There are two kinds of cemeteries in Arizona. One is the modern kind, lush with greenery and flowers courtesy of the canals that had brought irrigation to this part of the desert. My mother is buried in one, covered in emerald grass, with a fountain behind her and a palm tree with bougainvillea climbing up its trunk in front of her. When the reaper calls for the rest of my immediate family, there is space for us next to her in an area that the cemetery staff call, without irony, our “family condo.”
The other kind are bare and dusty, filled with tumbleweed and cactus. Usually old, though not always. Graveyards, not cemeteries.
In the town of Chandler, a southern suburb of Phoenix, is one of the latter. I found it listed on a web list of Phoenix historic sites and was happy to find it a just few miles from my brother’s house.
The Goodyear Ocotillo Cemetery is in the middle of a 520 acre planned community called Fulton Ranch. There’s a little green park-like seating area in front of the cemetery, and a new brick wall (clearly recently built by Fulton Homes, the company that developed Fulton Ranch) around it. A plaque hangs on the wall outside:
And this stone in the park:
During World War I, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company leased 8000 acres in Chandler to cultivate cotton to be used for military airplane tires. A community, made up of Goodyear’s agricultural workers, developed there. In 1943, Goodyear decided to move its operations to a larger plot of land west of Phoenix and after it did, the community petered away. Left behind was the cemetery, a three acre plot with about 250 graves.
If by “preserved” Fulton Homes means “we didn’t remove the bodies or simply build homes on top of them,” then I suppose they preserved the cemetery By any other definition, “preserved” is an overstatement. The property is clear of trash and overgrowth — the website of the local newspaper has pictures of the Fraternal Order of Police having a clean-up day there in 2008 — but not much else has been done with it.
Most of the graves were just mounts of dirt with some evidence — a broken wooden cross, a plastic flower stuck in the ground — that it was a grave. There was no uniformity to the existing markers — clearly every family was on their own.
I only saw a few with discernible names and all the names were Hispanic. Goodyear had segregated its workers – Hispanic, Native American and Anglo — so perhaps this was the cemetery for Hispanic workers. None of the write-ups say.
There were a couple of graves that seemed to have some recent activity.
It would be nice if the development company or the community or the Goodyear Tire Company took this cemetery on as a restoration project. While it is good to see it clean, it would be better if the broken grave markers were fixed and up righted.
The title of this post is a line from one of my favorite plays: A Streetcar named Desire. The wrought iron grave markers reminded me of New Orleans.