History of The Diamond House in South Oceanside and a Terrifying Day at the Wayside Inn

South Oceanside, a popular (and some would say “trendy”) neighborhood, was once a separate township of its own. Situated between the town sites of Oceanside and Carlsbad, it was established by John Chauncey Hayes, who was also heavily intertwined with the establishment of the City of Oceanside.

John Chauncey Hayes, founder of South Oceanside

Born in Los Angeles in 1852, he was the son of Judge Benjamin I. Hayes and Emily Chauncey. His father was the first judge of the district court to serve Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino counties. The Hayes family moved to San Diego and the younger Hayes studied law in his father’s office until 1875, when he married Felipe Marron, daughter of Silvestre Marron.  The newlywed couple moved to San Luis Rey, where Hayes “engaged in locating government and state lands” along with farming and delivering mail. 

In the early 1880s Hayes bought 1200 acres of coastal land between Oceanside and Carlsbad. Even when he became the exclusive real estate agent for Andrew Jackson Myers, Oceanside’s founder, he also served as Justice of the Peace and postmaster. If that wasn’t enough for an enterprising, ambitious businessman, Hayes began to develop his new township of South Oceanside which included a depot, hotel, cemetery, a two-story brick schoolhouse and its own newspaper, The South Oceanside Diamond, of which he was the editor.

Map of South Oceanside, California State Railroad Museum

South Oceanside also had a brickyard just south of Kelly Street between Ditmar and Moreno Streets. The muddy clay from the nearby lagoon was used to fashion and fire bricks used to build buildings and no less than 10 homes. Hayes had a brick building erected to house his newspaper printing and real estate office.

Ad for South Oceanside in the South Oceanside Diamond Newspaper

In addition to these amenities, South Oceanside also offered a hotel for visitors. Located on the corner of Kelly and Tremont Streets (the exact location is unknown), Hannah Trotter operated The Diamond House. The name of Trotter’s establishment went along with the theme of South Oceanside, with its newspaper, the Diamond, and Hayes’ hyperbolic advertisement of “buying and wearing diamonds.”

Hannah Bell Trotter was born in 1836 in Pennsylvania. She married Thomas Trotter, a coal miner, in about 1866 and the couple had five children. After her husband’s death, Hannah and her children came to the new township of Oceanside as early as 1886. In 1887 Trotter acquired and filed her own addition to the town of Oceanside, a five acre tract in the northern part of town. It would be the first addition/subdivision in Oceanside established by a woman.

Hannah Trotter Addition, 1887

In March of 1888 it was first announced that the “foundations are being laid for Mrs. Trotter’s boarding house.  It will be a brick building, costing $3000.” (The foundation was brick, but the house was actually made of wood.) The house would be finished by May 1st and it was noted that Mrs. Trotter would “keep a first class place.”

Ad for the The Diamond Hotel in the South Oceanside Diamond Newspaper, 1889

The South Oceanside Diamond reported on May 18, 1888 that “The Diamond House, built and to be conducted as a hotel by Mrs. Hannah Trotter, is almost completed, and will be of great benefit to this community. The grounds surrounding the hotel will be highly ornamental, choice trees, flowers, grass, etc., having already been selected by the proprietress, who is adept in the art of floriculture.” The following month, the Diamond reported that “Hannah Trotter has opened her boarding, house and is ready to accommodate boarders.” Weekly advertisements were included in each edition stating that the Diamond House was “first class in every respect” and the “best table set on the coast.”

Hannah Trotter died in 1911 at the age of 76. Prior to her death the property upon which her boarding house was sold to Augusta Dickson Garden in about 1896 and the two-story home was featured in a grainy photo in the Oceanside Blade newspaper.

In 1913 Belle McWilliams bought what was then called the “South Oceanside Hotel” from Mrs. Garden. It was noted that Hannah Trotter had operated the hotel “in early days.” Belle McWilliams was said to have plans to make “considerable improvements to the property” which included an “amusement pavilion” and “facilities provided for catering to automobile parties.” It is likely that the building had been moved to front South Hill Street, or what was known as the Coast Route or Highway 101, as the hotel was referenced as “being on the auto route.”

Emma “Belle” Mitchell McWilliams was a native of Arkansas, born in 1863. She married Hugh Harris McWilliams in 1900 in Texas. Hugh McWilliams had a daughter, Murrie, from a previous marriage. The trio arrived in Oceanside from Texas in 1913.

On July 5th of that year, an opening celebration and dance was held at the former boarding house and hotel, renamed the “Ye Wayside Inn.” Admission to the dance was 75 cents but spectators were welcomed “free of charge.” It was announced that “parents can be sure that their daughters will be carefully chaperoned and no rowdyism permitted.” Perhaps there was concern by locals because Belle McWilliams had petitioned the county supervisors for a liquor license.

Belle operated her Wayside Inn with little incident but in 1915 a bizarre and tragic event unfolded there.

George Melvin Slobohm, superintendent of the state highway, overseeing road work on the Highway 101, had been staying at the Wayside Inn. Belle McWilliams would later state that the Slobohm “had been acting oddly for several days.”

On Sunday, August 8th, Slobohm, approached McWilliam’s 24-year-old daughter Murrie and asked to speak with her privately. While in the house, he proceeded to confess his love for her, but told Murrie that because he was already married he had decided to kill her and then himself, as a future together was not possible.

In spite of this terrifying news, Murrie McWilliams kept her wits about her, and convinced Slobohm that they should leave the house and walk down to the beach. As they walked out of the Inn, Slobohm was armed with a shotgun.

Murrie spotted her father and instinctively ran to him for help. The crazed man shot at her as she ran, but missed. Miraculously, just at that time Belle arrived at the property in a buggy, and witnessed the fearful scene. Father and daughter climbed into the buggy as Belle drove hard and fast to the home of Warren E. Spaulding, a dairy farmer, just to the east near Cassidy and Stewart Streets, to call for help on the telephone.

Warren E. Spaulding at his dairy ranch in South Oceanside

George Slobohm remained on the property and did not give chase. When local Constable DeBord, along with M. J. Maxey, George and Robert Borden responded to the emergency, they found Slobohm dead on the porch with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

But before he turned the gun on himself, Slobohm had set fire to the McWilliams’ house in several places, pouring gasoline on the floor in four of the rooms and setting it ablaze.  The officers managed to put out the fire and “save the house without much damage except in the laundry room which was pretty badly scorched.”

San Diego County Coroner Marsh came up that evening and a jury was summoned consisting of George A. Lane, Ben Higgins, John Osuna, D. A. Ellis, A. B. Curtis, and Josephine Jascen. They listened to the testimony of Murrie, Belle and Hugh McWilliams, viewed the scene and a verdict of suicide “was rendered accordingly.”

The Oceanside Blade stated that “Slobohm, who was about fifty years old, was a quiet man who bore a good reputation and was well liked by those who have had occasion to do business with him since he has been connected with the highway work here. He leaves a son, Henry, who has been living here, and two daughters and a widow in Los Angeles.” The next day George Slobohm’s wife and son came down from Los Angeles Monday and made arrangements for the removal of the body.

By the 1920s, Hugh and Belle McWilliams sold their Wayside Inn and moved closer to downtown Oceanside. Hugh McWilliams died in 1928 and Belle one year later.

1932 aerial of South Oceanside and Hill Street/Coast Highway (UCSB Library)

What became of the Wayside Inn, formerly the Diamond House and South Oceanside Hotel, is unknown. South Oceanside was annexed years prior and became part of the City of Oceanside. But it would stay a largely rural area for several years. Even as late as 1930 there were less than 10 homes or buildings fronting the coast highway. It wasn’t until the post war years when tracts of homes replaced the dairy cows, fields of crops and eventually the acres of flowers planted by the Frazee family.

History of the First South Oceanside School


South Oceanside is a popular neighborhood referred by locals as “South O”, but more than just a neighborhood, it was once a township, separate from Oceanside. Annexed by the City of Oceanside in 1890, the boundaries are near Morse Street to the north and to the lagoon to the south, and goes as far east as Hunsaker Street. In 1949 two of the original street names were changed: Osuna to Nevada, and Estudillo to Clementine. Vista Way was originally named Wall Street which was changed in 1927.

Map of South Oceanside, 1887

In the 1880’s the unincorporated area was largely owned by John Chauncey Hayes. Born in Los Angeles in 1852, Hayes was the son of Benjamin R. Hayes, an attorney and noted California historian. J. Chauncey Hayes graduated from Santa Clara College, then studied law with his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1877.  He settled in the San Luis Rey Valley and served as justice of the peace.  

John Chauncey Hayes

In 1887 Hayes established South Oceanside which at one time had its own bank, depot, school, cemetery, and several buildings made of bricks at a brickyard near Kelly and Ditmar Streets. He also published his own newspaper, the South Oceanside Diamond.

Hayes petitioned the County Board of Supervisors in 1888 to form the South Oceanside School District, which was granted. The following year the district voted and approved a new $3,000 school building.

The South Oceanside School House, 1889

In August of 1889 the contract to build the school house was given to W. E. Damron to build a two story brick building at a cost of $1,600. The wood work and painting was given to R. C. Mills for $1,070. The South Oceanside Diamond reported that the work had already begun and that work would be completed in sixty day. The school was located on Block 41 near the southeast corner of Whaley and Ditmar Streets.

A census taken in 1891 reported that 43 children were living in the South Oceanside School District which would have included a portion of Carlsbad. One of the earliest teachers was a Mrs. Roberts, who resided in Los Angeles but would come down for the school year. Students were taught up to the 8th grade and then went on to high school in Oceanside.

T. V. Dodd, an educator at South Oceanside

Thomas V.  Dodd, also taught at South Oceanside in the 1890s. He was a superintendent of schools in Madison, Indiana for many years. After coming to Oceanside he taught at several schools in San Diego County and later taught science at the Oceanside high school.

Lillie V. Deering was then hired to teach at the South Oceanside School. But the school was open and closed during the school year at various times, likely due to lack of attendance. South Oceanside was not heavily populated and it is likely that families sent their children to the Oceanside grammar school on Horne Street. In September of 1900 it was announced that the school would close for a few months, with no explanation.

In 1901 Mrs. Clewett was announced as the new teacher, but was replaced by Miss Alice Martin two months later. In 1902 the Ocanside Blade reported the school had a “daily attendance of 18.” In 1904 the school reported 14 students.

Isabel S. Kennedy of Del Mar was hired as teacher of the school in 1906. At the time there were just 9 pupils. The following year Mary E. Clark was employed as teacher of the South Oceanside School.

In 1909 Joseph George Martin of Fallbrook was hired to teach at South Oceanside. A native of Ireland, Martin came to San Diego County in 1877 and had taught for nearly 30 years in and around Fallbrook. In June of that year one student, Nora Marron, graduated from the Eighth grade. The Blade reported that “Prof. Martin, who has had charge of the South Oceanside School, is a faithful and experienced teacher and the pupils do good work under his guidance.”

Martin continued to teach another four years at South Oceanside. In 1913 three students graduated from 8th grade: McKinley Hayes, May A. Birchley and Emma Billick.

However, the following school year the school was “suspended”. It seems there were just a handful of students and many area residents thought students should attend larger schools in Oceanside or Carlsbad. It is unknown if school resumed that year but it was opened again in 1914 with Josefa Elena Jascen as teacher. In February of 1915 the school was closed for one month due to a lack of funds.

Jascen retuned the following school year and the local paper reported “a good attendance” of pupils which included Teresa and Cecilia Marron, Victoria Murrietta, Margarita, Harvey and Herminia Jascen, Morea Foster, Edgar and Irma Spaulding, Thomas Warson, Barbara Libby, Clifford Cole and Madalera Foussat.

The South Oceanside School after it had been dismantled and rebuilt in 1916. Windows and appear to be the same as original schoolhouse. Students pose with teachers, one of whom is Josefa Elena Jacsen.

Irma Spaulding attended the school between 1915 and 1920. Her family moved to South Oceanside in 1912 and operated a dairy farm. Irma’s father, Warren E. Spaulding, along with Earl Frazee, were Trustees of the school at the time.

In 1916 the school needed repairs, and a tax was approved in which to raise $249 for repairs. By August of that year it was reported by the Oceanside Register that “the work of improvements on the South Oceanside school building has been completed and school will be opened by Miss Josephine Jascen in a few days.”

Irma Spaulding said in an interview decades later that her father had dismantled the second story of the school. So it was likely then the school went from a large two story building to a smaller single story one.

Students pose on steps of the South Oceanside School, circa 1919

The school was probably permanently closed by 1924 and what remained of the school building was either sold and moved, or dismantled altogether. 

Today the only South Oceanside School anyone remembers is the one located at Horne and Cassidy Streets. Construction began in 1947 and it opened the following year, initially only offering classes for kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

The corner lot where the original school sat at Ditmar and Whaley Streets remained vacant for years until 1949, when the South Oceanside Community Methodist Church began construction for their new church building. As work commenced the brick foundation for this historic school was discovered.                                                                               

O. U. Miracle


A Name Engraved in History

Walk the neighborhoods of Oceanside and you will find the sidewalks marked with the curious name “O.U. Miracle”.  Many downtown sidewalks and curbs are engraved with this interesting name and many people may wonder what, if any meaning it holds, or who is this Miracle. 

Orville Ullman Miracle’s parents were creative in thinking up their son’s name.  Their beloved son’s initials lovingly proclaimed his birth to the world … and I can’t help but think Mrs. Miracle must have held her precious baby and whispered in his ear, “Oh You Miracle!” Little did they know but that this name would be used as a marketing tool second to none. 

Born in 1871 in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to James and Mary Miracle, Orville began a career in the cement business in about 1901. He later established the Miracle Pressed Stone Company, manufacturing and selling “Miracle Concrete Blocks” across the upper Midwest.

Orville Ullman Miracle (courtesy Richard Miracle Willets)

However, it was his cement business that brought him the most success. He traveled from Iowa to South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and even Montana, pouring cement for roads, sidewalks and curbing for cities and townships.

Left to right: Barry Derrer, O.U. Miracle, and two unidentified workers (courtesy Richard Miracle Willets)

Miracle’s association with Oceanside began in 1927 when he was the low bidder on the contracts to improve streets throughout downtown and the ocean front. He laid miles of concrete sidewalks throughout Oceanside that have long outlasted other cement walks poured decades after.

Office of O.U. Miracle at 1933 South Hill Street (now Coast Highway)

In 1938 South Oceanside became the home of “Miracle Village”. Miracle purchased nearly all of the Tolle Tract in South Oceanside, along with other lots which included either side of Vista Way from Hill Street to east of Moreno Street. He advertised his “Oh You Miracle Tract” around the southland and began building single family homes and selling them from his office at 1932 South Hill Street. The San Diego Union reported that Miracle sold lots “cafeteria style” – prices were placed on the lots, no middlemen, and buyers simply picked out their lot and brought the price tag to his office to complete the purchase.

Postcard advertisement for Miracle Village

Miracle built a house at 2022 South Freeman Street where he and his wife Grace made their home. Growing up, Robert Morton, lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle. He shared with me that Miracle built the home for his mother Charlotte Morton and it was the last empty lot on the block at the time. Other neighbors included Dr. and Mrs. George Totlon, Bob and Johnson, Rudy and Jane Sonneman, and Harold and Alma Davis.

Charlotte Morton and children in front of their home at 2018 South Freeman Street in “Miracle Village” South Oceanside

O. U. Miracle grew fields of gladiolus on parcels he owned to the east of his home. One block west he planted tomatoes and lima beans. His grandson Richard Miracle Willets wrote in his recollections: “During harvest I was put to work picking lima beans and also tomatoes. I loved picking tomatoes because tomatoes must still have some green on top to be marketable so the really delicious fully ripe ones we could eat in the field. I wasn’t really on the payroll but one evening ‘GG and GPOP’ and I were sitting in the living room listening to the radio when ‘GPOP’ said he had a surprise for me and gave me $14 which I thought was a lot of money.” 

He added that his time with his grandfather “was very precious” which included waking up in the morning and having breakfast that his ‘GPOP’ made for him – “wonderful eggs bacon and pancake breakfasts.” They would often go out in the garden and pick ripe figs and peaches to have with our breakfast.”

Looking east at Hill Street (Coast Highway) and Vista Way. (Richard Miracle Willets photo)

Willets would also recall trips to the land office with his grandfather. “I would tag along with him when he went over the Miracle Village office.  Grandpop chewed tobacco and beside his desk be had a brass spittoon. His aim wasn’t that great so the the air in the office had a distinct smell of chewing tobacco.” During the Depression years he also noted that “selling a lot for $400 at that time was a pretty big deal as money was pretty scarce.”

(photo courtesy Richard Miracle Willets)

O. U. Miracle’s unusual name brought attention from many columnists across the country, including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1934. In fact, O. U. Miracle appeared in a feature or advertisement in newspapers in nearly every state of the US between 1901 and 1949. His name was so familiar that a letter from South Africa simply addressed to “O.U. Miracle, USA” was delivered to him.          

Ad in The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, June 19, 1938

Willets remembered that his grandfather worked out a deal with the Standard Oil Company, who built a gas station on the Northeast corner of Hill Street (Coast Highway) and Vista Way.  The company paid him a few cents for every gallon of gas that was sold, which provided him (and later his daughters Margaret and Elinor) a steady stream of retirement income for many years. (The site is now the home of Valvoline, 1942 South Coast Highway.)

Described as an “ardent civic worker”, Miracle was also politically involved in the City and community affairs.  He was involved in the Elks and Rotary clubs as well as the South Oceanside Improvement Club.  Miracle served as the game warden for the Buena Vista Lagoon, which was a bird sanctuary. His grandson remembers that Orville had to tell people they were not allowed to shoot the ducks at the lagoon!

O.U. died October 9, 1949 at the Oceanside Hospital at the age of 78.  Up until his death he remained interested in the development of Oceanside.

Next time you walk through downtown, pause at each “little Miracle” you pass. It is a unique reminder of an Oceanside entrepreneur who left his mark on Oceanside in a very permanent way (and in the heart of his grandson Richard Miracle Willets).

Death of a Cemetery

The True Story of the Buena Vista Cemetery in South Oceanside

Editor’s Note (October 1, 2020): Since I last wrote and posted this story in June of 2019, I have found three additional people who were buried in the Buena Vista Cemetery. While going through various newspapers, I discovered that brothers Percy and Albert Laughlin, died in 1888 and 1895, respectively. Their obituaries published in Kansas newspapers indicate they were buried at South Oceanside. In addition, the Escondido newspaper reported that John Goss died in 1908 and was buried at Buena Vista Cemetery (and even at that time reported that sorry state of the cemetery…just 20 years after it was established). I have included these three persons to the burial count, which sadly adds to the number of remains likely still buried at this site.

History of the Buena Vista Cemetery

On Saturday, January 24, 1970, workmen began the task of removing graves from the Buena Vista Cemetery in South Oceanside. It took six hours to locate and remove 17 remains of the dead on the 2 acre site who had been buried there between 1888 and about 1916. The unidentified remains were removed to El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley.

The cemetery had been neglected for several decades. It was privately owned, not associated with any church or organization. Thus, there was no “perpetual care”. There was no official burial list or caretaker. Over the years, headstones had been likely stolen, wooden crosses removed, and memories faded as to who was buried there, and the cemetery became an overgrown field with a handful of toppled headstones.

Despite the neglect, most of the people interred at Buena Vista Cemetery, had families that attended their funerals, mourned their passing, and placed markers on their final resting place, whether wooden or stone. They were just not nameless, unfortunate souls who died alone. The dead were laid to rest in a peaceful, picturesque cemetery, overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, which also provided expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Lanes within the graveyard bore the names of trees and flowers: Fir, Oak,Yucca, Palm, Ivy, Lilac, Pansy, Rose and Violet.

The Buena Vista Cemetery was located in South Oceanside, a separate township of its own between Oceanside and Carlsbad. It was established by John Chauncey Hayes, who was also heavily intertwined with the establishment of the City of Oceanside. Hayes became the exclusive real estate agent for Andrew Jackson Myers, Oceanside’s founder, and he also served as Justice of the Peace and postmaster.

Hayes began to develop his new township of South Oceanside which included a train depot, hotel and its own newspaper, The South Oceanside Diamond, of which Hayes was the editor.

Hayes hired Edward Dexter, a local engineer, to lay out the cemetery for him, which contained 106 burial plots. The earliest map of the cemetery gives credit to Dexter and is dated February 1888. However the cemetery was not officially recorded until 1893.

The cemetery was located along Wall Street, which is now called Vista Way. At the time Hayes established the cemetery, there was no other burial ground for area residents, including Carlsbad, Oceanside and even Vista. The closest cemetery would be that of the Mission San Luis Rey, for Catholics; or a small public graveyard called the San Luis Rey Cemetery (known now as the Pioneer Cemetery). Both of these burial grounds were at least four miles away from downtown Oceanside and were likely considered inconvenient for coastal residents.

It did not take long for the new cemetery to be utilized. Sarah Perry was likely one of the first persons to be buried at Buena Vista. She died of dropsy of the heart, an old fashioned term for congestive heart failure, at the age of 50 on March 27, 1888.

In June of that year, a Mr. P. Morton, a railroad laborer, died and was buried there. Ione Layne and her infant daughter Edith died tragically and were buried there in 1888 as well.

George Bronson, who was buried elsewhere, and had died in 1885, was moved to Buena Vista Cemetery by his wife Mary in December of 1888. She had a monument maker from San Diego place a new headstone for her husband.

Headstone of George Bronson, moved from the Buena Vista Cemetery to the Oceanview Cemetery

Charles C. Wilson was also buried at Buena Vista. He was the first Oceanside law officer to die in the line of duty in 1889. Wilson was gunned down on the streets of Oceanside by John Murray, a nephew of San Luis Rey pioneer Benjamin F. Hubbert. The City of Oceanside, set to celebrate the 4th of July, instead gathered to mourn the loss of their marshal.

Five children, all died in 1893 and were buried at the cemetery: Zoe Holman, her sibling, Johnnie Hunting, Lois Hunting and Henry Irwin.

Between 1888 and 1900, at least 37 persons were buried at Buena Vista Cemetery, and it is believed that 50 (or more) people were buried at there, evidenced by death certificates, remaining headstones and published obituaries through 1916. Notable pioneers include John Henry Myers, the brother of Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers, and members of the Weitzel, Frazee families.

The last known burial was in 1916. Meta Spaulding was just ten days old when she died on December 31, 1916. She had been adopted by the Warren Spaulding family, owners of a dairy in South Oceanside. Irma Spaulding Ratcliff said that she remembered walking to the cemetery as a little girl after the funeral for Meta’s burial.

Burials were probably discontinued due to a new and much closer cemetery in Oceanside, the I.O.O.F. Cemetery (now known as Oceanview Cemetery) that was established in 1894.

In 1929 Wall Street (aka Vista Way)was being widened, which necessitated the removal of several of the buried. It is unknown if there were any protests from family members but the cemetery by that time was considered “abandoned”. Eight remains of the dead were disinterred and removed to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, (aka the Oceanview Cemetery) on Hill Street (Coast Highway). They included George Bronson (his second reburial), little Meta Spaulding, India D. Goetz, siblings Johnnie and Lois Hunting, Fred T. Walker, and James McCrea. The Weitzel family moved the bodies of their loved ones, Laura and Dr. Martin Weitzel, to Mt. Hope Cemetery in San Diego. Ida Squires was moved to the San Marcos Cemetery.

The Frazee family removed their family member, Don. Blair Frazee to the I.O.O.F Cemetery on Hill Street. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported the unusual circumstances regarding his disinterment with the headline: Body of Early Pioneer in Perfect Condition. It went on to say: In a state of almost perfect preservation, apparently from some mineral component of the soil, the body of Don Frazee, early Oceanside pioneer, has been exhumed after having been interred over 30 years, the casket and the clothing showing almost no signs of decay and a flower held in the hand of the dead man even retaining much of its color. The body was taken from its original resting place in the South Oceanside cemetery which is being abandoned in the course of street improvement work in the Tolle tract, on the east side of which the old cemetery was located, and was the first burial place after the settlement of Oceanside and Carlsbad.

With 50 known burials, and eleven known removals in 1929, that would have left a total of 39 remaining at the Buena Vista Cemetery, an important number to consider.

If the cemetery was abandoned by 1929, it is unknown how long Hayes owned the property. The land on which the cemetery was located was eventually sold to Carlsbad resident Harold Baumgartner. He sold the property in 1958/59 to an Oceanside school teacher, Beth Harris French, who acquired the Buena Vista Cemetery along with another portion of land to “preserve her view” of the lagoon from her home at 2020 Stewart Street.

While French was left wondering who was responsible for the care of the cemetery, she attempted to find an organization to take over the care and upkeep. Perhaps once a year, an occasional youth group or Boy Scout troop would tend to the headstones, at which time totaled twenty. Despite her concern, French asked the city to rezone her property and then sold it to a developer, who then petitioned the City of Oceanside to rezone the property for commercial use.

A clean up of the cemetery in 1968 shows several of the headstones

At the time James Swartz, of Encino, argued that the number of dead remaining in this abandoned cemetery was just nine. When asked by City officials what would happen if there were more than eleven remaining, Swartz said that if there were as many as forty or people buried there, he would abandon the project. (There may have been as many as 39 remaining burials as previously noted.)

A few dozen local residents signed letters of protests, most of which were residents of South Oceanside and not related to the buried. Some attempt was made to find descendants of the dead but it appears none came forward.

A lot of misinformation was floated around. Some people insisted that there just three people buried (despite over a dozen headstones); others suggested that the people buried all died in a plane crash (quite impossible as most people buried there died before the Wright Brothers historic flight in 1903).

Ultimately the decision was made to allow development of the property and to disinter the bodies, the cost of which was borne by the developer.

When excavation began, seventeen remains were discovered, not eleven as Swartz claimed. It turns out that Swartz may have simply counted the existing headstones, and did not consider there were more people than markers. The remaining headstones did not make their way to El Camino Memorial Park with the disinterred remains. They had been moved and no longer coincided with the proper burial location. Instead the grave markers were used as fill and are ‘buried’ under the on ramp to Highway 78, just east of the cemetery location. Perhaps one day they will be discovered by a Caltrans crew who will have no idea as to their origin or rightful place.

It is well within reason to assume that as many as 39 set of remains were still buried at the cemetery before the project began. If 17 sets of remains were removed at the developer’s cost, that may have left 22 behind (or more).

Grading began on the property to ready it for development. Soon after which, several remains, unceremoniously left behind, were discovered. This was confirmed by two reputable people. One such account was from Manny Mancillas, who worked for North County Soils Testing Laboratory in Escondido in 1969. His company was hired by an oil company, as a service station was to be built on the eastern portion of the former burial site, and the western half a restaurant, The Hungry Hunter.

Mancillas remembered that the gravestones had been gathered in a pile before they were used as fill on the I-5 offramp. He noted that some of headstones were “beautiful” and some were about four feet high.

After a couple of days on the job site, the front loader hit remains of one or two coffins. According to Mancillas, the City was called and an employee from the Engineering Department came out with a burlap bag and took the bones. The crew was told to continue their work. This “transaction” happened at least one other time, when an additional grave was discovered. And as digging continued, outlines of other coffins appeared.

One particular coffin the crew uncovered had a lead glass top, revealing a body of a woman with red hair in almost perfect condition. Her coffin was found near Vista Way towards the entrance of the present day Hunter Restaurant. He said that she was dressed in attire from the late 1800’s; a black buttoned dress with a high white collar. This mirrors the disinterment of Don Frazee in 1929, who was found “preserved.”

Work stopped after the discovery of the woman and the men were unnerved. The men were afraid she would be taken away in a burlap bag and not given a proper burial, so they made the decision to use the front loader to rebury her. Her discovery was kept secret and she was quietly buried down the slope of the lagoon. The construction crew felt that re-interment in the slope was a more decent and dignified burial for the “Lady in Black.”

Aerial of property containing restaurant and current bike shop

Mancillas said that at least six bodies were found during the time he was on site. Bill Hitt, who worked for K L Redfern out of Orange County, did the excavating for the gas station and his memories are similar to that of Mancillas, although Hitt felt more than six remains were found after the official removal; he remembered as many as 12.

Depending upon which numbers are used, that would still leave either 10 or 16 possible remains left at the cemetery.

While some might scoff at the idea that any other bodies or remains were left behind, consider this: In October of 1991, Texaco was on site of the former service station (now a bike shop) perhaps doing soils testing and they discovered an additional five sets of remains. There was no way to identify them, and the company paid to have them removed to Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside.

Even with the removal of 5 additional remains in 1991, there are likely still remains at the site to this day, perhaps 5 or as many as 11.

There are some who believe the Hunter Restaurant is now haunted. Whether you believe in spirits or not, it is still an unsettling situation.

With the removal of Buena Vista Cemetery, Oceanside lost a part of its history. When those early pioneer families laid their loved ones to rest they never could have imagined they would suffer such indignities.

In the 1990’s the Oceanside Historical Society placed a granite marker on the sidewalk on Vista Way in front of the Hunter Restaurant, listing the known persons that were buried there at the time. (The plaque does not include persons found with additional research in recent years). It stands as the only reminder of the Buena Vista Cemetery and the pioneers buried there.

Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Death of a Cemetery”, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Death of a Cemetery”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.