November 3 was the anniversary of Eliza Scidmore‘s death. Today I received photos from Mina Ozawa and Kaoro Onji, who paid a visit to Eliza’s gravesite in Yokohama. I met both woman last spring during a research trip to Japan. Together they work to keep the memory of Eliza Scidmore alive through an annual memorial ceremony at her gravesite during cherry tree season in Japan. I found the somber tone of this autumn photo touching compared with the cemetery as I saw it in April, when the overhanging cherry tree was in glorious bloom.
Eliza Scidmore died while living in Geneva, Switzerland, in an apartment she rented at 31 Quai du Mont-Blanc. A young cousin from Madison, Wisconsin, Mary Atwood, was living with her at the time. They were planning a winter trip to Italy when Eliza fell ill in early October and underwent an emergency appendectomy.
She was presumably recovering, but failed to rally fully and died on Nov. 3, at 2:30 in the morning. Her death certificate, as reported by the American Consulate, indicates that she died of “congestion of the lungs and heart failure.” She was 72.
Eliza had left instructions that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes to be disposed of properly. She also indicated that she wanted no funeral. But a group of American and Japanese friends disregarded her wishes and held a memorial service at the American Church in Geneva on Nov. 7.
Some of them appealed to the family to have her ashes returned to Japan so she could be laid to rest with her mother and brother. A year after her death a Japanese official carried her ashes to Japan. Several American and Japanese dignitaries were present at the interment in September 1929 at the Foreign General Cemetery in Yokohama.
One U.S. newspaper that reported Eliza’s death wrote:
“It is probable, and indeed it has been conceded in Europe and this country, that no American woman had a more cosmopolitan assembly of friends or more varied interests of work than Miss Scidmore has enjoyed.”