Category Archives: Shrines

The Artwork of Grief

Evergreen Cemetery in Old Bisbee was established in 1892 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It replaced the original site which was built on a higher slope and eventually drew concerns about contamination of water. The remains of those buried in the old cemetery were moved to the new site around 1914. Bisbee was a vibrant mining town from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Phelps Dodge, the mining company who owned the Copper Queen Mine, took care of the cemetery for many years. The final stages of closing the mine occurred in the 1970s, and the once-green oasis of peace began to crumble. There are no longer plots available for purchase.

Recently there has been a torrent of vandalism. The vandals break wings and heads off angels, knock down crosses, and smash the old-fashioned photograph insets on the headstones and destroy the irreplaceable old photos. The cemetery is the resting place for many immigrants who came to Bisbee for work. Russian, Swedish, Irish, Mexican names abound. When the mines closed many people moved away and the headstones were no longer cared for. There aren’t many residents left here of Russian or Swedish ancestry—why would they stay?

The articles in the local papers state that descendents of the deceased no longer live here or “just don’t care.” There are very few residents left here who worked the mines, if there are they are very old. I can’t think of anyone here who has a Russian surname. Most of the residents who actually live in Old Bisbee moved here later, when the town was sort of resurrected as an artists’ colony and LGBT haven in the ’70s. I live on the outskirts of town in a mostly Spanish neighborhood, closer to the Port of Entry of Naco, AZ/Mexico.

A group of people volunteer to maintain the cemetery, but they are older folks and can’t do the heavy work. The century-old Italian cypress trees are being attacked by a blight of bark beetles and are no longer watered. Recently there have been some repair attempts by the city, but years of neglect have taken their toll. I grew up in New England and spent many happy hours in ancient burial grounds scattered all over what’s left of the countryside, but never saw gravemarkers like these back home. Evergreen Cemetery is unique with its simple handmade iron or wood crosses, symbolizing hard lives and unspeakable grief.

Shame on all us who complain. Shame on the politicians, the Occupiers, the Black Friday frenzy, the Air Jordan mobs. Everybody says they don’t have any money but they’re willing to trample people and break down doors to get some stupid gadget or clothing. We wouldn’t last a day living a hundred years ago. No government handouts, no welfare, no foodstamps—no nothing but each other.

A good number of pictures follow, out of a hundred photos I took the other day, choosing ones to publish was hard.

Entrance to Evergreen Cemetery

Many infants and children are buried here.

Baby Ivers

Baby Prince

Tilia Kukuljan, 4 years old

My darling Lloyd, 1902-1905. "Just a tiny grave, But oh so dear, For all my joy and hope, Lies buried here."

Crumbling statue, the head is broken off and is placed on top of the body

This style of metalwork cross is seen all over the cemetery. This one is surrounded by broken posts.

Another cross made from pipes and embellished with metalwork, very common here.

A completely destroyed monument

Broken statue

Someone tried to repair this cross with cement

Simple wooden cross of infant

Simple cross made of pipe, there are many, many here similar to this

This simple handmade metal marker sums up the hard lives of the miners

Fraternal orders were popular. This is a plaque dedicated to a member of the "Loyal Order of Moose" (L.O.O.M) There is also a Masons' section, and they are still active here today.

Many of the men served in either WWI or WWII.

Many headstones consist of metal pipes, and there are beautiful iron gates everywhere, all in disrepair.

Madaline Gaid, 3 years old

Allen Gonzales, one year old

There are more recent gravesites, but no more plots are available

Another modern site

Of the the very modern headstones. A wife will join her husband here.

I'm not sure what language this is. Croatian maybe? Does ovdje pociva mean "here lies"?

Mamie McNelis, born in Ireland in 1880

A parents' beautiful sentiment to their 20-year-old son.

The dying cypress trees. Pretty depressing.

Death’s Mementos

Every day I am moved by roadside memorials to people who weren’t ready to die. People who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re a constant reminder of how fragile we are—bits of bone wrapped in a flimsy shroud of a ridiculously unsuitable hide. We’re anything but fierce when up against poison, bullet, disease, or 3,000 pounds of steel, glass and chrome.

These two women touch my life almost every day. I did not know them but their memories live on. We should respect that.

Rose Johnson was a Bisbee artist who was enchanted by the island of Bali and traveled there in 2009. She died in a hospital in Denpasar on May 31, 2009 at age 48 from acute alcohol poisoning after consuming arak, a local alcoholic drink, which had been laced with the industrial solvent methanol. Twenty other people died a slow, painful death along with her that week. She does not have a traditional roadside shrine, but as a noted painter and muralist she has become a legend in Bisbee.

Mural by Rose Johnson along the Jonquil Motel in Bisbee

Peace Wall by Rose Johnson, Tombstone Canyon, Bisbee


Stacia Barrett was a young rodeo rider. She died on March 30, 2005, one day before her 16th birthday. I can’t find an obituary for her, which is odd, but homemade roadside shrines are usually for victims of automobile accidents. This shrine, on a rural road in Hereford, Arizona, is very emotional, and always makes me think about her family, her friends, and her horse, and how very much they must miss her.

Stacia's shrine, Hereford, AZ

Stacia's short life

Picture of Stacia riding her horse "Dollar" at a rodeo in Benson, AZ. Photo credit:


In some states it’s illegal to construct roadside shrines, and other states want to abolish them. They say the shrines are a distraction to drivers, and the crosses which many of them display offend some people. Bullshit. Cellphones, texting, superloud music, fighting with your kids in the back seat, sleeping at the wheel, drunks and idiots are distractions. Building shrines to our dead is what humans do and have always done. The shrines become part of the scenery and should be honored.

The Dead of Route 92

You’d think the worst auto accidents would be on winding mountain roads where there’s barely enough room for two cars to get by each other, but the deaths mostly occur on the long straight state roads. The speed limits are already pretty high here because it takes so long to get where you’re going, but it’s never fast enough for people who want to fly.

On these long straight roads, the visibility is pretty good and there are plenty of places to pass. So nobody really knows why there are so many deaths, but there are, and there are shrines all over the place. I used to be a speeder but I’m not anymore.

Someone told me this well-kept shrine is for a group of young girls who died before I moved here, but it's easy to see that someones still misses them dearly.

This girl was on the back of a motorcycle.

This young man was going too fast around the curve near the Lavender Pit. He was not the first to die on this curve.

This shrine is near the post office on 92. Mother/daughter? Two sisters? I don't know.

Kevin was a friend to all and is missed very much by his family and the community. His accident happened at mile marker 31, Rt. 92, he died a few days later in a Tucson hospital.

Shrine to unknown person

Shrine to unknown person on Rt. 92 near Hereford...a family is missing their mom.

Shrine to person unknown to me