MARTINEZ -- More than two dozen history buffs and curious sorts gathered at the Alhambra Cemetery on Saturday evening to begin their adventure with a tour guide clad in Civil War-era mourning garb.
The group then made its way from headstone to headstone, as Patty Lorick shared tales of those who are buried there.
At dusk, a pumpkin likeness of an orange full moon rose above the Carquinez Strait as Lorick's accounts were punctuated by the sound of crunching oak leaves underfoot.
In the darkness, participants followed along with Lorick, while others clicked on their flashlights and opted to meander on their own among the grave markers.
The Martinez land was acquired in 1849 and established as a cemetery in 1854. Mr. Coffin was among its early commissioners, notes Lorick.
Other headstones are for the teacher who taught "reading, writing and arithmetic -- and shooting," and a marker for Buddy, "the cutest dog you've ever seen."
Lorick was among the city's recreation department staff that five years ago helped bury the long-ago cremated remains of Mrs. Nakatani in a ceremony that included shipping her back from Japan and burying her with her favorite chocolate bars.
Since the fall of 1999, Lorick has been leading tours of the five—acre hilltop grounds where an estimated 3,300 of the famous and unknown have been resting in peace since the first burials there in 1851.
On this night, she told tales of Carolyn Holpin, a late 19th century, Rubenesque flame dancer, describing her as "the Elvis of her time," and giving a modern-day Britney Spears "a run for her money."
There's Col. William Gift, who "raised thoroughbreds and six daughters," the proliferation of burial sites for children who died during various pandemics, and the unmarked graves that cover an entire hillside, known as Potter's Row.
Martinez resident Julee Johnson joined the tour after doing some online research about those buried at the cemetery.
"This is mom's night out to hang out with the ghosts," she says.
Robin Mitchell of Martinez, a longtime history buff and collector of vintage clothing, arrived dressed in an ankle-length black gown. The former member of Contra Costa County's Advisory Council on Aging was among those who stopped along the way to photograph headstones.
"I try to get people into the spirit of things," she says.
Lorick attributes the well-groomed paths and well-maintained grave sites to the twice a year cleanup days when local members of the "Clampers" (E. Clampus Vitus) comprise the bulk of the volunteers.
Preserving history is a cornerstone of the fraternal organization's mission.
One of its longtime members and past president, Carter Wilson, joined the city's adopt-a-grave program in 1980 and has been active since, helping install irrigation lines and the cemetery's water fountain.
"These are the founders; they're pioneers," says Wilson, a board member of the Martinez Historical Society, who also serves on the city's Cemetery Commission.
Meanwhile, Johnson brought a poignant perspective of being a mom, having empathy for those who lost a child.
"They're someone's family," she says of the "somber and informative" tour.
"It's about wanting to be part of a community. This feels connecting," she adds.
The city of Martinez Recreation Department also leads school tours of the cemetery, including its debut Day of the Dead gravestone hunt Saturday, Nov. 2.
What: Halloween Cemetery Tour
When: 6:30 -7:45 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 31
Where: Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery, Carquinez Scenic Road, Martinez