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Tales from the cemetery tour
The granite grave marker of one of Whidbey Island’s most influential early pioneers rests in a family plot surrounded by a white picket fence and fir trees.
It seems only fitting that in this section of Sunnyside Cemetery reserved for early settlers, Isaac Ebey’s remains are interred not far from an overlook that provides a sweeping view of the prairie that bears his name.
Or are they?
Ebey’s life, and more specifically his death, is the subject of most curiosity by guests greeted by Sally Straathof at the Jacob Ebey House, which serves as a visitor station along the Ebey’s Prairie Trail in Coupeville.
Straathof will begin her sixth season working as historical interpreter for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and also will serve as a Memorial Day Heritage Tour guide at Sunnyside Cemetery Monday.
She and local historian Roger Sherman will take guests on the one-hour tour starting at 1 p.m. Passes, which cost $5, are available at the Island County Historical Society Museum and also may be purchased at the tour.
When Straathof encounters visitors at the Jacob Ebey House, the historic home of Isaac Ebey’s father located a short walk from the cemetery, questions often center around Isaac’s tragic death.
Ebey arrived on Whidbey Island in 1850 as one of the island’s first permanent settlers and quickly rose to prominence, becoming a candidate for Washington territorial governor.
But those dreams ended in gruesome fashion, Aug. 11, 1857, when he was shot and beheaded at his home near Ebey’s Landing by a party of northern Native Americans in retaliation for the death of a chief and other tribal members.
Ebey’s headless remains were buried on a family plot on the property, located a short distance from the present day Ferry House.
“Everybody in the Ebey family was buried there until the opening of Sunnyside Cemetery in 1865,” Straathof said. “It was presumed the bodies were exhumed and taken to Sunnyside. We don’t know that for sure.”
Sherman has his doubts.
“I have a little trouble believing they’d go down with a shovel and dig the bodies up,” Sherman said. “I just kind of wonder if they moved the monuments.”
The cemetery, its history and its lore, are near and dear to Sherman, whose family has been involved with its management for more than 90 years.
Sherman is approaching 80 and looking to step down from his role as cemetery commissioner at the end of the year.
As a local historian and longtime tour guide, he’s cutting back those responsibilities, too, and passing on wisdom to Straathof.
They’ll combine efforts Monday, sharing tales and bringing pioneer history to life with their words.
About 2,500 people are buried at Sunnyside, Sherman said, including most of the island’s prominent early settlers.
Lilac trees surround a family plot of Coupeville founder Thomas Coupe.
The oldest marker at the cemetery belongs to Winfield Ebey, Isaac’s brother, who was buried in 1865. It was his death that prompted the family to create a new graveyard on the hill that would later become Sunnyside Cemetery, named after a family farm in Pennsylvania.
“Everybody wants to be buried on the hillside,” Sherman joked. “But if they’re buried, they can’t enjoy the view very much.”