Global True Lithuania Encyclopedia of Lithuanian heritage worldwide

Washington (State)

Washington State like all the US Pacific Coast has little Lithuanian heritage as there have been few Lithuanian communities.

One exception is the Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1909). Being the only Lithuanian cemetery in the Western USA it became a kind of pilgrimage site for some Lithuanian immigrants there. Celebrations of Vėlinės (the traditional Lithuanian day of the dead) are commonly held there, symbolically memorizing the graves of loved-ones left back in Lithuania. They are attended by the fairly recent Lithuanian community of Seattle as well as the Lithuanians of Oregon. Lithuanians from these cities also helped renovate the cemetery, installing a new fence with the Lithuanian coat of arms on it, as well as building gravestones for those Lithuanians who were buried without gravestones with legible names.

Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery

Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery with the cemetery memorial, Lithuanian and US flags in the center

Currently, Roslyn has just 800 inhabitants but back in 1910, it has been a major coal-mining center attracting numerous immigrants. Instead of establishing cemeteries solely along the religious/parochial lines (as have been common), 26 small cemeteries have been erected in Roslyn side-by-side. Some of them are dedicated to different ethnicities: in addition to the Lithuanian cemetery, there are also Croatian, Serbian, Slovak, and other cemeteries. Roslyn is an attractive tourist town these days and the whole cemetery complex is well marked and cared for by the town. There is even a screen near the entrance where one could see stories and videos about all the cemeteries, including the Lithuanian one.

Roslyn historic cemeteries tourist brochure

Roslyn historic cemeteries tourist brochure

In 2009 a Lithuanian cemetery memorial has been constructed at Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery for 16 000 USD. The memorial was built to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the cemetery. Its construction – just like most of the cemetery cleaning works - has been organized by Vilius Žalpys, a Lithuanian from Portland, who also reignited the local Lithuanian club. On its back, the memorial has a list of not only all the burials in that cemetery (46) but also of Lithuanians buried elsewhere in the area. As most Lithuanian surnames have been changed (e.g. anglicized) after emigration to the USA, on this memorial they are typically written twice: the original Lithuanian version and the US version. On its front, the memorial has the inscription “Lithuanian Cemetery”, an English poem by Vilius Žalpys (“Lithuania, so far from your shores we have traveled, to those beautiful mountains we call home. The roots of my family now grown here, but forever will my heart be yours”), as well as Lithuanian coat of arms.

Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery memorial close-up

Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery memorial close-up

Lithuanian cemetery of Roslyn also has a fence adorned with a Lithuanian coat of arms (Vytis) and numerous new gravestones built for the people who, according to Žalpys’s painstaking research, were buried there but lacked gravestone. These gravestones are built by Žalpys in a more ethnic fashion than was common in the early 20th century: using the Vytis emblem as well as a “Born in Lithuania” description.

A newly-built gravestone for an old Lithuanian grave in Roslyn

A newly-built gravestone for an old Lithuanian grave in Roslyn

Vytis on the fence of Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery

Vytis on the fence of Roslyn Lithuanian cemetery

The second cemetery in Roslyn where numerous Lithuanians are buried is the Polish cemetery, also sometimes referred to as the Polish-Lithuanian one. As was common in the USA, at first, Poles and Lithuanians would form common organizations (parishes, clubs, cemeteries). That was because prior to being annexed by the Russian Empire in 1795, Lithuania for a long time formed a single country with Poland (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). In this unified country, the Polish language and culture predominated for science, literature, religion, and other public affairs (while the Lithuanian language was relegated to private matters). However, as the national revival has swept through Lithuania ~1890s, Lithuanian speakers began seeking to replace the Polish language with their native Lithuanian even in the higher domains. For Lithuanian-American communities, this meant having to “divorce” their parishes, clubs, and other institutions from the Polish ones. While no language would be needed in the cemetery, gradually, Lithuanian-Americans also began seeking their own cemeteries as well. So, in 1909, Lithuanians established their separate cemetery in Roslyn.

Now, the old Polish(-Lithuanian) cemetery has solely the Polish flag waving, however, Žalpys-built commemorative plaque describes the history of it being the common burial ground for Poles and Lithuanians at one time (before the two nations went on their separate ways), with at least 18 Lithuanians buried there. It also includes both the Polish and Lithuanian coats of arms.

Polish-Lithuanian cemtery stone

Polish-Lithuanian cemtery with its memorial in front, adorned with both Polish and Lithuanian coats of arms

Yet another cemetery in the region where a larger number of Lithuanians is buried is that in Cle Elum (Laurel Hill Memorial Park), where at least 41 found their rest. There, Vilius Žalpys constructed a Lithuanian traditional cross, crafted by himself and funded by other Lithuanian-Americans, in 2018 (the date being that of the centenary of the Republic of Lithuania). The cross is made of separate parts in order to be easily repairable, one of the parts being the metal “sun disc”. Lithuanian traditional crosses typically incorporate the pagan-originated sun motif in addition to the typical Christian form of a cross. A plaque on the cross describes it as a gift from Kititas County Lithuanian Club to Cle Elum (a club Žalpys himself nurtured, despite not being from there).

Cle ELum Lithuanian cross

Cle Elum Lithuanian cross

In Seattle itself, the Lithuanian community, lacking their own building, meets at the Latvian House as Latvians are a "brother nation". The University of Washington in Seattle has a Baltic studies program as part of the Scandinavian Chair. There is a Lithuanian library section in the University Library.

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  1. In June of 2009, the Portland Oregon Lithuanian Community dedicated a memorial at the Lithuanian cemetery in Roslyn, Wa. On the memorial, names on the grave stones were changed from primarily Polish last names to the proper Lithuanian spelling. I attended the event with my wife because my grandfather, Jonas is buried in the Roslyn cemetery. His name on the grave stone is Jonas Charaposky. The name on the memorial was changed to Jonas Cerapauskas. I have photos of the grave stone and the memorial that I would be willing to share if an e-mail address can be provided as I am not on Facebook or other social media sites. John

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