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The Tale of Old Man Feather

Cemeteries are interesting places; I love to explore them whenever possible and see what turns up. One day during one such walk in the Woodlawn Cemetery of Santa Monica, California one lone tomb stood out among the headstones and caught my attention. So, naturally, I took a closer look and found much more than just an old tomb.

The exterior was painted and maintained but when I peered through the rusted gate it quickly become apparent that the inside of the tomb was in a bad state of neglect. The padlock was rusted and a faint cobweb linked it to the gate; it was obvious no one entered the tomb in many decades.

The plaque identified the inhabitants as Markus D. Feather (12/18/1837-10/30/1910) and his wife, Susan J. Johnson (11/29/1854-5/26/1904). The masonic symbol indicated that Markus was a freemason and the star meant that Susan was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star (a co-ed masonic organization for Master Masons and their close female family members.) The cemetery dates to 1897, so this tomb is actually one of its oldest graves.

If you noticed the dates and did the math, Susan was still 16 years old when they married on October 12, 1871. She turned 17 at the end of November of that year. Markus was just shy of 17 years her senior, so would have been 33 (two months short of 34) when they married. Also sticking with the times, Susan died when she was only 49. This is just an observation with no intention of judgement; it is meant to contrast norms of our time with just one hundred years ago.

According to, Markus Feather was a sergeant in the Confederate Army during the civil war, having served in Company D of the 28th Virginia Infantry. He was 5 foot 4 inches tall, and had blue eyes and brown hair. He and Susan never had any children but did have an adopted daughter. I couldn’t find anything about how Susan died, but Markus’s cause of death was listed as apoplexy—now known as a stroke. He lived in Santa Monica for the last 25 years of his life and operated a store there. He had a beard that reached to his knees, and was something of a local character. Neighborhood children affectionately gave him the nickname “Old Man Feather” and were known to save their money to shop in his store just for the experience of seeing Old Man Feather. He loved animals and always had many pets. 

I think my love of abandoned and forlorn places is tied to my interest in graveyards. I always wonder what stories there are around the buildings and who the people were whose graves I visit. It is really amazing when so much personal information turns up on one.


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