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Weimar Cemetery's long-buried past comes to life in new book

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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More than 1,400 tuberculosis victims are buried at a cemetery in Weimar and for years their names and stories of suffering have been buried with them.

Wooden markers with only numbers mark their graves. Row upon row are located in between manzanita bushes and the pines in the Weimar Cemetery.

The efforts of Robin Yonash of the Colfax Historical Society, assisted by Auburn cemetery sleuth Glenda Ragan among others, has resulted in a book and online directory that gives names to those numbers and details the history of the Weimar Joint Sanatorium for indigent TB sufferers.

Yonash and Ragan worked with the Placer County Clerk’s Office to wade through tens of thousands of death certificates and surviving Weimar Institute documents to match almost all the grave markers with the people who are buried there.

Their work also resulted in a list of 29 veterans buried at the cemetery. The Colfax Veterans of Foreign Wars have already pledged to put in a memorial for veterans, Yonash said.

“I don’t want these people to be forgotten,” Yonash said. “The gravestones are starting to disappear but at least we know the names and where they were buried – and that’s now online and also published. So they’ll never be forgotten.”

Yonash said her hope is that the wooden markers will one day be replaced with permanent markers. People interested in helping with that effort can designate a donation for cemetery upkeep to go to the Colfax Historical Society, she said.

The cemetery itself is owned by the Colfax Cemetery District, something that had been forgotten over the years until historian Nancy Hagman discovered a legal notice showing the transfer in the early 1970s, while researching another topic in a back issue of the Colfax Record. The Weimar Institute, which took over the old sanatorium property in the late 1970s, had tended to the cemetery under the premise that it was part of its land holdings, Yonash said.

    Ragan, whose work has focused on the rich vein of history in the Auburn Cemetery, said that she was happy to work with someone who has the same passion for history and cemetery research. The Weimar Sanatorium provided hospitalization and care for TB sufferers from 15 counties, when the patients were unable to pay for private care.

Yonash’s history details the life of the sanatorium from 1919 through its final days as a medical facility in the early 1970s.

To add to the suffering of an often fatal disease, patients stayed in barracks with no windows, ostensibly to benefit from the fresh air in the foothills. That also meant sleeping under tarps in the winter time to keep snow off, Yonash said.

Yonash’s book also touches on the constant presence of death at the hospital – which at its peak in the mid-1940s had more than 500 patients and employed more than 300. In fact, the 1,450 people buried at the Weimar Cemetery represent just a third of the people who actually died there, Yonash said.    

As new medicines were developed and new treatments offered, the sanatorium fell victim to changing times. Decades later, Yonash has provided a window into a past long buried.  

“She (Yonash) did so much work on this,” Ragan said. “For me, it’s always nice to help preserve the names of ones who have gone before.”

The self-published history, including the list of names of grave markers, is being donated to the Colfax Library, the genealogy section of the Auburn Library, the Colfax Area Historical Society, the Weimar Institute and the Colfax Cemetery District.

Internet memorials are in the process of being created at findagrave.com, where all the names will be listed.