You know a cemetery is lonely when the man in charge of it doesn't have a clue about its history. And that's exactly the case with Holy Cross Cemetery in Anaheim, one of the oldest Catholic cemeteries in Orange County—and one of the most overlooked.
Scores of OC residents drive by it every day when speeding through Euclid Street between Orange Avenue and Ball Road and probably have never realized that the stretch of the street that's just a cream-colored wall, with a slight driveway, houses three acres of tombstones largely forgotten by time. How forgotten? Michael Wisner, director of Catholic Cemeteries in Orange County (a part of the Diocese of Orange) doesn't know anything about it besides the number of people buried there—and even that figure is an approximation.
This burial ground looks like nothing more than lawns with sporadic patches of dirt. Once you step on the grass, chances are you're standing above a burial site. About 90 percent of the graves don't have a headstone, says Wisner—and even he doesn't know why. "[The cemetery] is full of burials but no [upright] headstones," Wisner says. "It's definitely unusual."
The few headstones that do exist are of a different style than the headstones seen in cemeteries today. Several of these rusting, flat headstones are as big as a folder and contain block capital letters that spell the deceased's name and year of his or her birth and death. 68 out of 70 flat headstones are almost entirely covered with hardened dirt; the other two have artificial bouquets of flowers on them, sun-bleached and filled with cobwebs.
Holy Cross Cemetery opened in the late 1800's, says Wisner, originally operated by St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. As Orange County's Catholic community grew, the cemetery came under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until the foundation of the Orange diocese in 1976.
"I've been here since 2000 and have not seen a burial, I'm not sure when the last burial took place," Wisner says.
If you pay a visit, you're most likely going to be the only one there. The last known burial occurred in the 1950s, so anyone who has any relatives in the cemetery would only go out of paying respects to never-met ancestors. It doesn't even hold appeal to historical nuts like, say, the Yorba Cemetery or even the cenotaphs at Mission San Juan Capistrano. The graveyard used to be open daily, but homeless people began using it as a place to relax, leading to multiple complaints by neighbors. Because the cemetery hardly gets visitors, Wisner decided to close the cemetery on weekends to save money.
Nowadays, the most frequent visitor is a worker who mows the grass every two weeks and confirms that the few sprinklers on the grounds work.