Libby's Story or
The Tale of the Final Resting Place for Elizabeth "Libby" Lewis.
This article concerns the temporary interment of Elizabeth Bodwell Lewis of Petaluma at the Lone Mountain Cemetery from 1866 to 1867. I have received correspondence over the last few years from Barbara Webster, Libby's Great Great Granddaughter. She tells the story of how John Bacon Lewis intended to take his beloved wife Libby's remains back to Conneticut to be buried with her childhood family members in the town where she grew up. I believe this must of been one of her final wishes.
She was buried in the family plot in Farmington, beside her infant son whom died after John left for California and before she left Connecticut to join him.
Libby's body was accompanied by both John and their 14 year old son, Charles.
Barbara Webster has graciously provided copies of the storage records as well as a photo of Libby herself and her headstone back in Connecticut. These are shown above and below, I have provided some of what she says about Elizabeth "Libby" Lewis and her very interesting historical journey of final rest.
I feel this story illustrates how people use to actually care about the wishes of their loved ones concerning their final resting places. Even though Libby wasn't forecably removed from San Francisco, many other family members of Barbara Webster were unwillingly removed from Laurel Hill and banished to the suburbs of Colma, actually a far-off pasture or grasslands at that time.
Barbara says, "I have family on the other side of my group who were buried in Laurel Hill" and later, also removed to Colma. These were the Koch and Kohnke families from Germany. Unfortunately the tombstones from the Laurel Hill Cemetery didn't accompany the bodies to the new location tho the records of the burials are still in existence."
Letter #1 excerpts:
In 1866, my great great grandmother, Elizabeth Lewis of Petaluma died and since it was the plan to have her body taken to Connecticut for burial, she was stored at Lone Mountain Cemetery until October, 1867. My great great grandfather, John Bacon Lewis then accompanied her body on the long trip back East. I have the three vault receipts for this stay at the cemetery. The charge was $4.00 per month.
John Bacon Lewis arrived in San Francisco on August 30, 1849 and stayed there instead of going to the Gold Fields. In 1857 he purchased land from General Vallejo and settled in Petaluma on what is now the Lakeville Highway. John wrote to his wife Elizabeth, who was in New York, and we treasure these letters in our family. She joined him here in California in 1851.
Letter #2 excerpts:
You might like a bit of information about the family. As I told you, John Bacon Lewis came here from New York arriving after a very long journey across the Isthmus of Panama. His wife, Elizabeth Bodwell Lewis joined him and two years later their son, Charles Wadsworth Lewis was born. Libby (as she was called) took Charles back to Connecticut for a visit in 1857 and was gone for a year. Her health was not good and she died at age 40 on October 20, 1866 of "dropsy".
By this time they had moved to Petaluma and lived on a large ranch so John couldn't just leave all this without some planning and decided to store Libby in San Francisco until he was ready to go with her to the East. She is buried in Farmington, Connecticut in a family plot there. Charles remained in Connecticut and went to school while staying with relatives in Farmington, Connecticut. While back east, he met and married Julia Amelia Davis before returning to California
I am a descendant of Charles's daughter Elizabeth thru her daughter Leona Wallace who was my mother. Leona lived in the house she was born in from 1909 to 2000 with brief times in other houses in Petaluma and Sacramento.
John comes from a pioneer family as one of his relatives was a passenger on the Mayflower. The one, John Howland, who fell off the ship on the way over to the colonies and almost didn't allow us to be descendants of that interesting group. Good thing he was able to grab a rope and get back aboard.
Letter 3 excerpts:
The other day I thought about the actual storage of Libby Lewis for a year in San Francisco and began to wonder how this might have transpired. Did they embalm people in those days (1866)? Wouldn't there have been a problem with a body above ground all that time? Would there have been a vault around the casket? Since the transcontinental railroad hadn't been completed in that year, John would have had to take her by way of Panama which did have a train across the Isthmus after a ship journey there and then from the East Coast to New York. What a long travel he made. Of course I suppose he could have gone cross country in the US, but that would have been rather complicated too.
Guess we will never know how he really made the trip.
I have tried to locate her grave location in Farmington, Connecticut but haven't succeed yet. Her father was still alive and lived there so I think that's where John took her. Another mystery to be solved.
Letter 4 excerpts:
I had long talks with the mortuary and cemetery people here in town as well as both in Petaluma. The lady at the mortuary is the same baby my mother used to take care of for years while her own mother worked. It's a small world.
Since my interest in the move of Libby has been renewed I decided to see what I could find out about how it all happened. No one seems to know and though the mortuary in Petaluma has old records, they only go back to 1872 and the cemetery doesn't have a thing kept that old, (except for some bodies).
So I don't know much more that I did before. Guess my next step is to try to locate Libby in Farmington, Connecticut. I have already looked at several indexes of burials in their cemeteries on the internet but will write to ask each to check their records again. Not sure if the indexes are taken from the tombstones or the actual records of the burials. They could differ as we all know. The family always said she was there but what did they know? All I really know is that she was in storage for a year in San Francisco.
Letter 5 excerpts:
I located the grave of Libby with a phone call to Farmington and later in 2006 I took a journey back to record her grave as well as others of the family. A genealogist dream come true.
I was talking to a gentleman at a genealogy seminar a few weeks ago and he mentioned that back in the 1860's they had portable embalming kits that may have been used in Libby's case since she lived out of town when she died, not really that far out, but it may have been a good idea. She had "Dropsy" and was filled with liquid which would have made transportation difficult. He also suggested that they may have done the embalming again before the trip back east. It would be interesting to know how the trip was made.