A Midsummer’s-Day Dream

San Francisco News Letter/October 24, 1868

EDITOR NEWS LETTER—One pleasant day last summer I strolled into the cemetery at Lone Mountain, and finding a shady nook in respectable proximity to a splendid family vault, sat down and began to ponder over the probable hereafter of those slumbering around me. From this my thoughts strayed to the day of resurrection, and the lively time which may be expected in that vicinity when Gabriel shall give the signal for a general getting up to breakfast. The subject was somewhat too much for me, so I betook myself to an opiate I had in the tail pocket of my coat, and soon went to sleep. I know now how long I lay thus, but I was suddenly conscious of someone kicking me, and strangling a magnificent snore I sat up. Gabriel stood at my side, and was just lifting his boot for another admonition, but at my appealing look he relented, and hitting me over the head with his bugle, told me to “get out of that.” I did not care about resenting the injury to my hat, and got up and strode contemptuously away, rubbing my eyes, I observed that the cemetery had increased somewhat in population since I had lain down, and now extended over the entire peninsula, with the exception of here and there a few hundred acres of homestead lands. A gang of stout demons, mostly Chinese, were advancing in line among the graves, each armed with a corkscrew some seven feet long. These they wormed into each grave, and drawing forth the occupant, stood him on his feet, extracted the screw by a dexterous turn of the wrist, and proceeded silently to the next. I observed that about one grave in ten thousand was already vacant before they came to it, and while seeking for an explanation, there suddenly popped into my head the words, “and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” I afterward learned that this admirable arrangement was adopted to prevent fighting. The righteous were already out of the way, awaiting their reward in the bar-room of the Cliff House. I seated myself comfortably upon an old rusty metallic coffin, lit a cigar and took observations. It was really delicious to see those fellows snaked out, and I was surprised to see that whenever a parson was drawn forth, the screw had entered his body to a totally unnecessary depth, and the final twitch of extracting the steel was unjustifiably staggering. At such times the solemn countenances of the resurrectors relaxed an instant into something like a smile. There were some half-dozen who as soon as they were drawn out squirmed round, and digging their fingers into the soil endeavored to take the entire cemetery along with them. They brought away whole handfuls of earth and jammed it into their pockets. These, I afterwards learned, had been supervisors, and their graves had been placed in a circle, or “ring.” While I was wondering at these things, my attention was attracted to a particularly active old fellow with nothing remarkable in his appearance, who was going about among the resurrected with a big book under his arm, and stopping before each one. He seemed to have come from a long distance, and his clothes were covered with dust which emitted a strong smell, like that of your last match as it expires in gloom. He would first approach a rejuvenated corpse and ask him his age at death. Upon receiving a reply, he marked down a long number in a column of his book headed “years.” I noticed the number was large in proportion to the age given. He would then inquire the date of arrival in California, and those who came early caught a sweet thing in figures. Some who came in ’49 got so many numerals opposite their names that there was not room for them on the page. the next question was in regard to occupation, and the brokers and editors suffered most. then various other questions were put in regard to politics, churches, attended, etc. The final question was this:”Did you ever during life belong to the Young Men’s Christian Association?” If this was answered in the affirmative, the judge took a piece of charcoal and marked on the back of the unhappy wight, “Furnace No. 697,000—hot.” The dapper old gentleman soon came up to where I was sitting and smiled. “What’s your age, sir?” “Forty-seven.” Down went 459,000,000 years; the old gentleman merely smiling and muttering: “New trial at the end of that time.” Then, without looking up from his book: “How long in California?” “Six weeks.” this staggered him, and he said, “My friend, you don’t belong in this crowd, do you?” I nodded sorrowfully, ad he added only 3,000,000 years for that. “What’s your occupation?” “Bohemian.” (593,872,951,347 and six months.) “What did you die of?” “Starvation.” He crossed out one month. “What paper did your talents adorn?” “The News Letter!” You just ought to have seen that particularly active old gentleman take leave!

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)