proud parents Debbie and Jim looked on. Barnes then led his troop and about a dozen onlookers in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“The thing that really left an impression on me were the graves of the children,” said Debbie. “There are just so many of them. I feel like some relative can rest easy even if they don’t know it.”
Rex Jennings, a volunteer at local cemeteries, such as Lone Mountain, helped coordinate the effort on the ground level.
“We’re still trying to develop a proper sign for the place,” he said. “Some sort of marker.”
Barnes said he would like to thank United Rentals and Carson Valley Glass for their help with the project.
Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.