ABQ’s Historic Fairview Cemetery: ‘An outdoor history museum’

Dale Nelson, a member of VFW Roadrunner Post 10763, pushes an American flag into the hardened ground of a veteran’s grave at the Historic Fairview Cemetery in Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

History isn’t always pretty.

That’s certainly the case at the Historic Fairview Cemetery, where members of VFW Roadrunner Post 10763 on Wednesday placed flags on the graves of veterans buried in hard, barren ground – where stunted weeds are the predominant greenery and many headstones are toppled, cracked, faded or missing.

“The veterans buried here are from all over, not just New Mexico, and they’re from all branches of the armed services,” said Jim Berdine, a trustee for the VFW post.

There are veterans of the Civil War, including a dozen or so Buffalo Soldiers; Rough Riders who fought in the Spanish-American War; and veterans from both World Wars and Korea.

“We just wanted to let them know we haven’t forgotten them,” Berdine said.

The nearly 500 flags will be retrieved after Memorial Day and members of the VFW post will return in November to place flags in time for Veterans Day, Berdine said.

The cemetery is located at the north end of Fairview Memorial Park, 700 Yale SE. It covers 17.5 acres and is home to about 12,000 graves, of which 500 or more may be veterans’. Nearly half of all the graves, close to 6,000 of them, are unmarked, said Historic Fairview Cemetery Historian Susan Schwartz.

In 2012, that northern portion of Fairview Memorial Park was separated from the main cemetery and given to the nonprofit Historic Fairview Cemetery organization, she said.

Karen Piccuta, VFW Roadrunner Post 10763 quartermaster, plants American flags on veterans’ graves Wednesday at the Historic Fairview Cemetery. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Fairview Memorial Park has undergone a number of ownership changes over the years, but what remained constant was that the lush, southern portion was a perpetual care cemetery and the smaller northern portion was not, Schwartz said.

While some families who had plots in that northern portion paid to have their plots irrigated and landscaped, the last payment by a family for such services was in the early 1960s, she said.

That so many of the graves are unmarked is due to headstones being stolen or crumbled, wooden markers disintegrating, and the fact that many were paupers’ graves and may never have been marked to begin with, Schwartz said.

The historic cemetery began in 1881 when a young man from Corrales, Mosheim Perea, died and was buried at the site “because the ground was sandy and easier to dig,” said Gail Rubin, president of the Historic Fairview Cemetery organization.

With the arrival of the railroad in Albuquerque in 1880, “the population boomed – as did deaths,” she said. That single unauthorized burial led to others and, ultimately, creation of the cemetery, where many notable names appear on the headstones, as well as some lesser known, but historically important, figures.

• James Price was born into slavery in 1839 in Missouri, the son of Brig. Gen. Tomas Lawson Price and one of his female slaves. In 1864, Price became a “Buffalo Soldier” in the “colored infantry,” intending to do a three-year hitch. He wound up serving 33 years. His last postings were in Santa Fe and Tularosa. He retired in Albuquerque and died in 1901.

• Charles E. Passmore, born in 1856, was one of the Rough Riders serving during the Spanish-American War, and a personal bodyguard for Gen. Frederick Funston in the Philippines campaign. He died in 1922.

• Edmund G. Ross was born in 1826 in Ohio and moved to Kansas, where he was a major in the 11th Kansas Calvary during the Civil War and then served as a U.S. senator from Kansas. A newspaper man by trade, Ross moved to Albuquerque in 1882 to work for The Albuquerque Morning Journal. In 1885, he was appointed territorial governor of New Mexico by President Grover Cleveland. During his tenure, he signed a bill creating the University of New Mexico. Ross died in 1907.

• Bernard Shandon Rodey, an Irish immigrant born in 1856 became a delegate to the New Mexico Territorial Senate, introduced legislation that created UNM, was a U.S. District Court judge for Puerto Rico, and founded the Rodey Law Firm. He died in 1927.

• Albert Simms, born in 1882 in Arkansas, moved to New Mexico in 1912, the year of statehood. He became a lawyer, city councilor and county commissioner, bank president, member of the New Mexico House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress, and established Los Poblanos farm. A gift of more than 12,000 acres and 7,500 shares of bank stock from him and his wife, Ruth, made Albuquerque Academy possible. He died in 1964.

“I consider this cemetery an outdoor history museum that showcases not just Albuquerque’s history, but also the history of New Mexico and the U.S.,” said Rubin. “We learn from history, if we’re smart, and there’s a lot to learn from the stories of the lives of the people buried at Historic Fairview Cemetery.”

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