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Coupeville historical cemetery tour brings history to life
Everyone at Sunnyside Cemetery is buried facing the sunrise – all but Frank Pratt, whose grave faces the stunning scenery of Ebey’s Prairie, Admiralty Inlet and the Olympics.
“Pratt was unique,” said local historian Roger Sherman, who will lead a tour of the historic cemetery at 11 a.m. on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3, as a fundraiser for the Island County Historical Museum.
The hillside cemetery is one of the oldest extant cemeteries from Washington’s territorial days, and was once part of pioneer Isaac Ebey’s original donation land claim.
Sherman’s family has farmed near the cemetery since 1896, and family members have been involved as caretakers and have served on the cemetery commission “for almost 100 years,” Sherman said.
In 1921, his grandfather William Sherman was hired as the cemetery’s first caretaker – for a salary of $25.
Roger Sherman knows this land and its inhabitants like old friends.
“We’ve always lived next to the cemetery, and family members from both sides are buried here,” Sherman said.
“This is where I’ll be buried,” he said matter-of-factly, pointing to a large granite marker bearing the Sherman name.
At Sunnyside there are graves of pioneers, lighthouse keepers and sea captains, a few Native Americans and one Chinese servant, Ah Soot, who worked for the LeSourd family and was buried in 1925.
Many have descendants still living on the island, with towns, lakes and roads named for them — Ebey, Crockett, Engle, Libbey, Hastie, Coupe and others.
Established in 1865 with the burial of Isaac’s brother Winfield Ebey, the original 1.25 acre Sunnyside Cemetery was sold to the county for $1 by his sister, Mary Ebey Bozarth.
In the Ebey plot, there are graves older than 1865, such as Rebecca Ebey’s, 1853, and Isaac Ebey’s, 1857, but they were exhumed and transferred to Sunnyside from another family gravesite.
Isaac Ebey was the first settler to file a land claim on Whidbey Island. He talked his immediate and extended family into coming to Whidbey Island to farm, but within a few years they all had died here or moved away.
A small, recently added “mystery marker” in the Ebey plot states simply, “Karen & Kathryn, born 1939, Great-Granddaughters of Col. Isaac Ebey.”
Sherman said the cemetery commission doesn’t have any information on Karen and Kathryn’s surname or who placed the marker.
First stop on every tour is the historic 1855 blockhouse, where Sherman and his boyhood pals played “soldiers and Indians.” Originally a log cabin, the blockhouse was fortified after Isaac Ebey was beheaded in 1857 by marauding Kake Indians from farther north, and restored in the 1930s by the now-defunct local club known as the Ladies of the Round Table.
“I used to point my toy gun out the blockhouse window and pretend I was a soldier,” said Sherman. “We got told off for ‘desecrating sacred ground,’ but that didn’t stop us playing here.”
Sherman has done several tours of Sunnyside over the years, and each time he varies the stops and the stories to keep the information fresh.
This year he’ll add information about the Crockett family, who arrived on Whidbey Island via the Oregon Trail in 1851.
Susan Crockett was a close friend of Rebecca Ebey and they traveled here on the same wagon train.
Sherman also likes to tell the story of John Kellogg, a physician who had the foresight to buy cemetery plots to sell to families of patients who didn’t respond to his medical treatments. Kellogg was nicknamed the “canoe doctor” because that was often his mode of transportation for making house calls.
Over the years, there have been six parcels added to Sunnyside, keeping pace with Central Whidbey’s population growth.
“The Clark family is an example of Whidbey Island then and now,” Sherman said, pointing to a tombstone. “They were with the military stationed at Fort Casey and they stayed. Mickey Clark was a wonderful historian, and Margaret Clark was my kindergarten teacher.”
Sherman is still an avid student of Island history, and enjoys preparing for each annual cemetery tour.
“Once you start looking into history, one thing leads to another,” he said. “This cemetery is a visual link between the living and the dead, and their stories should be remembered.”
Tickets for the cemetery tour are $5 each, available through the Island County Historical Museum at 908 N.W. Alexander St., Coupeville. Call the museum at 360-678-3310.
Save the date
Local historian Roger Sherman leads a tour of Sunnyside Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 3. Tickets are $5 at the Island County Historical Museum, 908 N.W. Alexander, Coupeville. Advance purchase is recommended. Call 360-678-3310.