Continuing their watch
I nearly missed the Historic Life-Saving Station Cemetery even though I was on the alert as I drove along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore. I had seen a signpost on my way south, but traveling northbound the turn was unmarked. When I finally spotted it, the narrow lane took me over a cattle guard and up a small rise — then suddenly became a private road. Fortunately, I noticed the small parking area just off the pavement and a trail marker pointing me toward a thick grove of eucalyptus and cypress trees atop the hill.
This small graveyard (which I first mentioned in my post entitled Two Cemeteries) is the private cemetery of the Claussen family. During the late 1800s, the Point Reyes Peninsula was divided into a number of separate ranch properties by the land owners; Hinrik Claussen played a vital role in managing the construction of most of these ranches. After he died unexpectedly in 1872, his son Peter Henry Claussen left his seagoing life to become a dairy rancher in the area and stayed on until his own death in 1915.
You may wonder why there are other graves besides those of the Claussen family in this tiny cemetery. These men — all Scandinavian immigrants — were the first four casualties of the Point Reyes U.S. Life-Saving Station after it was established in 1890. The work they were doing was vital but incredibly dangerous, and as a former sea-going man, Peter Claussen must have understood this better than most. (You can learn more about the US Life-Saving Service and Point Reyes by reading the National Park Service Site Bulletin PDF.)
“…all the Scandinavians on Point Reyes called him not Captain but ‘Papa Claussen.’ They came to him for advice, sympathy, and comfort, which he never denied them.” So perhaps the four immigrant surfmen weren’t just courageous strangers to Claussen. These young men may have been his friends — from “The Forgotten Men of the Point Reyes Life-Saving Service”
This quiet little spot, tucked away out of clear sight of the road between Inverness and the Point Reyes headlands, seems a fitting place for these heroes’ final resting place. It’s quiet and peaceful, often lying cloaked in fog, yet the sea is never far away. It’s a perfect setting for contemplation — or just gazing at the horizon.