Cemeteries are not a location that most people want to visit, but for those with an interest in history the Oahu Cemetery is the most interesting civilian cemetery to visit in Hawaii. So many of the various characters from Oahu's past can be found at rest in the cemetery. Learning more about these notable people from Oahu's past really helped me learn more about Hawaii and have a better appreciation for its history.
The most historic civilian cemetery on the Hawaiian island of Oahu and likely in the whole state is the Oahu Cemetery located in the Nuuanu Valley just northeast of downtown Honolulu:
The first large group of Christian missionaries arrived in Honolulu in 1820 and opened the door to the arrival of a large numbers of more foreigners in the proceeding decades. By the late 1830’s the foreign population had greatly increased due to the whaling fleets that visited Honolulu. Some of these whalers would find themselves falling sick or dying for other reasons in Honolulu. This created the need for a non-denominational cemetery to bury the dead in. City leaders eventually organized the purchase of 4.5 acres of land and opened the first non-denominational cemetery in Oahu in 1844. Today the Oahu Cemetery has grown to 18 acres and is home to over 30,000 burials. This cemetery is literally a Who’s Who of important people from Honolulu’s past.
The weekend I visited the cemetery it was very quiet. I was the only vehicle parked in the small lot next to the chapel:
From the chapel I just started to walk around and view the tombstones:
The first area I walked through was mostly of Japanese headstones:
There were also a few ethnic Korean graves such as this one of Alice M.S. Kang who was buried at sea with her inscription possibly on the tombstone of her dad?:
Walking around it was quickly apparent how old many of these tombstones are. For example here is the gave of the wife of a sea captain, Harriet A.W. Pierce that died in 1877:
Here is a man named William A. Cooper from Ireland that died back in 1877:
Here is the tombstone for Reverend Asa Thurston who was one of the original missionaries that came over in 1820 and died in 1868:
What was fascinating about the tombstones here was the many stories they tell. Here is an example of one tombstone for the Pratt family:
Franklin Seaver Pratt’s wife, Elizabeth Kekaaniau Laanui Pratt was the great grand niece of King Kamehameha I. She would go on to become an influential friend of many important figures during Hawaii’s transition from a kingdom into a US territory. She died in 1928 at the age of 94. She definitely lived an incredible life during an interesting time in Hawaii’s history:
Cartwright is known as the “Father of Modern Baseball” and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938. He set bases 90 feet apart, made each team have 9 players on the field, and play 9 innings:
Baseball enthusiasts travel to Hawaii to visit his grave and leave him baseballs:
If being the father of baseball wasn’t enough Cartwright then went on to live an interesting life in Hawaii. Here is a synopsis of his life in Honolulu from the Baseball Hall of Fame website:
In 1849, Cartwright left New York to join the Gold Rush in the western territories. Later that year, he sailed to Hawaii where he would spend the rest of his life. He became a prominent citizen in Honolulu, serving as the city’s first fire chief and as a trusted advisor to Queen Emma of Hawaii. He also helped found the Honolulu Library and Reading Room, notably advocating for women to be included among the library’s patrons. He continued a life of civil service until his death in 1892, after which his grave became a popular visiting site for many baseball luminaries – including Babe Ruth in 1934. Alexander’s contributions to baseball were given the ultimate recognition when he was elected to the Hall of Fame’s third induction class in 1938. [BaseballHall.org]
He lived a pretty amazing life and it appears many of his descendants continued to live in Hawaii judging by the number of Cartwright gravestones I saw around this family plot:
What is even more interesting is that after the previously mentioned Franklin Pratt died, his wife Laanui Pratt ended up marrying Alexander Cartwright’s son, Alexander Cartwright III. She had kids with Alexander Cartwright III who’s descendants to this day claim they are the rightful rulers to the Hawaiian throne. So not only is Cartwright the father of modern baseball, but maybe the father of Hawaii as well!
As I walked around I spotted another gravestone with an interesting story. The gravestone is where Friedrich Schweisgut is buried:
According to the marker below the grave he was the Captain of the corvette “Fasana” of the Imperial Austrian Navy. Schweisgut died in 1892:
The only thing of importance I could find about the Fasana was that it once carried a letter back to Austria from Queen Lydia Liliuokalani looking for relatives from her deceased husband which were never found. Perhaps Captain Schweisgut is the man that carried the letter back to Austria for her?
In the 1880’s he was a well known painter and illustrator who eventually made his way out to Hawaii and discovered a passion for painting volcanoes. It was a passion that never left him because he spend the last five years of his life painting volcanoes in Hawaii. He is believed to have died of alcoholism.
His name is will known on Oahu because of the Farrington Highway named after him. He was the territorial governor of Hawaii from 1921-1929 and prior to being the governor he was also the editor the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin. He died in 1933 of heart disease. So the next time anyone is on the Farrington Highway now you know who it is named after and where to find him.
I next walked over to a section of the Oahu Cemetery that seemed used for British nationals. The first grave I saw was for George Robert Hope who died in 1882:
According to the marker he was the Captain of the Royal Navy ship the “Champion” and died aboard it from some accident:
Also in the British section were the graves of these four men who died in different dates in April 1943 aboard the Royal Navy ship the “Victorious”:
The Victorious was one of the United Kingdom’s best aircraft carriers that saw significant action in the Atlantic theater of World War II. In 1943 it was re-tasked to support the US Navy in the Pacific theater. The Victorious arrived at Pearl Harbor on March 4, 1943 to be refitted for action against the Japanese. The HMS Victorious departed Pearl Harbor on May 8, 1943. I do not know how these men died, but they died during the time ship was at port at Pearl Harbor and their bodies were buried here in Oahu Cemetery. By the way this article provides a fascinating history of HMS Victorious’s service during World War II for those interested.
He had a long and distinguished military career to include serving as the chaplain for British forces in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine from 1914-1918 during World War I. After the war Reverend Woods found himself in Hawaii in 1923 when he became the Headmaster of Iolani College for a year and then rector of St Clement’s Episcopal Church. He would die three years later in Honolulu.
The next grave was for Albert George Sidney who in 1894 was appointed as the Commissioner and Consul General for the United Kingdom to the Kingdom of Hawaii. He died in 1897 in Hilo and his body was transported back to Honolulu for burial:
The next grave of interest I noticed for Ingram Jacklin Stainback. He served as the territorial governor from 1942-1951 and was able to get the Post Pearl Harbor bombing martial law lifted from Hawaii in 1944:
As I walked around I found the grave of yet another former territorial governor George Robert Carter:
He was Hawaii’s second territorial governor that was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt and served from 1903 – 1907.
I next came upon the burial plot for the Judd family. The Judd’s are another well known name on Oahu since they are descendant from early missionaries and held various important political positions:
Albert Francis Judd was one of the most influential members of the Judd family. He was born in Honolulu in the “Old Mission Home” and became a Harvard educated lawyer:
He served a critical role as an advisor to King Lunalilo and his successor King Kalākaua. He also served as the Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court for 19 years and played a key moderating role in the government transition after the Hawaii kingdom was overthrown and became the Republic of Hawaii followed by being annexed by the United States in 1898.
He traveled as a missionary to Hawaii from New England in 1927. He worked as a missionary physician before quitting and getting involved in politics. He served as an advisor and translator to King Kamehameha III as well as other positions in the Kingdom of Hawaii. He also helped to found the Punahou School in 1842 and Hawaii’s first medical school in 1870. He died in 1873.
The previously mentioned Albert Francis Judd was a key figure in moderating the governmental transition after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. I found the grave of one of the key members of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, John F. Colburn:
Coburn was part ethnic Hawaiian on his mom’s side and served as the last Minister of the Interior for Queen Liliuokalani. He opposed the new constitution the Queen was trying to pass to increase her powers. Colburn’s stand against the new constitution motivated conspirators to develop a plan to remove Queen Liliuokalani from power and establish the Republic of Hawaii. Colburn opposed removing the queen, but ended up being an advocate for the annexation of Hawaii to the United States. Coburn would also go on to be the treasurer of the estate of Queen Kapiolani.
Also buried in Oahu Cemetery is some of Hawaii’s royal family:
Most of the major royal figures from the Kingdom of Hawaii are buried at the Royal Mausoleum of Hawaii which is located further up the Nuuanu Valley from the Oahu Cemetery. It appears that later royal family members are buried instead at Oahu Cemetery:
One final grave I will point out is for the parents of one of the most famous Hawaiians ever Duke Kahanamoku:
Duke’s parents were named Duke Halapu Kahanamoku and Julia Paʻakonia Lonokahikina Paoa:
As I walked around the Oahu Cemetery I noticed the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church which beautifully used Japanese architecture in its design:
After I finished checking out the graves I then walked back towards the chapel where I was parked. Near the chapel I noticed this scenic waterfall feature:
A also noticed that adjacent to the chapel was the crematorium:
Interestingly, just like how many of the graves in the Oahu Cemetery have a story to tell, the crematory has one to tell as well. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was decided by US authorities that all paper money in Hawaii would be replaced with special Hawaii overprint notes. This was done in case the Japanese invaded and captured the islands. Hawaii overprint notes would then be worthless to the Japanese.
Picture I took of a Hawaii Overprint Note on display at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.
However, the military authorities had a problem, they had to dispose of all the legitimate money. The crematory was tasked by the US government to burn all the money on Oahu instead of risking transport back to the mainland. The crematory ended up burning the money too slowly and thus the furnace at the sugar mill in Aiea was also used. The overprint notes continued to be used in Hawaii until October 21, 1944 when any threat of a Japanese invasion had been completed eliminated.
Cemeteries are not a location that most people want to visit, but for those with an interest in history the Oahu Cemetery is the most interesting civilian cemetery to visit in Hawaii. So many of the various characters from Oahu’s past can be found at rest in the cemetery. Learning more about these notable people from Oahu’s past really helped me learn more about Hawaii and have a better appreciation for its history.