The Grave of Joseph W. Nichols
The Wildomar Cemetery is full of stories and mysteries, some of which have never been solved.
Violent and sudden death, different accounts of what happened, and a grave that looks so very
different from the others – that is the story for Joseph W. Nichols, who died 130 years ago in
Wildomar, before today’s cemetery even existed. So how did a Santa Fe railroad employee
become the center of such a tragic tale and prominent burial?
Joseph was the Santa Fe agent and operator at the Wildomar railroad station, and had not been
at his post for more than two years when on July 16, 1889, he went into his office, took a pistol
and shot himself. What caused this 31-year-old man to take his own life? One of the early
reports suggested it was because of money, a shortage in his accounts, though that was later
proved untrue. Another story was that he had been rejected by a woman — and there was a
mysterious woman dressed in black who appeared at his funeral, who was unknown to the
other mourners and never seen again. But no one knows the reason for sure.
His grave was distinctive, with a marble headstone and a footstone to mark the end of the
grave, and an ornate iron fence placed around it, separating it from the rest of Wildomar’s
original cemetery that was in a rocky part of the foothills south of Central Street and Grand
Avenue. Was it because of his suicide, often seen as a barrier to being buried on hallowed
ground? When the new cemetery was established in 1898, all the other burials were relocated
to the Palomar site, but Joseph was left behind. Finally, in 1979, he was moved to his final
resting place, along with the headstone and iron fence that mark the site of his grave.