SANTA CRUZ — More than a century after her public suicide on Pacific Avenue, the lore of Marie Holmes' young life has a new chapter.
A man hiking recently off Bonny Doon Road near Davenport found the 21-year-old English woman's white headstone, taken from Evergreen Cemetery, where she was buried in 1898 after, as the tale goes, ingesting carbolic acid to end a despairing life. The hiker had first seen it in 2005, but only decided this year to go back for it.
"I was 5 yards away from it and couldn't see it," Sibley Simon, head of a cemetery restoration committee, said as he described being led to the discovery site by the hiker. "We were so lucky he was there and found it."
The hiker, who goes by the name River Wolf, contacted the Museum of Art and History, which owns the cemetery near Harvey West Park, after reading about Holmes' story online. Wolf could not be reached for an interview late last week.
But Simon said Wolf had learned through writings by historian Phil Reader that Holmes had come to Santa Cruz in 1897 and was working as a prostitute. Missing her daughter and suffering from tuberculosis, she drank poison on what is now North Pacific Avenue and ambled downtown before collapsing in front of a saloon, according to Reader's research.
The museum, headed by Simon's wife, Nina, forwarded an email from Wolf about the discovery.
It is now at the museum for safe-keeping.
"People need to know the history about Marie to understand what a big discovery this is," said S. Sangye Hawke, a museum volunteer who wrote a moving article about the hiker's find. "There is a tremendous amount of history there I don't think a lot of people appreciate."
Evergreen Cemetery, which contains the remains of many city pioneers, fell into disrepair a generation ago. Adjacent to Pogonip park, it has attracted drug dens and illegal campsites in recent years. Community groups have been working to clean it up and restore headstones.
It's impossible to know when Holmes' stone was taken. Much more is known about the woman herself.
According to Reader's writings from the 1990s, which are posted on the Santa Cruz Public Libraries website, the Sentinel reported in May 1898 that Holmes, who was given to melancholy, killed herself after returning from the beach with a friend, where she had talked of suicide. She returned to her room, burned a number of letters, walked around town and then took the poison.
According to Reader's research, the madame for whom Holmes worked paid for the funeral.
She was laid to rest at Evergreen and "many beautiful floral pieces were on the casket, mute tributes of sympathy from her companions, down whose cheeks the tears coursed as they listened to the words of the Rev. E.H. Hayden from the Baptist Church," according to a Sentinel article of the time. "Perhaps it had been years since most of them had heard words from the lips of a minister."
The gravesite was later located by Holmes' daughter, who described Evergreen Cemetery as a "lovely place, tucked into the bottom of a small mountain," according to a letter she wrote to her grandmother — a letter also uncovered by Reader.
There is no specific date set for returning Holmes' stone to its rightful place. Repairing stones at the cemetery is a daunting task.
Simon said only half of the original headstones are in place, with others deteriorated, buried or stolen. His museum volunteer committee is working to fix them, focusing right now on restoring the Chinese portion of the cemetery.
Anyone interested in joining the effort to improve the cemetery, including doing research, groundskeeping or repair, may contact Simon at email@example.com.