OAKLAND -- Aptly situated at the foot of Piedmont Avenue, Mountain View Cemetery is a repository of Piedmont's history. With its stately avenues and winding roadways; monuments and chapels; and garden-style burial grounds, this cemetery is the resting place for famous figures and ordinary people who belong to Piedmont's past -- people whose names bring back the settling and growth of Piedmont in the 19th century.
History buffs and novices alike should mark their calendars for Saturday, when Stafford Buckley will lead a two-hour tour going back in time and giving tour goers a rare look into the cemetery's rich connections to Piedmont's past.
The tour is sponsored by the docents of Mountain View Cemetery and Buckley, their chairman, is a natural to delve into Piedmont's past. With his deep interest in the architecture and personages of the city where he grew up, Buckley provides historic tidbits and more.
"As a youngster, I was already reading about Piedmont's history, and I collected a lot of original source material," he said. "In 1995, I joined the Piedmont Historical Society, so I weave it all together. I know where Piedmonters lived and the architect of their homes."
Buckley believes that knowing about Mountain View Cemetery's history is an important first step. It was founded in 1865 after Dr. Samuel Merritt got together with a group of prominent citizens to found the cemetery; Piedmont's Isaac Requa was one of its trustees. Of equal importance is Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed the cemetery with an intent to express harmony between man and nature.
"It's amazing how many people don't know that the cemetery is laden with California history. We could do a mayors of Oakland tour, a founder's tour, a woman's tour, an African-American tour," Buckley said. "I'm just picking out one piece of history -- Piedmont."
Buckley will meet tour-goers in front of the mausoleum and begin the tour there. After some time in the chapel, the tour will make its way into the grounds, stopping at grave markers of prominent Piedmonters from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
One such personage was Walter Blair, who, with his brother William, bought 600 acres from the government and used 75 of those acres to build a pleasure park in Piedmont where people could come to enjoy music at the band stand, dance and row in the lake that is now one of the reservoirs in Mountain View Cemetery.
"I like to take people up to this area and show them where Blair's park was," Buckley said. "Walter Blair died in 1887 and, as far as I know, was the first Caucasian citizen of Piedmont to be buried in Mountain View."
Next to Blair is Doctor Annette Buckel, a physician who came west and set up a practice in Oakland.
"She would ride her horse and buggy up the hill and built a log cabin in Piedmont very close to what is now Mountain Avenue. That's where she went to get away from it all," he said. "Over the generations, her log cabin has evolved into a house."
Another resident, Wiggington Creed, lived on Indian Road and was president of PG&E and had some steel interests. "He died at the age of 50, and it was said he worked himself to death," Buckley said.
Among other former Piedmonters are: Walter Starr, director and president of the Sierra Club; Edward Beach, the first California officer killed in World War I; Alice Sturgis, a parliamentarian who rewrote Robert's Rules of Order; and Mark Requa, who gave the nominating speech for President Herbert Hoover.
Buckley is keeping a few stories in reserve for tour-goers, including the surprising name of a Civil War hero and Piedmont's connection to Charles Crocker, of Western Pacific Railway fame.
"I'd like to increase tour-goers' knowledge of the history of Piedmont through a different way," Buckley said. "And anybody we talk about there, we know their entire history. They're not still making history."
Mountain View Cemetery tour on Piedmont history: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, at Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Ave., 510-658-2588. The tour is free, no reservations required. Meet in front of the administrative office, and wear comfortable walking shoes.
Watch a Tout video about docent Stafford Buckley talking about Piedmont pioneer Walter Blair at Blair's gravestone.
Go to: www.tout.com/embed/touts/o6kki0