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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Curious and famous graves of the Gold Country

Curious and famous graves of the Gold Country

In the spirit of Halloween, All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead, Mother Lode residents can take this day to remember the departed whose final resting places fill our hills.

They include the historical, the famous and the oddly interesting.

Among them: a tragic judge, a world renowned lawyer, a Polish nobleman, the man behind Popeye’s voice, and the artist who designed the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Southern California.

Charles V. Gottschalk

Judge Charles Victor Gottschalk had a notable legal career in Calaveras County as an early judge, but his career path was indirect.

He was born July 1, 1827, in New Orleans. He came to California in 1850.

He worked as a butcher, a bookkeeper and a miner before he was elected judge in Calaveras County in 1879.

He served for 25 years and was the presiding judge in many important trials, including that of stagecoach robber Charles Bolton, aka Black Bart, whom he sentenced to six years at San Quentin.

Gottschalk married Charlotte Noriega, who was 29 years his junior. 

“He was just mad about her,” said Cate Culver, a Calaveras County historian. “It’s kind of a bittersweet love story.”

The couple never had children. However, after Charlotte’s sister lost her husband, she and her three boys moved in with the Gottschalks.

“It is said that Judge Gottschalk was very close to the boys and when the youngest one (Victor J. Shinn) died in 1898 at the age of 10, the judge never recovered,” the Calaveras Prospect newspaper reported.

Gottschalk became even more despondent when felt he was getting old and his clients started dwindling. Thinking he would be a burden to his young wife, Gottschalk shot himself in the head, sitting at his desk in his office in the county courthouse. 

“It was a shock to the community,” Culver said. 

He died March 2, 1906, and is buried in the San Andreas Protestant (People’s) Cemetery.

Melvin Belli

Famed attorney Melvin Mouron Belli was born in Sonora — the same town that is now his final resting place.

Belli is perhaps Sonora’s most famous son.

The so-called “King of Torts” was born on July 29, 1907, to Leonie and Caesar Belli, a prosperous banker and rancher whose family had emigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland after the Civil War.

Belli attended schools in Sonora and then, later, Stockton. He later attended the University of California, Berkeley.

Belli was admired in legal circles for his ingenious use of props, or “demonstrative evidence,” in the courtroom, but grew famous through his high profile and celebrity clients, including Jack Ruby, Sirhan Sirhan, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Chuck Berry, Muhammad Ali, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Tony Curtis and Mae West.

Belli’s multi-volume “Modern Trials” is “still considered a classic textbook on demonstrative evidence,” according to the Belli Society.

Oddly enough, Belli appeared on the original “Star Trek” show in 1968, playing Grogan, an alien corrupter of youth.

Belli, famously flamboyant, was known to hoist a Jolly Roger and fire signal-cannon blasts from his San Francisco office after winning a case.

Belli reportedly won more than $600 million in judgments during his legal career. He was married five times, the last time to Nancy Ho, 11 weeks before his death. 

He died July 9, 1996, and his body was returned home for burial at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Sonora. 

Charles Frederick Surendorf II 

Charles Surendorf II is famous for his woodblock prints of Columbia in the mid-1930s, as the former Gold Rush boomtown drifted toward becoming a ghost town.

He was born in Indiana on Nov. 9,1906, and spent time at the Chicago Art Institute, Art Student’s League in New York and two semesters at Ohio State University in the fine arts program.

He moved to San Francisco in 1935, and, by 1937, had begun his first painting excursions to Columbia, where he eventually settled with his wife, Barbara, in 1946. 

Surendorf’s early prints were woodblocks, but he switched to a process he called “linoleum engravings.” 

Unlike the usual linoleum block that is soft, Surendorf used “battleship” linoleum which he then further hardened by freezing. The material approximated wood end-grain block. He then used steel engraving tools to engrave rather than cut the block.

Art Digest in 1959 called him one of the top 25 woodblock artists of the world and he was a friend of Walt Disney while living in Chicago.

Surendorf was co-founder of the Mother Lode Art Organization, and director of the first San Francisco Art Festival in 1946. 

He died of cancer May 28, 1979, and is buried at the Columbia City Cemetery.

Leann Charity Donner App

Leann Donner App was the last living survivor of the ill-fated Donner-Reed Party.

The daughter of the party’s leader, she was one of just 46 pioneers to emerge from the Sierra in their overland trip, said an Associated Press story from 1930.

She and her sister, Elitha, were rescued by a relief party. They reached Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento 25 days after leaving what is now known as Donner Lake. 

The party’s 42 other members perished.

Donner App was reluctant to discuss the experience, in which the group was socked in by snow in the winter of 1846.

In a 1987 newspaper story, relatives said Donner App was often hounded by newspapers and radio reporters about whether or not she had been one of the members who resorted to cannibalism. She always answered them with silence.

She was buried at Jamestown Public Cemetery with her husband John App, who died in 1898.

John App notably discovered a gold mine (the Quartz Mine) near Jamestown.

Their family ranch still stands today on Highway 108 across from Hurst Ranch in Jamestown. 

She was born on Dec. 5, 1834, and died May 29, 1930. She’s buried in the Jamestown Public Cemetery.

Chief William Fuller

Chief William Fuller established what later became the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Rancheria.

He was born in Hangiwiye Village in Butte County on April 17, 1873, the son of Alfred Fuller, who’d emigrated from Ohio, and Jenita, who was the only survivor of the previous chief of this region’s Me-Wuk Indians.

William Fuller became the tribe’s chief in 1888 and in 1907 helped to establish what was then known as the Cherokee Indian Rancheria.

The Tuolumne Rancheria was established in 1910 — one of two local reservations for landless Indians.

Today, about 200 people live on the Rancheria. There are an additional 200 non-resident tribal members.

Fuller served as chairman of the California Indian Federation and testified a number of times before Congressional committees on Indian issues.

The streets of Mi-Wuk Village bear the names he placed on them.

He died in 1958 and is buried at Carters Cemetery in Tuolumne.

Count Christian ‘Christopher’ William Hugo Solinsky

Count Solinsky was remembered in his obituary as one of the state’s most noble and best men.

The Polish count moved to the United States in 1849 and joined the military effort, fighting in the Mexican War from Veracruz to Mexico City. 

He was later a Wells Fargo agent from 1867 to 1982 and an active leader of mining interests in the Mother Lode, according to the Tuolumne County Historical Society.

Solinsky gave the order to start the Sept. 26, 1856, Tong War battle at Five Cent Gulch in Chinese Camp.

Solinsky reaped a fortune in gold mining and operated the Garrett House hotel in Chinese Camp until his death in 1896. He was also an accomplished artist.

His original grave marker was destroyed by fire and was relocated in 1948 with the help of Chinese Camp historians restoring St. Francis Xavier Church. The headstone now on his grave was dedicated in 2005.

Solinsky was born Aug. 14, 1814, in Prussia, which at the time included areas that are now part of Poland, and died April 5, 1896, in Chinese Camp, per his headstone. He is buried in Chinese Camp Cemetery.

Geraldine Lucille Bowers McConnell

Geraldine McConnell and her husband, dentist James McConnell, were instrumental in the founding of Columbia State Historic Park.

She was known to many as “Mrs. Columbia.”

Mr. and Mrs. McConnell moved to town in the early 1940s.

The McConnells led community and political campaigns that resulted in the town’s inclusion in the California park system in 1945.

Rumors that the venerable but rundown City Hotel would reopen as a house of ill repute spurred Mrs. McConnell into action.

Then-Gov. Earl Warren was a family friend who often dropped in on the McConnells, and suggested introducing a bill to make Columbia a state park. All that was needed was $50,000 for the effort.

The Columbia Progressive Club, to which the McConnells belonged, pioneered the effort. 

On July 15, 1945, in the town’s Justice Court, Gov. Warren signed the Columbia State Park bill. 

Mrs. McConnell lived in the park until her death at age 99. Her daughter sold the family home — which appeared with Gary Cooper in the movie “High Noon”  — to the state. 

She was born March 26, 1904, in Marcellus, Mich., and died May 12, 2003. She’s buried at Columbia Cemetery.

William “Billy” Costello

Billy Costello was the original voice of “Popeye the Sailor” in animated films. 

He was a comic scat singer and ukulele player and appeared in vaudeville. In the early 1930s, he also played drums with the Fred Waring Orchestra.

Cartoon producer Max Fleischer used Costello’s 1931 novelty recording of “You’re Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” for his 1932 film “Betty Boop, M.D.” and chose him to play Popeye when he brought the comic strip character to the screen. 

Costello was the voice behind the spinach-eating swab in 26 cartoons, from his 1933 debut in “Popeye the Sailor” to “You Gotta Be a Football Hero” in 1935.

Although Costello never received onscreen credit, he became aware of Popeye’s immense popularity and allegedly became difficult to work with.

He was abruptly fired in 1935 after demanding a raise and a vacation in the midst of recording sessions. Jack Mercer replaced him and voiced the role for 40 years. 

Costello billed himself as “The Original Voice of Popeye,” and impersonated the character on a European stage tour and made several recordings for the Columbia, Decca, and Rex labels, including “Popeye the Sailor Man” in 1935.

Costello dabbled in dinner theater upon returning to the states. 

From 1959 until his death, he managed a trailer park in San Jose. A faded image of the sailor is engraved on his tombstone in Mariposa.

He was born Feb. 2, 1898 in Maryland. He died Oct. 9, 1971, in San Jose and is buried in Mariposa District Cemetery, Mariposa.

Paul von Klieben

Paul von Klieben was a well-known portrait artist in Los Angeles in the 1930s, but is perhaps best known for his key role in helping create the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park in Orange County.

Von Klieben was born March 17, 1891, in Austria, but set out for the United States at age 19. He turned to art, despite his father’s urging that he go into banking.

Circa 1940, he went to work for Walter Knott, who was developing what then was a roadside attraction, Knott’s Berry Farm. 

Von Klieben is credited with designing most of the growing theme park’s architectural and graphic elements in subsequent years.

In addition to dozens of building and graphic-design elements, including the park’s “Ghost Town,” Von Klieben’s credits include a curious fluorescent portrait of Jesus, called “The Transfiguration,” housed in the “Little Chapel by the Lake” that was built in 1941.

He retired to Sonora in 1953, where he planned to set up a studio, but died shortly after his move on June 14, 1953. He’s buried at Mountain Shadow Cemetery in Sonora.


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Sat, 20 Dec 2014 14:29:29 -0800