The ground is covered with grass and near the headstones, the dirt becomes soft, sometimes swallowing visitors’ feet until they are ankle deep.
Sunnyside Cemetery has been recognized by the Historical Society of Long Beach for its age. Over the years, it has seen famous photographer Ansel Adams, various masons and annual Halloween tours.
It is obvious when acknowledging the historical architecture in Sunnyside that the cemetery has been around for a long time. The dates on the tombstones date back to the early-1900s and even the mid-1800s.
Each year since 1995, the Historical Society of Long Beach has held an annual historical tour of the cemetery, which consists of storytelling by costumed actors. Each year, there are 10 stories. Some tell of former politicians, while others tell of ordinary people.
This year, actors and volunteers will act out the true stories of former Long Beach residents who are buried at the cemetery. The event takes place on Oct. 30 and tickets will be available at 8:30 a.m. on the cemetery grounds. The tours take place throughout the day.
Those who choose to participate in the tour will also be guided through the neighboring Long Beach Municipal Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Long Beach. Though Sunnyside is significantly larger, the Municipal is still worth looking at, as it features an abandoned flower shop and a narrow one-lane path that was likely once used for horse and carriage traffic.
Buried among the sea of tombstones are statues, including one that was photographed by Adams in 1939. The statue, titled “Angel of Sorrows,” was in an Adams photo, along with Long Beach oil rigs in the background.
While it is common to see flat tombstones at newer cemeteries, it is actually quite rare to find flat ones at Sunnyside. The headstones stand erect, like they did in the old days. Some have pictures of the deceased on them, clad in their early 20th century dresses or suits. Most pictures hold a tint of vintage sepia tone, reflecting their age.
Some headstones have only last names; some depict the exact age of the person in years, months and days; and some headstones are incomplete with two names and only one of them having a death date, almost as if the other person decided they no longer wanted to be buried there.
Other headstones have quotes, some are giant crosses with last names spelled across them, and some have images of flowers and scrolls carved into them.
Despite the various styles of tombstones, don’t be surprised to see tons of Freemasonry symbols carved into the stones. The Masonic square and compass appears frequently throughout the park, along with a few other fraternity symbols.
The grounds at Sunnyside are worth checking out, especially for those who are horror movie fans or history buffs. There is rarely ever anybody there, so be sure to bring a friend if you’re the jumpy type.
What are those holes in the dirt by the tombstones that cause your feet to sink a few inches with each step? Gopher holes? Or are they holes where the dead poke their hands out at night looking for the ankles of visitors so they can drag them under? You be the judge. Just be careful not to let your imagination get the best of you while you’re there ― it can be hard.
Sunnyside Cemetery is located at 1095 E. Willow St. in Long Beach.