Even though Halloween is over, I decided to check out the Yorba Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in North Orange County.
The cemetery is mostly famous for an urban legend known as the “Pink Lady,” a tortured 17-year-old woman who supposedly haunts the graveyard every June 15 on even-numbered years. She’s rumored to float across the historic burial ground, crying in anguish over her untimely demise in a buggy accident in 1910.
Every year, on June 15, people line up at night outside the cemetery fence with their cameras ready to take a photo of the Pink Lady. However, Melanie Goss, a tour guide and Maintenance Crew Supervisor at the Yorba Linda Cemetery who is a full believer in ghosts, has never had a ghostly encounter at this burial ground.
On the first Saturday of each month (excluding May), Ms. Goss and other volunteers from the OC Parks Historical Operations Group host historic tours of the Yorba Linda Cemetery, which is just a twenty-five minute drive away from Fullerton.
Now located in the neighborhood Woodgate Park, the Yorba Cemetery was originally established on land that was part of Bernardo Yorba’s 13,000 acre Rancho Canon de Santa Ana, the Canyon of Saint Anne, granted to him in 1834.
After his death in 1858, Bernardo’s will deeded property to the Catholic Church containing the San Antonio Chapel and the cemetery. Residents of North Orange County, many of them descendants of pioneering rancho-era families, were buried at this cemetery from 1860 until the cemetery’s closure in 1939, including several from Fullerton.
Because there were not many people living in North Orange County during the hacienda days, families were related – even cousins. In fact, Dolores Ontiveros, who owned a ranch that encompassed Placentia, Fullerton and Anaheim, was buried at the cemetery. Today, the Yorba Cemetery is a historical site maintained by Orange County Parks.
On a Saturday morning in October, I lined up with a bunch of other visitors to the cemetery and signed in underneath an archway covered in dead vines. Ms. Goss, who manages eight historic sites for Orange County, introduced herself to us.
“There are 435 people known to have been buried in this cemetery according to a written record,” Goss explained, “Gravestones have been damaged by vandals. Every single headstone, except for Bernardo’s, has been knocked over at least once in the cemetery. Every one of them. However, Bernardo’s wasn’t left out. Somebody took a shotgun and shot out two of the panels that tell you who was buried here. There used to be wooden headstones. These obviously didn’t last because there’s too much heat and other factors in California. There are 100 headstones left. Wherever you see a white cross is where we have identified a burial. People get white crosses when we know who they are and why they’re buried. We’re going to put brass plaques on each one of them to identify each person because everybody’s important.”
It turns out there’s a reason why the cemetery closed in 1939. Employees of the Anaheim Union Water Company in 1935 were working outside of the grounds, and every time they were there, they found a body, which freaked them out. So they started a letter-writing campaign and it took until 1939 for burials to stop in the cemetery.
I learned that Orange County bought the cemetery in the 1970s and paid a dollar for it with the stipulation that they would keep it a historic site. They did not do anything with the property until the 1980’s when the weeds became taller and taller.
Bernardo Yorba deeded the San Antonio Chapel and land for the cemetery to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1858, but without any money to maintain it, the cemetery became overgrown through the years and was mostly maintained by the families. In 1980, the County came in and cleared everything out. They took all the headstones out of the cemetery, and put them in Bernardo Yorba’s barn on the other side of the river. They cleaned everything out, put a layer of dirt down and put the headstones back when they were done. But they didn’t make a map, so with Bernardo’s help, they knew where some of the headstones went—but not the Pink Lady’s grave.
Following Ms. Goss to a corner of the Yorba Cemetery with a wooden fence surrounding a grave, we learned about the Pink Lady.
“The Pink Lady story goes like this,” said Ms. Goss. “A young lady wearing a pink dress goes to a dance. On her way home from the dance, she’s in a buggy coming down a road, where she gets jostled out of the buggy, falls, hits her head, and she dies. They bring her to the Yorba Cemetery, and they bury her here. On the 15th of June, on an even numbered year, she floats across the cemetery and checks on her family.”
As it turns our, “The story was made up by a librarian in the 1960’s. She worked at the Yorba Linda Library and she had kids come in for story time at Halloween. She took the legend of La Llarona and a bunch of other stories and told two kids, who went home to tell two of their friends, who told two of their friends, and here we are.”
Alvida de Los Reyes is most likely the Pink Lady. She was buried somewhere in the cemetery with her husband, Frank. No one really knows the exact spot, but Ms. Goss pointed to two areas of bricks. She’s definitely not buried where her headstone is located, because Ilaria and Manuel De Los Reyes’ spot is not big enough to have two people buried in it. “This ground is as hard as concrete,” said Ms. Goss.
“You try to put a cross in this ground and you need a metal thing to pound into the ground to get into it. They’re not digging a double grave in this ground…We have pictures of a headstone that used to be right here by this oleander bush, which is white, not pink by the way. It’s the only wooden headstone we have left that we know of. It had a big cross on the top of it and a wooden structure around the plot.”
“Alvida died in childbirth at 31 and wasn’t in a buggy. She definitely wasn’t wearing a pink dress. Her daughter died two weeks later and was also buried here at the cemetery. However, people still come out here looking for the Pink Lady. They don’t see anything. I’ve been here plenty of times and I’ve seen people stand on opposite sides of the cemetery to take photographs at the same time and then say they’ve got orbs. No, you got the guy on the other side taking the picture at the exact same time. Again, I’m a full believer and I would love to know that she was here, but if she talks to you before she talks to me, then we have a problem.”
The Yorba Linda Cemetery is opened to the public on the first Saturday of each month from 10 am to 11 am. To see my full tour of the oldest private graveyard in Orange County, visit the Observer’s website, click on the “Videos” tab and click on the words “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which will take you directly to my page.
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