Last week I received an e-mail from a Japanese friend that made my day. The message had a photo attached. When I opened it, there was a picture of Eliza Scidmore’s gravesite in Yokohama!
I knew from my reading that Scidmore was interred at the Foreign General Cemetery. But here was physical evidence of it — a key landmark. Because of Scidmore’s long ties to Japan, I’ll have to do some research there to investigate various strands of her life.
In the meantime, I’m grateful to Miho Kinnas for serving as my eyes abroad.
Miho and I met as writing colleagues in a women’s online critique group. Knowing of my research for a book on Eliza Scidmore, she visited the cemetery in Yokohama during a trip to visit her mother.
“A cherry tree grows next to it, creating a nice shade but making it difficult to see the photo,” Miho wrote. She didn’t stay long because the mosquitoes were too thick, she said, “but in a couple of weeks, it will be very nice to be there.”
I knew from my research that the cemetery lies atop a high bluff overlooking Yokohama. In the final decades of the 19th century Yokohama was a busy harbor and a major gateway to Japan for foreign visitors arriving by ship. Several thousand ex-pats lived there at the time.
Eliza Scidmore lived on and off in Yokohama and other cities of Japan. Her brother George was a U.S. consular official who spent most of his career in the Far East. Their mother was also living in Japan when she died at the age of 92.
All three Scidmores are interred at the cemetery, sharing a headstone.
Miho came to Washington shortly after I got the email from her. We spent an afternoon at an American folk art exhibit, then went to dinner in Chinatown. The restaurant we picked had a historic plaque on the building. Turns out, it was the former boarding house of Mary Surrat, who was convicted and hanged for her role in the conspiracy that led to President Lincoln’s assassination.
Eliza Scidmore’s mother was also a boarding house manager in Washington while Eliza and George were growing up there.
Miho brought me a photocopy of a map from the Foreign Cemetery in Yokohama showing the location of some of the notables buried there. The Scidmores’ tomb is No. 15.
Today, the cemetery is open only on weekends, from noon to 4 o’clock, Miho noted. “They don’t have money to maintain it properly — it is rather weedy,” she said. “Not many families visit, I am afraid.”