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July 12, 2008

Colma, California

Some time in the last six months or so I discovered a hole of ignorance in my own brain, and in that hole was Colma, California. I was probably reading a discussion in one of the cemetery groups on Flickr and the subject of Colma arose. Everybody seemed to know what this Colma was, but I drew a total blank. Google to the rescue. I was thoroughly amazed that I had somehow missed the fact that in the 1920s and 30s, all the dead in San Francisco were dug up and moved out of town, mostly to Colma. Colma covers 1.9 square miles and nearly three-quarters of that area is cemeteries. (There are also several car dealerships). A Google satellite view of the cemeteries. Feel free to turn on Streetview, as the Google car seems to have cruised some of the cemeteries, including Cypress Lawn where we find the Hearst Mausoleum.

So, having seen the light on the subject of Colma, it was my further amazement that none of my Bay Area friends ever suggested that we do lunch and a stroll in Colma, to help me get over my ignorance. On my recent trip north I was determined to visit this great land of the dead, Colma, so on my way home I turned onto I-280 and drove to Colma.

It was too vast and overwhelming. It was like being in a shopping center of cemeteries, they lined the streets on both sides. I could just choose blindly and find interesting stuff. Midway through my random wanderings I came across the Colma Historical Society's Museum where they had a lot of info and a better guidebook than I was working from...and a clean restroom.

I need to go back and spend several days there. The complete set of photos is here. These are some samples:
Salem Cemetery (1231)
Salem Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery.

Greek Orthodox Cemetery - Demetrios P. Katsaras (1237)
Demetrios P. Katsaras at the Greek Orthodox Cemetery.

Greenlawn Cemetery - Nonendowment Care Section (1240)
Greenlawn Cemetery nonendowment care section.
Never before have I seen nonendowed graves labeled so prominently and the lack of care shown with something almost like pride. At one cemetery the nonendowed care section was a weed-filled ditch.

Greenlawn Cemetery - Nonendowment Care Section (1246)
Only in Quartzisite, Arizona, have I seen so many homemade crosses of wood or pipe.

Greenlawn Cemetery - Nonendowment Care Section - James Williams (1241)
Even the veterans seem to be forgotten in in the nonendowed care section.
The age on that flag didn't happen in the month since Memorial Day, nor since Veterans Day last November. It's been a lot longer than that since a flag was planted here.

Greenlawn Cemetery - Nonendowment Care Section - Vladimir I Kooznetsoff (1250)
A Captain in the Russian Army, born 1896, died 1954.
The Russian Army would have been the Czar's army, I believe, not the Red Army of the Soviet Union.

Woodlawn Cemetery - Chan (1258)
The red ink denotes a living person, black ink otherwise.

Woodlawn Cemetery - Hobe (1268)
A gravesite including at least one mason.

Woodlawn Cemetery - Rev Perofeta Failauga (1262)
Reverend Perofeta Failauga of American Samoa.
Did we say American Samoa? American.

Colma Historical Museum (1299)
The museum of the Colma Historical Society
. Very helpful and informative place. Picked up a better reference book for Colma and got a free map of the town which is, I'm sure, a violation of copyright. They have on display tons of articles and information covering the court cases and the moving of the deceased from San Francisco to Colma. But they have other historical material relevant to the town as well. The historical society is directly across the street from Olivet Cemetery.

Colma Historical Museum - Mystery Tombstone (1296)
On display at the museum, they call this the "Mystery Tombstone."
But there is no mystery about it. Mr. Hartnagle's body (deceased 1875) was moved from Odd Fellows cemetery in San Francisco to a mass grave in Greenlawn. Individual markers were not allowed in mass graves, so the stone was surplus. Information at the museum said the spare grave stones were used for all sorts of things, including building retaining walls along beaches. This particular stone probably fell off a train and was discovered during the construction of the BART extension to the airport. "Tombstone With An Interesting History Easily Explained" might be a more accurate description.

Cypress Lawn - Cook (1313)
Pyramidal family marker in Cypress Lawn.

Cypress Lawn - Hearst Family (1309)
The Hearst family mausoleum, including William Randolph Hearst.
The Hearst name is no where on the exterior of the mausoleum.

Cypress Lawn - Not Hearst (1304)
This mausoleum is near the Hearst mausoleum and also bears no family name on the outside, so it could be easily confused with the Hearst mausoleum if you don't check the details.

Hills of Eternity - Wyatt Earp (1302)
Earp, Wyatt.
Yup. He died in Los Angeles in 1929 and was cremated. His ashes were buried in Hills of Eternity cemetery, a Jewish cemetery. His widow was Jewish. The original marker was stolen in 1957 and replaced with this one. His Wikipedia biography is long and colorful.

Italian Cemetery (1298)
Italian Cemetery.

Olivet Cemetery - Showfolks of America (1284)
Showfolks Of America graves in Olivet Cemetery.
What a sight to come across!

Olivet Cemetery - Showfolks of America (1288)
They are talking about Showfolks, not Space Aliens.

Olivet Cemetery Vandalism (1282)
In Olivet Cemetery a vandal (or vandals) walked along a slightly curving path, never deviating, and knocked over every stone on the way.
It was like a small tornado's path. You could follow it easily until it just stopped. Maybe the miscreants ascended into the sky, or maybe they just passed out. Security at Olivet Cemetery was pretty much nonexistent. The front of the property is unfenced.

Filed under Photography | permalink | July 12, 2008 at 07:36 PM


Yes, feel free to use the photo with attribution to "Ron Gilbert"

Posted by: Ron's Log at May 27, 2009 11:11:44 AM

Hi Ron, I am compiling a family genealogy and have two kin buried at Greenlawn in the non-endowment care section. May I use your picture of that section above on Find A Grave, and if so, how would you like me to attribute it to you?
Thank you, Catherine

Posted by: Catherine at May 27, 2009 10:41:24 AM

I never heard of this either, but then I am on the other side of the country. I just finished a walking tour guide for Providence North Burial Ground (founded 1700), and I thought it a challenge to deal with 110 acres. I can't imagine nearly 1.5 sq mi of graves . . . amazing!

Posted by: ROJ at Jul 22, 2008 4:54:04 PM

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the late Gary Bosworth of DHS, got his introduction into local politics as his father was a Council member for the City of Colma during Gary's youth.

Posted by: Karl Baker, Jr. at Jul 13, 2008 8:49:47 PM

When I was taking a class at San Francisco State on the history of San Francisco
the prof took us on a field trip to the cemeteries of Colma to meet the city's
founding fathers in person.

Posted by: Joseph at Jul 13, 2008 3:58:20 PM

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