Sunday, October 10, 2010

Way off Geographic Topic but interesting (and related)

I've been in California for the past couple of weeks, very busy with a series of lectures and family commitments, so have not posted anything recently.

This past week, though, I spent a day in the Gold Rush region of northeastern California, visiting the town of Placerville and also Sutter's Mill, where the first gold was found that sparked the 1849 Gold Rush. (I stayed at the "Motherlode Motel".)

My friend Francesco Spagnolo, of the Magnes Museum in Berkeley -- which has an extraordinarily rich collection of Jewish history and culture in the American West -- had mentioned to me that there was a Pioneer Jewish cemetery in Placerville -- so of course I found it and took pictures. A tiny plot with about 18 markers, very well maintained, in a shaded corner of a residential neighborhood just off Highway 50.

In fact, there are about half a dozen Jewish cemeteries in the Gold Rush region -- in the towns of  Jackson, Mokelumne Hill, Sonora, Placerville, Grass Valley, and Nevada City. The Magnes Museum has a wonderful collection of photographs documenting them. Taken by the photographer Ira Nowinski in the mid 1980s, these have been posted online as a Flickr gallery. They show some charming iconography -- including one carved image of a wife and children mourning at the tomb of the father/husband.


  1. It's not specifically Jewish, but I think you'd enjoy my historical novel of the California gold rush, SWEET BETSY FROM PIKE, based on the folk ballad of the same name. -- Sam Sackett

  2. This cemetery was also featured in another blog, devoted to "Jews of the Gold Rush," back in August:

  3. Yes, indeed it was -- as were the other cemeteries in the area, and I linked this post to that blog, which also provides some historical info and biographical material on a few of the Gold Rush Jews. (The link in the last paragraph of my post). I also linked this post to the Magnes Museum's photo stream of pictures from those cemeteries.