Eugene Pioneer Cemetery

Eugene Pioneer Cemetery

Smith Vault─ The Legend of the only Above Ground Tomb in the Cemetery

Call it the legend of the above ground tomb.

For more than 100 years this unmarked crypt has stood apart from all other memorials in the cemetery. Unusual for the region, the above ground grave has been a source of curiosity and mystery over the years.

For decades, the question of why this style was chosen was overshadowed by the question of which soul lay at rest. Local legend had it that a dying girl in the pleaded to her parents not to be buried in the “cold dark ground.” After succumbing to diphtheria, her parents honored her wish and arranged for the above ground concrete tomb.

It’s a lovely story, but the adult-size of the tomb and other factors had some wondering if it was in fact true. Decades came and went. Freezing and thawing gradually took its toll on the vault’s
exterior. In the mid-1980s, huge running cracks developed along the length of the structure. Most of the original plaster had fallen off to expose concrete.

The vault was restored in 2013 by Eugene Pioneer Cemetery Association. At the same time EPCA member Dorothy Brandner extensively researched local records to settle, once and for all, who exactly was buried there so long ago.

After an extensive review of I.O.O.F, county and mortuary records, Brandner identified the interred as Lille Belle Ross Smith, who died at age 39.
She is obviously not the little girl of local myth.

Lillie Belle and her husband George Smith moved to Lane County around 1909 from Indiana. They had a total of seven children that included at least four daughters. Sadly three of these children did not survive childhood and died before the family moved to Oregon.

During her investigation, Brandner accounted for all the Smith’s children in Oregon who had lived to adulthood. They are interred at various cemeteries throughout Lane County and Portland. Mystery solved.

However, one question remains. Why did Lillie Bell’s husband George build such an unusual memorial?