Ravensdale Cemetery: Lost in Time (and Bushes)

In October of 2020, a series of posts in the South King County Genealogical Society Groups mentioned the Ravensdale Cemetery.  Some photos were posted and it got my attention. It was clear that the old cemetery was sorely neglected. It had been vandalized in the 1950’s and stones had been encased by ground cover and other underbrush.

I visited the cemetery for the first time, with my husband, on Saturday, 7 November 2020.  Its state was, to say the least, sad. There was evidence that people had been there. The paths were a bit trampled and burned down candles and an empty packet of cigarettes were sitting on the side of a broken and open sarcophagus. In spite of the fact that someone up to no good had recently been there, it was a peaceful place.


I was hooked.  Two days prior to my visit, I had made the suggestion to the group that restoring the cemetery might be a good project for SKCGS and I presented a hurriedly composed proposal to the Board. I was given permission to pursue the possibilities.


I began to research the ownership. There is a relatively new subdivision surrounding the cemetery, called Rock Creek Ranch. They owned the property on which the cemetery sat and the HOA is currently managing it as “open space.”  A genealogy friend suggested that that would be problematic as HOAs, in general, weren’t always cooperative. Being a part of one myself, I can attest to that. However, I am thinking positively, that the HOA will see a restored cemetery as beneficial to their neighborhood.


The cemetery was founded in 1908 for the inhabitants of the town of Ravensdale, a coal mining town, which was active for about 82 years. The land was donated by the Northern Pacific Railway company to the Ravensdale Eagles Lodge. By 1914, it was deeded to the town of Ravensdale. It is called by an article published in 2013 as an “Independent Order of Oddfellows” cemetery but no other information was given regarding the connection. The earliest known burial was little Ester Fay, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Reynolds, who was only three years old when she died in 1907. The most recent recorded burial was Guido Dietri, who died in 1949.


Plaque, Ravensdale Cemetery, dedicated November 16, 2015

In 2015, a memorial was erected, acknowledging the deaths of 31 men who had died 100 years before, on 16 November, in an explosion in the Ravensdale Mine #1. Many of the victims were buried in Ravensdale, some in an unmarked mass grave. Seven were buried in the Black Diamond Cemetery, four in the Holy Family Krain Cemetery in Enumclaw and two were buried in Pennsylvania. Five of the Ravensdale burials have markers, including one for John B. Gastagno, leaving about 13 in the unmarked grave.

FindAGrave and other Volunteers

A volunteer from Tacoma recorded the cemetery along with 73 burials on FindAGrave.  There are no headstone photos, but he included old photos of the deceased in many cases. Mr. Gastagno is not on the list.  Many of the death dates noted were 16 November 1915, the day of the mine explosion.  Hopefully, we can build on what he began.

[Ed. note: https://billiongraves.com/cemetery/Ravensdale-Cemetery/112100 has zero records or photos]

Early on, care for the cemetery was entrusted to the Miner’s Union. Later, there were “folks” who would clean up the cemetery every year before Memorial Day but that stopped some years ago.

The Work Ahead

The clean up will take a lot of time and work. First, the Rock Creek Community Organization’s HOA must give us permission to start. The City of Ravensdale will also be contacted and their support requested. Once that has been achieved, a work schedule will be developed, and a general removal of the undergrowth will begin. Many hands will be needed with gloves and pruning tools and the call will go out to the Society, the City of Ravensdale, the HOA and the various Boy and Girl Scout troops to come and help with the clearing. Several people had responded in the Groups thread with information about their connections to scout troops that could help with the cleanup. Also needed will be trucks or trailers to haul away the debris. Since the cemetery is up a bit of a hill, some small tractors with trailers or similar conveyances will be needed to get larger tools up the hill and the refuse down the hill. This is just for a start.

Volunteer Opportunity

If you would like to help, even if for only a couple of hours, to work on the cleanup or if you have a group which you can volunteer (Scouts need service hours for rank advancements,) please contact me and I’ll add you to the list and share clean up dates as they are established.  Also, I would like to ask for volunteers to help with researching the cemetery itself.  If you are unable to help with the physical work, this may be your niche.  Another goal is to publish Volume X of the South King County Genealogical Society’s Memorial Books series.  There will be many other jobs as time passes.  Once the clean out is done, we can assess the future work needs.

Thank you in advance to everyone who is thinking of volunteering and who will help with the project.  Please contact me, Katie Hanzeli, at k.hanzeli@skcgs.org if you wish to volunteer, have ideas and suggestions or anything else to contribute to this project.  Any and all ideas and suggestions are welcome.

I would also like to thank Karen Bouton of SKCGS who took on the project of restoring the Saar Pioneer Cemetery in Kent and gave me good advice on how to start this project.

Onward and upward!

Kathleen (Katie) MacLeod Hanzeli

© 2020

Source:  “Ravensdale Cemetery:  Where miners, muckers, and timber men sleep,” by JoAnne Matsumura, originally published in the Black Diamond Bulletin, Fall 2013, republished in Black Diamond History, November 17, 2014.
Source:  Plaque, Ravensdale Cemetery, dedicated November 16, 2015


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