Is there a place in your town that you go by, day in & day out, and have never have stopped there to visit? It could be a museum, a historical building, or even a restaurant that you have not tried. Why haven’t you stopped to take a look?
Several years, I wrote an article called “What’s in Your Backyard”. It was a story about how many places in Palm Springs I have not visited since moving here. My goal for the rest of the year is to visit as many places in Palm Springs, and to write about my experiences.
I had been living in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs for nearly 9 years. Every day when I went to work, I would drive by the Welwood Murray Cemetery. The cemetery is named after Dr. Welwood Murray, the man who built the first hotel in Palm Springs, The Palm Springs Hotel, in 1886. The cemetery is about a 2 acre parcel of land, adjacent to the O’Donnell Golf Course, right below the Matzner hillside estate.
As the first cemetery for non-Indian settlers in Palm Springs, this is the final resting place for many Palm Springs pioneers and visionaries. Deeded to the Palm Springs cemetery district by Welwood Murray’s heirs, it is named in his honor. Erksine Murray, son of Elizabeth and George Murray, was the first buried here in 1894.
It was not until one fateful day I decided to take a look who resides here. It’s not that I have a morbid fascination for cemeteries, it is just that I didn’t realize who was buried here and the stories these people could tell.
I go down the walkways, looking at the plaques in the ground. It’s a beautiful afternoon, the sun glistens in the clear blue skies above and a slight breeze rustles the palm trees. I was having a peaceful moment of reflection, reminding myself to live each day to the fullest. Here are the plaques that caught my attention:
Welwood Erskine Murray, died in 1894. The first person buried in the Welwood Memorial Cemetery.
Albert Frey, one of the most prolific modernist architects of the 20th century, died in 1998. To learn more about his life, click here.
Charles Farrell, film actor of the ’20’s & ’30’s, died in 1990. Mr. Farrell also built the Palm Springs Racquet Club, along with fellow actor, Ralph Bellamy. To learn more about his life, click here.
E. Stewart Williams, the architect who built the Frank Sinatra House in 1946, died in 2005. Mr. Williams designed many of the buildings that still stand today in Palm Springs. To learn more about his life, click here.
Nellie Coffman and her husband, Dr. Harry Coffman, opened the Desert Inn Sanitorium in 1909. In 1914, Nellie converted the sanitorium in a hotel, much to the dismay of her husband. They soon divorced after this. Nellie Coffman died in 1950. To learn more about Nellie’s life, click here.
Out of all the plaques and tombstones in the cemetery, these are the ones that touched me most. These two people were not famous people, but they were someone’s wife, daughter, sister. These women mattered to someone. I didn’t know who they were, but for that brief moment I was there, they spoke to me:
I was sad when I came across this plaque. It was a stone that said “Mexican Woman”. No name, no information. Who was this woman? When did she die? How old was she? Where did she come from?
I hope she didn’t die alone. I cannot fathom that no one knew this woman. This cemetery was not a Potter’s Field. Everybody matters in this world, and people should not be forgotten.
The next time you are visiting Palm Springs, make a point to visit the Welwood Murray Cemetery. This small piece of Palm Springs history is worth seeing. To get here, go west on Alejo Rd. from Downtown, towards the mountain, across the street from Temple Isiah. You can’t miss it.