Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Lee and Jon Hollister as father and son. They are brothers.
The desecrated grave markers in San Luis Cemetery are back on their plinths.
As yet, though, the boneheads who must have thought it cute to knock over the monuments haven’t been found.
The cemetery is on South Higuera Street, the one with the prominent pyramid tomb that was built in 1905 by District Attorney Frederick A. Dorn. Left unfinished, the monument holds Dorn’s wife and infant daughter. Although it wasn’t damaged during the vandalism Halloween weekend, the monuments of Dr. W.W. Hays, J.H. Hollister and Walter Murray — among 12 others — weren’t as fortunate.
I note these three because of their significance and impacts on early San Luis Obispo. Murray, for instance, founded The Tribune in 1869, was elected to the Assembly as a Republican, was appointed district judge by Gov. Newton Booth, and was elected district attorney and county treasurer.
And, as my colleague Dan Krieger wrote recently, Murray was a member of the vigilance committee that hunted down outlaws Jackie Powers and Pio Linares.
All in all, not a bad life’s work, especially when you consider that he died Oct. 5, 1875, at the age of 49.
An English immigrant, Murray, according to his obituary in Myron Angel’s 1883 “History of San Luis Obispo County,” “... was a man of strong convictions, fixed principles, and a great independence of character. He was nothing of the time server. ... As an aspirant for office he was dignified and gentlemanly, never allowing himself in the most heated campaigns to be led into the use of any of the low weapons of political warfare ... and by the power of his pen, he made the best country newspaper in California.”
As Krieger noted in his excellent Sept. 25 column, Murray was also a presiding officer in the town’s Masonic Order’s King David Lodge — as were Hays and Hollister.
I note this for a couple of reasons. First, the area of the San Luis Cemetery containing the headstones of the three men is one of the oldest, with many of the markers containing Masonic symbology, mute testimony to the civilizing forces the Masons brought to the town known at one time as “El Barrio de Tigre” or “the town of the wildcat” because of its ferocious lawlessness.
Second, the brothers of the San Luis Obispo Masonic Lodge allocated $1,200 last month to repair vandalism of Murray’s memorial, a vandalism that ironically occurred exactly 50 years ago on Halloween night in 1961.
An urn was broken off Murray’s monument at that time; the replaced urn was stolen this Halloween weekend. Over the years, Murray’s burial monument has been plundered for a marble low-lying wall as well as other trappings.
According to Robert Bettencourt, next year’s master of the Masonic Lodge, it will take about $5,000 to fully restore Murray’s final resting place to its original condition.
If there’s one name most closely associated with early agriculture in California, it’s Hollister.
John H. Hollister acquitted himself of that reputation nicely by running a 2,000-acre dairy and farming operation called Rancho El Chorro, where, not so oddly, El Chorro Regional Park is now located. The old homestead adobe has been restored and sits on the southeast corner of Cuesta College’s campus.
In addition to running a prosperous ranch, Hollister was elected county supervisor in 1879 at the age of 23. Before his term expired, he was drafted as a Republican for a seat in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly, but managed to introduce and get passed the oddly named “Anti-Oleomargarine Law.” Although it sounds like something a dairyman would champion, it actually was “a law to extirpate fruit tree pests, and to prevent diseases in fruit trees,” according to Angel.
Hollister, whose descendants today include dentists Lee and Jon Hollister, managed to live to the age of 57, dying Nov. 7, 1913.
W.W. Hays’ parents so obviously liked the name William that they gave their son the name William William — go figure.
A native of Maryland, Hays at one time worked as an Army surgeon and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., before arriving in San Luis Obispo in 1866 as one of the community’s first doctors.
His route to San Luis Obispo was apparently paved by tuberculosis. As Angel noted: “Declining health admonished him ... to seek the more genial climate of California, and good fortune — to San Luis Obispo — directed his footsteps to this county, selecting it as the most favorable for staying the ravages of the insidious disease, pulmonary affection, which threatened his life.”
(Oddly, Angel offers a self-described “remarkable story” about San Luis Obispo’s climate being so amazing that a man “had attained the age of one hundred and fifty years!” Tiring of life, an heir suggested he move “to some distant land — probably Bakersfield” to die. The man did make the move and achieved his desired results. Page 330.)
Angel said of Hays, a Mason and community pillar: “The family of Dr. Hays is distinguished for high culture and accomplishments, and are pre-eminent in the society of San Luis Obispo.”
Hays, too, lived into the following century. Although not 150 years old, he died July 3, 1901, at the age of 63.
So, take note, boneheaded vandals: You’ve disturbed the sleep of some outstanding souls. Good luck with that.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.