November 25, 2022
Rose Hill Cemetery at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
Total distance walked: 2.62 miles
While many miners pursued gold mining in the Sierra Nevada, others headed to Antioch to tunnel the hills for coal. An interesting place to explore is the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in Antioch. Coal was discovered there in the mid-1800s, and up to the early 1900s, it was the largest coal mining district in California. This region became a bustling community of five towns including Nortonville and Somersville. There is so much history to the area and countless trails to walk. There is also an evocative legend of the White Witch.
Our group gathered inside the Preserve for our annual Opt Outside Black Friday family hike. Our destination was the Rose Hill Cemetery. On the way in, my sister and I reminisced about our childhood memories at the coal mines. “Do you remember the legend of the White Witch?” I asked.
Our hike began at the Railroad Bed Trail just south of the Sydney Flat parking lot.
This trail once held train tracks of the Pittsburg Railroad. The trains helped in hauling coal to the Pittsburg docks where it would then be shipped to San Francisco, Sacramento and Stockton. During World War I, the Pittsburg Railroad was sold and dismantled for scrap metal.
The afternoon sun warmed us as we meandered through Markley Canyon following the signs to the cemetery. The Rose Hill cemetery is located midway between the townsites of Nortonville and Somersville.
This cemetery is the burial ground for many of the immigrants who lived in the small mining towns.
There are many burial plots containing children who died of epidemics, men who died in mining accidents, and women who died in childbirth. But very little of the gravestones remain today, most having been vandalized or the wood markers burned in fires.
Local legend has it that the cemetery is haunted by the White Witch, a glowing white entity that glides above the gravestones and lets out ghostly cries and laughter. The sound of bells has been heard, and strong wind blows with no wind present. People have reported a horse-drawn buggy going up and down the trail to the cemetery. My husband tells me he too remembers this legend, and as a child was fearful of being in the cemetery.
I don’t know when the myth began, but the true story is, Sarah Norton was the much-respected widow of Noah Norton, the founder of Nortonville. She was a popular midwife who, despite weather or time of day, went out and helped hundreds of women deliver their babies. On October 5, 1879, while traveling to a patient in nearby Clayton, Sarah was thrown from her buggy and died instantly. While alive, it was rumored that she was a non-religious person among a community of mostly Welsh Protestants. Her wish, when her time came, was to not have a funeral. However, those in town could not fathom disrespecting her like that since she was a pillar of the community, so her body was transported to a local church. The citizens attempted to hold two funerals, but both were foiled by intense storms. Thinking these storms were some kinds of divine intervention, they buried her in the Rose Hill Cemetery without a funeral.
Legend says that, despite her wishes, she is upset that she did not get a proper funeral and continues to haunt the cemetery.
Having spent a while exploring the cemetery—and of course not seeing the White Witch—we headed down the hill, through the canyon.
The little ones slept in their parents’ arms all the way to the cars, while the rest of us felt our fingers becoming swollen like little sausages.
We raised our swollen hands to another fun and successful family hike.