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During Santa Maria’s centennial celebration in 2005, Saturday, Sept. 10 was designated for the opening of the two time capsules that had been buried in August of 1974 in the patio of city hall.

As the contents were being passed out to the awaiting approximately 200 people, one envelope, addressed to the Historical Society, was set aside to be examined later in the day.

When the day’s festivities came to an end, Richard Chenoweth, then the director of the museum, opened the envelope and three small books slid out. These records, from the only mortuary in town at the time the city was incorporated, gave the death information of about 500 people who had died between the years of 1882 and 1903.

These books proved to be a treasure as a fire had broken out at the Dudley Mortuary in the early 1900s and it was assumed that all prior records had been destroyed.

The hardships suffered by the early pioneers were legendary. Many of them suffered serious medical conditions that might well have been successfully treated today, but times were different then as medical knowledge was limited.

A letter that was enclosed with the package came from Hazel Lidbom, who had worked for the County Health Department in Santa Maria as Deputy Registrar of Vital Statistics between January of 1930 and June of 1956.

She wrote that since no funeral records were officially kept before 1930, these were turned over to her as the only official records available.

In about 1950 the state of California asked that all records prior to 1930 be turned over to them for destruction. Hazel, feeling that they should belong to the city of Santa Maria, and not be destroyed, she not only didn’t comply with the request, but she placed them in her safe at home where they remained for 24 years, and secretly worried about what would become of them when she died.

Her worried ended when she read the notice appearing in the Aug. 2, 1974 issue of the Santa Maria Times giving information about the time capsules and asking people to donate items that they felt should be included in the capsules.

This was a godsend to Hazel. At last she had a place to put information that she’d been holding onto all of these years. The future of these important records was, at last, secure.

“It may have been a crime – at least a misdemeanor – for me to keep them but at the date of which this (the capsule) will be opened, it will be far too late to do much about the matter.”

Some of the names appearing in those records included both Elizabeth (O’Connor) and William Laird Adam. Elizabeth had died of nephritis in May of 1898 and William died of the same disease in 1903.

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Also included were the 23-year-old Grace Black, who died of consumption in 1899; 13-year-old Harry Ecklind Blochman, the adopted son of Ida and Lazar Blochman who was murdered in 1901; the 62-year-old Elizabeth Bradley (wife of Charles Bradley) who died of acute nephritis in 1903; the 38-year-old Alice Compton, who died of consumption in 1898; the 38-year-old Ida Mae (Battles) Dorland, wife of Samuel Dorland, who died of nephritis in August of 1897; the 41-year-old Maria Antonia (Ontiveros) Goodchild, who died of consumption in 1900 and was buried in the Ramon Ontiveros Cemetery in Los Alamos; the 71-year-old Thomas A. Jones (father of Samuel Jefferson) who died in December of 1902. Jones operated a furniture store here and was the town’s first funeral director.

These records also included Minerva Thornburg, who died in 1898; the 79-year-old Martin Luther Tunnell, who died in 1903, and his wife, Salina. Both were grandparents of Curtis Tunnell, a former city councilman and mayor. Curtis also served on Santa Barbara’s Board of Supervisors. Also included was the 75-year-old Benjamin Wiley, first settler in what would one day be Santa Maria. Ben Wiley died in 1902.

Although Doctors Lucas and Paulding were the attending physicians in most cases, I was able to decipher the names of Doctors Stemple, Livingston, Wade, Bolsake and Brown in some of the records.

The burials took place in Santa Maria, Guadalupe, the San Ramon Chapel Cemetery in Sisquoc, the Pine Grove Cemetery in Orcutt and, in a few records, the Catholic Cemetery in Guadalupe.

For more names, please contact the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society.

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Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo.com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.

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