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 grave site in Yokohama! I knew from my reading that Eliza was interred at the Foreign General Cemetery. But here was physical evidence of it — a key landmark. Because of Eliza’s long and deep 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, which in the final decades of the 19th century 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 resided there for long periods, as did her brother George, a U.S. consular official who spent most of his career in Japan. Their mother also moved to Japan and became quite a well known figure in the social scene, until her death at 92. All three are interred at the Foreign Cemetery, sharing a grave site.
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 front of the building saying it was the former boarding house of Mary Surrat, who was convicted and later hanged for her role in the conspiracy that led to President Lincoln’s assassination. Around the same time, Eliza Scidmore’s mother ran a boarding house only a few blocks away. That means Eliza Scidmore would have grown up in the neighborhood.
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.”