Days Past: Many stories to be told about residents of Citizens' Cemetery
On Monday, May 30, Memorial Day 2011, throughout the nation we will honor those who have been a part of our lives, either directly or indirectly, and have passed from this life. At the Citizens' Cemetery on Sheldon Street, a service of commemoration will begin at 9 a.m. It will be an "old-fashioned" Memorial Day observance with appropriate music and community speakers honoring those who have served our country in the military. Bring a chair and sun protection. Parking is available across Sheldon Street at Yavapai College. Come early or stay after the program to browse through this historic cemetery.
Citizens' Cemetery had its beginning in 1864 with the burial of the Honorable Joel Woods, a visiting legislator from Colorado who was a victim of a shooting accident while hunting in the area. Today, the cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and contains the graves of more than 2,500 persons, including a wide spectrum of individuals who settled and developed central Arizona. It is difficult to imagine the lives of those named on the gravestones - who they really were, how they lived and especially how they died. What was life like for them in this frontier town of long ago? Here lie unknowns, criminals, individuals of various ethnic and religious groups, prominent townsfolk and just plain "family."
There is an excellent book available, "Grave History: A Guidebook to Citizens' Cemetery" by T. Stone, which gives detailed information about the cemetery: the layout, grave location, photographs, drawings and marvelous stories (including actual newspaper accounts) of many of the interred. If you are interested in your Prescott heritage, this is a book for you. It is available at the Sharlot Hall Museum Store.
There are many lives represented in this hallowed place - so many "stories" from which to choose. One example is the story of a young man who arrived at Fort Verde as a private with Company B, 12th Regiment, during the Indian Wars of 1878. Born in Wisconsin, his name was Dennis A. Burke. Before he was discharged from the Army in 1882 at the age of 23, he had been promoted to sergeant and was serving at Fort Whipple where he met and married Jennie Murphy. Four of their six children were born while they lived at Fort Whipple, where he continued as a civilian clerk/accountant for the quartermaster general.
In 1890, Dennis partnered with Michael Hickey in constructing the Burke Hotel at the southwest corner of Montezuma and Gurley streets. When the exquisite two-story hotel opened on New Year's Day in 1891, it was truly Prescott's finest. So successful was the venture that, in late 1894, a third story was added. It was advertised in newspapers as "the only absolutely fireproof hotel in Prescott." The Great Fire of July 14, 1900, changed all that when, along with much of downtown, the Burke Hotel went up in flames.
Reconstruction of the Burke Hotel began in 1901 and, with lessons learned, many fire extinguishers and fire escapes were included. In 1907, Dennis sold his interest in the hotel, and Mr. Hickey renamed the building The Hotel St. Michael, which we know today.
By 1907, Dennis Burke had already served twice as mayor of Prescott. He was involved in mining ventures, served as Yavapai County treasurer as well as a council member in the Territorial Legislature. According to the Arizona Journal-Miner, June 14, 1899, "he has represented his county creditably." He was active with the Elks Club and was a charter member, helped organize the local Democratic Party and was an outstanding citizen.
Dennis moved to Bouse in Yuma County (now LaPaz) with several of his children while his wife remained in Prescott with the others. He established a hotel in that town and, on a warm night in 1917 while sleeping on a cot at the hotel, he was stung by an insect thought to be a whip scorpion (vinegaroon). They are not venomous, but the wound became infected. He returned to Prescott in the summer of 1918 and was subsequently diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and died at Mercy Hospital in Prescott at age 59 on Nov. 3. He was buried here in Citizens' Cemetery.
The grave location for Mr. Burke is along the western driveway, near the upper end of the cemetery.
For more photos and information about Dennis and the Burke Hotel, go to sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast and search for "Burke.'" The Days Past articles written by Pat Atchison and Tom Collins are noteworthy.
Now that your "historical bone" has been tickled, take the time to find, read and appreciate "everybody's hometown" heritage. You will be glad you did. See you on Memorial Day at Citizens' Cemetery!
The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Sharlot Hall Museum archivist Scott Anderson at 445-3122 for information.