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Chinese Shrine at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

March 29, 2018

chinese-shrine-remains-closeup_web_1600x1067_colorIn November 2017, a Chinese Shrine was uncovered within Salem’s Pioneer Cemetery. A project team quickly formed to work on excavation, wanting to learn more about the shrine and its connection to Salem’s active Chinatown that existed from the 1800s through the mid 1920s. The team includes representatives from Willamette University, the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Friends of the Salem Pioneer Cemetery, the State Historic Preservation Office, and others.


Kimberli Fitzgerald, historic planner at the City of Salem, describes the excavation process at the November 8, 2017 Open House

After conducting research, the team believes the Shrine was constructed in order to provide the Chinese a place to leave offerings for their family members, as well as for those who had died and did not have any family in the area. Many Chinese who came to Salem were sojourners, here to work temporarily. The inscription on the Shrine’s marble tablet has been translated to mean “To the Tomb of an Unknown Friend.”



qingming-festival-offering_web_1600x1067_color_optOn Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 10:00 a.m. Salem residents and visitors are invited to experience a Chinese Blessing of the Shrine by the Buddhist Priest from Salem’s Mia Chung Temple in honor of the Chinese Qingming Festival. This day is set aside to clean and sweep the graves of Chinese ancestors and pay them homage. The event will take place at the Pioneer Cemetery. More information and parking details can be found here. This opportunity is part of the Salem Cemetery Chinese Shrine Project, which is working to preserve this remnant of the Chinese American’s presence in Salem.

Additionally, several headstones with Chinese characters were found in the backyard of a resident living to the north of the Pioneer Cemetery. These stones have been graciously returned to the cemetery. They can be viewed, along with several artifacts from the Shrine and a brief history of Salem’s Chinese as part of the Willamette Heritage Center’s exhibit Arrival: Stories of Migration, Immigration and Journeys in the Mid-Willamette Valley. This exhibit will be open through April 27, 2018.

If you are interested in attending the next Chinese Shrine Advisory Committee meeting, or have any Chinese artifacts, headstones or other information about Salem’s Chinese and would be willing to share, please contact Kimberli Fitzgerald at or 503 540-2397.

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