Smith: The tale of the half-here, half in Half Moon Bay headstone

History lover Tony Pires found part of an ornate, old grave marker the Green Valley Cemetery near Graton. So how did the other half end up in Half Moon Bay?|

As closely as he can recall, it was about 20 years ago that history lover Tony Pires poked a steel rod into the soil of the Green Valley Cemetery near Graton and found part of an ornate, old grave marker.

“Gophers have a way of burying everything,” explained the retired Agilent engineer, now 78.

After unearthing the top portion of the headstone of one Petra Johnston (1833-1861) Pires poked around also for the bottom, but he didn’t find it.

So he did a nice job of attaching the top part of the stone to a base of cinder blocks and setting it upright there at the Green Valley graveyard.

Little did Pires know that the bottom portion of the headstone was right where it had been since Petra Johnston died back at about the start of the Civil War: atop her grave at the Pilarcitos Cemetery in Half Moon Bay, nearly 90 miles south of Graton.

There’s no telling how long ago it was that Johnston’s headstone was broken in two. And it’s head-scratching how - and when, and why! - the upper part of it was lugged to Sonoma County and to the cemetery near Graton.

Just earlier this year, an inquisitive writer named J’aime Rubio was visiting Half Moon Bay and noticed the bottom portion of Petra Johnston’s headstone. Right next to it is the grave of one of the Johnstons’ children, 4-year-old Alice.

Rubio learned that Petra Johnston was a Californio named Petra Maria de Jara when she married the Scotland-born James Johnston, a 49er who did well as co-proprietor of the El Dorado Saloon in San Francisco. The Johnstons’ home remains a historical landmark sometimes called The White House of Half Moon Bay.

Online research by writer Rubio led her also to the upper portion of Petra Johnston’s headstone in Graton and to cemetery researcher Jeremy Nichols of Santa Rosa, president of the Sonoma County Historical Society and author of the 2002 book, “Cemeteries of Sonoma County, Calif., a History and Guide.”

Today, Nichols is chest deep in plans to carefully uproot the top part of the gravestone, remove the base that Tony Pires made, return the stone to Half Moon Bay and reattach it to the portion that stands on Petra Johnston’s grave.

I really hope to accompany Nichols to the Pilarcitos Cemetery for the occasion.



Struggling, hungry folks who rely on the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Room in downtown Santa Rosa are enjoying the healthful treat just now. And they will for some time, thanks to one of the most generous gifts ever to arrive at the busy kitchen’s door.

For their 30th reunion, members of the classes of 1985 of Cardinal Newman and former Ursuline high schools agreed that in addition to reconvening they’d do something for others: a food drive.

Well, they didn’t simply box up a few boxes of this and that. Alumni of the social-minded Catholic schools gathered a heroic amount of food for the free dining room in the city’s historic West End neighborhood.

Leading the effort was Ursuline grad Tamara Maher Jackson, whose family founded Maherajah Water Skis. She and her husband, Lance, worked the phones and arranged a donation of applesauce to St. Vincent de Paul.

More than 1,100 pounds of it.

At the respectful lunch room on Wilson Street, guests enjoy each lovin’ spoonful.


A LIBRARY FOR ROSELAND isn’t just a dream, and you and I can do our parts to make sure it happens.

Advocates of creating the first phase of a public library in the former Furniture 2000 store on Sebastopol Road have launched a grassroots funding appeal at Indiegogo:

To prime the pump, Gregory Young has honored his late wife, Moira Chatton, by putting up $10,000 as a matching grant. Community Foundation Sonoma County kicked in a $5,000 matching grant.

So each dollar donated today becomes three. And those dollars will become books.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and On Twitter@CJSPD.

An earlier version of this story misidentified Gregory Young. A correction has been made.

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