Yesteryear Rests Peacefully in Fair Oaks Cemetery
By Richard Perez
Notable Fair Oaks Cemetery resident Myrna Opsahl, a 42 year old mother of four, died in 1975 during an early morning bank robbery in Carmichael. She was shot by the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army. (The radical group also kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst during their reign of terror.)
Photo by Richard Perez
FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - Picturesque Fair Oaks cemetery was founded on October 21, 1902 on a half-acre of land. Ornate headstones commemorating patriarchs lie in close proximity to simple, unnamed grave markers. The list of interments is unique; the first official resident of the grounds was Sarah Vail, a Folsom native who died in a fire and was buried in 1903. There are two other women who were buried in 1898, but Miss Vail is the first authenticated burial at Fair Oaks Cemetery.
Other gravesites include a dozen Civil War veterans from both the Union and Confederate Armies who now share a common ground. Another notable resident is Myrna Opsahl, a 42 year old mother of four who died in 1975 during an early morning bank robbery in Carmichael. She was shot by the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army. (The radical group also kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst during their reign of terror.) Alongside these graves are the plots of early 20th century people who are memorialized with small stone markers listing only last name and year of death. One in particular is a tiny headstone cradled amongst the roots of a large oak tree bearing the inscription: Bishop Baby - 1907. One hundred and seven years later, this little monument still brings on a melancholic sense.
Fair Oaks Cemetery manager of 17 years, Ray Young, takes great pride in the many years of service the cemetery has provided to the community. “We are one of the oldest cemeteries in the region.” His staff includes office manager Terri Perrin, clerk Theresa Day, and lead groundskeeper Guillermo Barron; they help Young maintain the tradition of honoring loved ones in a placid and serene setting. The cemetery facilities now cover 12 acres and over 100 years of local history.
Fair Oaks The Way it Was (1976) recounts: “In the early 1890s, a man, a representative of the Howard & Wilson Publishing Co., which was seeking land for a colony, rode up a trail along the American River and was greatly impressed with the beauty of the land, especially a stand of moss-draped oaks along the north shore of the river. He had found his site. It was known as ‘Sunset Colony’ and was later named Fair Oaks because it looked like Fair Oaks, Virginia.” The publishing company purchased 9,000 acres and helped settle the area known today as Fair Oaks, California.
Pioneers from the Midwest and East with names such as Slocum, Straith, and McClatchy were families that helped establish Fair Oaks and the surrounding expanse. The Fair Oaks Bridge and the arrival of the railroad spurred growth, and Fair Oaks became known as the crown of the Sacramento Valley in the heart of California. A local publication of the period, The Tattler quipped: “Now that we have two M.D.s, the people have concluded that we need a cemetery.” Two and one half acres at Olive Street and New York Avenue were purchased for the sum of $250.00 from S.E. Keifer for use as a cemetery. Bylaws were drawn up and lots were apportioned to the stockholders. Fair Oaks Cemetery Association President C. H. Slocum allocated the remaining plots for future sale.
The Fair Oaks Cemetery District (FODC) oversees the day to day operations of the facility and serves Fair Oaks, and parts of Carmichael and Rancho Cordova. Various community organizations, such as the Fair Oaks and Carmichael Chambers of Commerce, the Fair Oaks Rotary, and the Orangevale Grange, partner with the FOCD and help to maintain this resting place.
Fair Oaks Cemetery is an all-inclusive memorial park serving the various regional communities. Interments include an array of plans ranging from the moderately priced Oak Knoll Niches to specially placed and designated plots available throughout the grounds. Cost can vary based upon district residence, taxing status and product selection. For further information, call (916) 966-1613 or visit www.fairoakscemetery.com.
Sources: www.fairoakscemetery.com, Fair Oaks the Way it Was (1976)