San Francisco’s Secret Tombstones
I was hangry, it was 11 a.m. and I had already walked 8 miles. I witnessed (with my 6-year-old) someone smoking out of a bong and a bloodied man talking about how he was going to “kick Tyler’s ass.” But here I was, leaving the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and ditching my family to trudge up an unkempt path in search of rocks. I had to keep one eye peeled for weirdos lurking behind trees. There was no one around except a maintenance man and what he was maintaining, I’ll never know. The thought of my disappearance ruining my family’s life crossed my mind once or twice.
Risking death (and heat stroke) to find San Francisco’s secret tombstones is just what I do, I guess.
So, this is the deal. There are just three cemeteries in San Francisco proper (which I never visited), not counting the Pet Cemetery (I didn’t make it there, either). In order to visit THE cemetery of “San Francisco,” you need to leave town and go to the city of Colma. Colma is a necropolis, holding the remains of approximately 1.5 million people. The dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one.
I first heard of Colma earlier this summer when Eliot and I were watching a show during Shark Week and they spoke about poor Albert Kogler who died of a shark attack in 1959. He was swimming at a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge and, BAM, he was chewed up by a great white shark. Long story short, Eliot and I thought we could swing by the cemetery to say hi to Albert, only to find that he was buried in Colma. *cue the sad trombone*
Okay, Tara, but why are there, like, no cemeteries in San Francisco? In 1900, after San Francisco had started to become really crowded, they outlawed new burials in the city. In 1912, they EVICTED all of the dead bodies and moved most of them to Colma, at a cost of $10 per body and marker. If a family could not afford the fee, the bodies got removed and dumped into mass graves. Now you might be wondering what happened to all of those markers and tombstones (if you weren’t, NOW you are).
The city of San Francisco gathered all of the tombstones, smashed them up and used them in public works. The pathways of most of Buena Vista park were lined with the broken pieces of the markers. I saw grey, white and black stone, over and over again, but I wanted to find one with a name or a date. The grey, white and black stones were like a bread crumb trail leading me to…….more grey, white and black stones. I almost gave up, but at the last second, there they were: “K E. H” and one that said “died,” accompanied by a “59 yrs.”
Seeing these little stones stirred some weird, unexpected feelings of regret for all of these……people? Or these rocks? Who or what was a feeling bad for? I would be lying if I said that I didn’t stand there for a second contemplating all of these discarded people and their gravestones. Why? Because I have to feel bad for everyone (and their rocks) ALL OF THE TIME. It’s exhausting.
Eventually, I started to imagine the boys, sitting outside of the video game store, their patience with my weird obsessions running thin. I said a quick goodbye and returned to the living.
If you ever get a chance, you should stop and check them out, but I won’t tell you where they are. You’ll have to sweat your ass off looking for them yourself. Just beware of that weird maintenance man.