Through the chain-link fence and beneath the winding road that bisects the Lone Fir Cemetery lie the bones of one Charity Lamb. Instead of resting comfortably in a grave or stacked beside her loved ones in the mausoleum, the final resting place for Lamb—a victim of domestic violence who took an axe blade to her husband's head at the supper table in 1854—is most likely under the road itself. While covering her memory with a thick slab of asphalt might be taken as a blatant affront to the deceased (actually, it's believed her wooden grave marking deteriorated before the road was unknowingly built over her), Lamb's odd tale is just one of many that contribute to the allure of the Lone Fir Cemetery.
The pull of Lone Fir—a monument on the National Register of Historic Places that stretches out over 30-plus acres of Southeast Portland's best real estate—is that it's unconventional. Still operational as a cemetery, the grounds are an absolutely stunning reminder of the long arm of history and the cruel fragility of life. It's an eclectic assembly of old and new, yet it lacks the cold, disconnected haunt of death that permeates most resting grounds. The unique nature of the Lone Fir is behind Dearly Departed, a masterfully assembled compilation—benefiting the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery, a nonprofit organization that handles the preservation of the space—by Portland musicians who pay tribute in song to those resting six-feet underground—even those unfortunate enough to be buried beneath an asphalt road.
In "Asylum Road," Storm Large tells the sad tale of Lamb, while Nick Jaina contributes the gentle "Officer Shoppe," a boozy saga about the murder of a decorated police officer. On "New Age Blues for Rodney Morris" by Al James (of Dolorean) is a barren and gorgeous account of a protagonist who "walked by the river of life but was too scared to jump in." And so it goes—most of the songs on Dearly Departed are joyfully bloody ballads of murder, suicide, and enough tragedy to touch even the most desolate of souls. And in writing these dark songs, it opened the musicians to a new, and unfamiliar, role: that of local historians.
"I went to the Portland Library to do further research," explains Jaina. "In the microfilms of the old Oregonian newspaper, I read the witnesses' accounts of what happened that day. It was basically a random, violent act, but it meant a lot to the city at the time, and I felt lucky to get a chance to maybe reintroduce the story to a few people."
Of course, dredging up the lives, and especially the deaths, of so many who have crossed over to the great beyond is bound to result in a few ghostly encounters. Explains Leigh Marble, whose elegant "Inebriate Waltz" is a haunted encounter that wears the crown of being the most chilling song on the record, "It was right before I was to do my photo shoot for the CD. Apparently Kate [Sokoloff, producer of the compilation] and the photo crew had wrapped the shoot right before mine, and someone asked, 'Who are we shooting next?' and someone replied 'Leigh Marble,' and then a marble rolled right across their path as they were walking over to find me. When I showed up they were kind of freaked out by it, but laughing, and they showed me the marble."