San Francisco History

Golden Gate Cemetery
(aka City Cemetery, Potter's Field)

Dates of Existence: 1868 to 1909 (Italian Cemetery: 1920?)
Location: 33rd Avenue and Clement, north and west to the beach
Number interred: 4,118 (1882), 11,771 (1887), 18,000 (1893)
Moved to: different cemeteries in Colma, San Mateo County (including Italian and Salem Memorial Park)
Notes: Included a number of cemeteries, including Beth Olam, Caledonian, Chinese (6), Colored Masons, French, German, Grand Army of the Republic, Greco-Russian, Italian, Japanese, Knights of Pythias, Master Mariners, Old Friends, Potter's Field, [Independent Order of] Red Men, Russian, Salem, Scandinavian, Seamen's, Slavonic-Illyric, and St. Andrew's.

City Cemetery, 1884 by J.C. Henkenus
City Cemetery, 1898 by H.W. Faust
City Cemetery key, 1898 by H.W. Faust

History: According to the San Francisco Municipal Reports, 30 June 1893 (appendix, pages 171-178), the area for this cemetery was reserved in 1868. The first interment was on 3 July 1870. On 10 May 1887, the interments included:

The societies included: Italian, French, Jewish, German, Knights of Pythias, Slavonic Illyric, St. Andrews, Orthodox Easter Greek Church, Grand Army of the Republic, Ladies' Seaman Society, Old Friend's Society, Colored I.O.O.F., Japanese, Chinese Six Companies, Japanese, and Chinese Christian. (page 782)

In 1893, the interments included 11,000 indigent and 7,000 for association and societies.

In December 1908, City Supervisors asked the different organizations who had plots there to remove them in order for a new City Park. In 1909, the grounds, approximately 150 acres "were turned over to the Park Commission, with 50 acres turned over to the U. S. Government and added to the Fort Miley reservation..." In the next year, 1910, the Lincoln Park Golf Club became aware of the Park plan and petitioned to have a golf course developed [according to other historical sources, a 3-hole golf course was built in 1902]. The Park Commissioners agreed and surveyed a course for eighteen holes. By 1912, nine holes had been finished. In October 1914, frequenters of the course organized a municipal club. By August 1918, the course was complete. In October 1919, recommendation was made to the City Supervisor's for funds to relocate the old Italian cemetery near Lincoln Park. The cornerstone of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor was placed on February 19, 1921. (Information from articles not posted: San Francisco Call, 4 August 1910, page 5; San Francisco Chronicle, 19 December 1915, page 49; San Francisco Examiner, 4 August, 1918, page 15; and San Francisco Examiner, 20 February 1921, page 3.) In December 1921, during the construction of the memorial, a reporter from The Daily News found crews scraping up bodies and coffins from the ground. The foreman estimated they had "taken up" about 1500. (see articles below)

In the summer of 1993, during renovation and expansion of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, "about 300 corpses from the Gold Rush era—two of them still clutching rosaries, others were wearing dentures and Levis—were unearthed from what appears to be an old pauper's graveyard. Some experts say another 11,000 bodies might lie underneath the museum grounds" according to a Los Angeles Times article (12 November 1993, A-23). The City Planner's office has copies of the excavation activities. According to the archeaologist, there were over 700 individual coffin burials. All the remains and artifacts were turned over to the Coroner's office (Medical Examiner). The Medical Examiner's office had the remains reburied at the Skylawn Cemetery in San Mateo, and the artifacts were given to the City Museum. Most of the finds were centered around the Legion of Honor's courtyard. The archeaological firm proposed a more extensive dig, but the Museum felt it was out-of-scope of their activities, so they said no. Another interesting item was that an early resident, recalling the construction of the museum, mentioned that remains were found and put into a pit in one of the corners of the building, although she couldn't recall which corner. So, it appears that remains are still there, somewhere.

One of the scientists that worked on the site, Michele Buzon, has given permission to post a map [small, large] of where more than 700 hundred burials were discovered. According to their research, "[a]rchaeological evidence and historical records suggest that these individuals were interred between 1868 and about 1906." The research goes on to indicate that the individuals were of "poor, working-class people of European ancestry" in addition to the Chinese.

[Michele Buzon's website is here. Her research was published in Historical Archaeology, The Society for Historical Archaelogy, Volume 35, No. 2, Summer 2005; Health and Disease in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco: Skeletal Evidence from a Forgotten Cemetery, Michele R. Buzon, Phillip L. Walker, Francine Drayer Verhagen, and Susan L. Kerr. Abstract.]

"SALEM. History and Description of the Cemetery of the Jewish Congregation Beth Israel. . .

Undoubtedly one of the causes, among many which operated toward the defeat of the Charter proposed by the Board of Freeholders, was the repugnance which existed among all classes toward the provisions in relation to the cemeteries, it being the generally accepted theory that the authorities might order the removal of the bodies of the dead. To the minds of a great number of our people, the very contemplation of such an act seemed sacreligious. That he might fully understand the 'Cemetery' question and, as to that matter, be able to vote intelligently upon the proposed Charter, a gentleman who furnishes the following facts for the ALTA, devoted several days to an inspection of the various resting place of those whom it has been said:

'Ah! how many wait forever
For the steps that do not come
Wait — until the pitying angels
Take them to their peaceful home.'

But as almost all the pieces which are now known as 'The City of the Dead', have been frequently written up, a description of them would, at this time, be superfluous. Yet there is one cemetery which has not received any attention in that respect, and a brief account of it will not be out of place. Not far from the junction of Point Lobos and Cemetery avenues, and midway between that point and the Cliff House, situated in the City Burying Ground, is a neatly fenced in plot, containing about eleven acres of land, over the entrance to which will be read the words 'Cemetery of the Congregation Beth Israel, Salem (Peace). Consecrated in the year 5638, December 2, 1877.'

THE HISTORY OF THIS CEMETERY. It is not uninteresting. About three-and-a-half years since, the Congregation Beth Israel worshipped in a small building at the corner of Mission and Mary streets, nearly opposite of the United States Mint. At that period, the Jewish interments were made in the two cemeteries lying between Eighteenth and Twentieth, Dolores and Church streets. It was the intention of the Congregation to secure the building of a new house of worship as soon as funds for that purpose could be obtained. While attempting to further that design, an incident occured which caused them to delay it, and to occupy their attention with the procuring of a new cemetery. They obtained money for that purpose, and after considerable trouble and inconvenience, they at last succeeded in this object, obtaining the plot mentioned, as a gift from the city, which generously responded to their application in that behalf, upon the sole condition that rich and poor should be charged alike for burial. The congregation then purchased a hearse for $500, and adopted as a scale of prices the sum of $10 for the grave of an adult and $5 for that of a child, except where parties were unable to pay even these small sums, in which case the interment was to be made free of charge. Mr. Conrad Manerhorn, a practical gardner, was engaged as Superintendent, at a salary of $60 per month, and the cemetery was dedicated by Revs. Elkan Cohn and A.J. Messing, since which time there have been 109 interments.

. . .The Societies Achim Rachmonim and B'nai Israel have taken a portion of the grounds for interments of their members, while to the left the Congregation Sherith Israel and Ohabei Shalome have obtained lots, which they intend using when their present cemeteries become filled. The Beth Israel has also given a small portion of the Congregation Shaary Zedek, on Stockton street, since which time the latter have had about twelve interments. The Protestant Italians, French Benevolent Society, and German General Benevolent Society, have also cemeteries in the vicinity of the 'Salem' grounds. . ."

Source: Daily Alta California, 27 September 1880. 

GRAVE NO. 1,116.

Where Thomas W. Wood is Buried in Potter’s Field.

Miserable Ending of an Old Soldier After Thirty-five Years’ Service — Death Preferred to Dependency.

“What is the number of Thomas W. Wood’s grave?”
“About when was he buried?”

The Superintendent of the Potter’s Field—dreary burial place of unclaimed and indigent dead—took down a common bill file, and soon turned to a “permit to inter,” bearing the name “Thomas W. Wood.”

“Number 1,116,” the Superintendent said.

The number was marked in pencil on the top margin of the permit. On the bottom margin was the single word “Morgue.” The number was the Superintendent’s memorandum of the grave. The word “Morgue” was the City Undertaker’s memorandum for the driver of the dead wagon. Thomas W. Wood’s body was taken from the Morgue by the City Undertaker and buried in grave No. 1,116, in the Potter’s Field. The cause of his death was suicide. Such was the brief history shown by the official “permit to inter,” to which the Superintendent turned. The permit further showed that death occurred February 11th, burial the 16th, and that the age of the deceased was fifty-seven years.

What did the unusual length of time between the death and burial mean? This: That Thomas W. Wood had served in the army and navy for thirty-five years, and the officers at the Morgue thought some other than a pauper’s burial was due him. They had kept his body, therefore, as long as possible. Their efforts to find some society willing to give the body a Christian burial were unavailing.

The be sure, he had only been a private in the army and a marine in the navy. Yet from 1847, when he was but twenty-two years old, until only a few weeks ago, worn out, and fifty-seven years old, he had served faithfully.

“Will you direct me to his grave?” the reporter asked.
“Certainly,” the Superintendent replied. “Come this way.”


The path led through a field in which a few sturdy sage-brushes were beginning a war on the prevailing sand dunes. On the opposite side of a broken-down fence stood a black dead-wagon and a mournful-looking, dirty, white horse. Beyond the dead-wagon a man stood in a put up to the waist, digging a grave in the soft, find sand. He threw the sand into a half-filled grave, separated a foot from the one he was digging. The half-filled grave was marked by a plank, painted a rusty white, and numbered, in black figures, “1,118.” Another next beyond was “1,117.”

“That’s Wood’s,” the Superintendent said, pointing to the third grave from the digger.

He pointed to a rusty white plank, nearly buried in the drifting sand, marked “1,116.” There was no mound, no grass, no fence or flowers. There was a drifting waste of white sand, studded with four thousand one hundred and eighteen rusty-white and weather-beaten planks.

“Have you put in this morning’s two?” the Superintendent asked of the half-buried gravedigger.
“Yes sir,” the man said, nodding out of the sand between him and No. “1,116.” Then he bent over his work and threw more sand from the half-made grave into the half-filled grave, marked with plank No. “1,118.”
“The two brought out this morning have been buried,” the Superintendent said to the reporter.
“Why is he digging another grave, then?”
“Oh, it saves work. A grave has to be filled up, and it may as well be filled with the sand from the next grave made.”
“But the drifting sand may fill this before it is used.”
“It won’t have time. We average forty a month. That’s more than one a day. Two to-day.”


“Where do they come from?”
“From the Morgue, mostly. Some come from the City Hospital, some from the Poor House, and some from the Foundling Asylum.”

A wire “straight line” ran along the row of graves in which the digger worked, that each plank should be placed in exact line. Long even rows of numbered planks stretched away toward the Golden Gate.

“How many are there?”
“I numbered up to three thousand, and then began with “one” again, and he is now digging 1,119 for to-morrow.”

The reporter looked down the long silent aisles formed by the thousands of planks, in exact rows, and then thought of the sources which supplied the bodies over which the white sand drifted. “Found in the bay;” “midnight brawls,” “resulting in murder;” worn-out tramps, who waysided in the Poor House before lodging finally in Potter’s Field; and among them all the body of Thomas W. Woods, native of Fairfax, Virginia, who had nothing in his pocket, when searched at the Morgue, but a bundle of “Honorable Discharges” from the army and navy.

“Does each plank mark a single grave?”
“Not all. Sometimes we get two foundlings at once, and then we put two in one grave. It saves ground and the cost of a head-board. Such graves only have one number, but the records are marked ‘head and foot,’ which shows that two bodies are in the grave.


ON June 3, 1847, young Thomas Wood enlisted for the Mexican war. He was honorably discharged July 13, 1848. He reenlisted at various times for various terms, never remaining out of the army more than a few days until 1870. After serving through the war of the Rebellion, he was discharged in 1865, reenlisted for five years and received his last honorable discharge from the army October 30, 1870. This last certificate of honorable discharge, found in his pockets with all the others, is countersigned, “Character very good.” On December 21, 1870, he first enlisted in the marine corps of the navy, at the Navy Yard, in Washington, D. C. His last two honorable discharges from the marines are countersigned, “Character excellent.” All of the certificates state that the honorable discharges are granted for expiration of term, except the last, dated Mare Island, November 27, 1881, which states that the discharge is granted upon report of “Board of Medical Survey.”

After thirty-five years of continuous service, —— or old hulk, worn and battered by campaigns and cruises, by battle, and action, and ——; the poor old hulk, condemned after over a third of a century of service, is supplied with a parchment certificate of good character, and sent adrift, and old hulk, indeed, it were better if he had been, for the craziest old worthless hulk in the navy, after years of service, is laid up in ordinary, and kept, if not in decent repairs, at least from going to pieces.

The Board of Medical Survey condemned him as too much worn for further effective service, and knowing no way, at his time of life, to earn a living, having given his youth and middle-age to his country, he drifted to this city, without occupation, home or friends. He had in the world $25 and the red tape certificate of the Board of Medical Survey, that, having worn out in thirty-five years honorable service for his country, the honorable Board had cut him adrift.

At the Morgue, the hotel man, with whom Wood had deposited all his money, told the rest of the story. It is simple. Wood was temperate; drew only such money as we necessary for a bare cheap living, and when his money was all gone and no more to come, the old man, rather than find himself a penny in debt, or ask for a penny he did not earn, poisoned himself.

In his pockets were his bundle of honorable discharges, nicely tied with red tape, and a number of affectionate letters from a married daughter living near the old home, back in old Virginia.

The Coroner’s deputies, accustomed as they are to stories of hopeful or faithful lives, miserable ended, saw something in this which appealed to fraternal sympathy and to the fraternities of veterans of various titles. To the navy and army department offices they appealed while the body remained at the morgue, but in vain.

The burial could be delayed no longer. The dead wagon carried away the old private’s body, and the burial, according to stipulations, took place at a cost of $2.60 to the City and County of San Francisco.

The dead wagon drove over the field where the sage brush battles with the sand, to the sand dune beyond the tumble-down fence. The contract box, with the old soldier’s body, was dumped into grave 1,116, and the sand from graves 1,117 and 1,118 was shoveled over the box, with no one by to say even the poor words “dust to dust, ashes to ashes!”

The Superintendent field away the permit to inter, which alone shows, that Thomas W. Wood, thirty-five years a soldier and marine, lies beneath the white sand in grave 1,116.

Source: San Francisco Call, 18 February 1882. 

". . .The following resolution, introduced by Supervisor Burns was then read:

WHEREAS, In the year 1868, the city and county reserved in the northwestern porition of this peninsula a tract of land 200 acres in extent for cemetery purposes, at a cost of $127,465; and whereas, when this reservation was made it was in an isolated part of the city and county, it being contemplated and believed at this time that burials would be prohibited sooner or later, for sanitary reasons, in many of the cemeteries then used, and whereas, in addition to the interment of the remains of decedents removed from Yerba Buena cemetery and indigent decedents, various grants of portions of said cemetery have been made to charitable and benevolent associations which have made improvements thereon, and used the portions granted for burial purposes; and, whereas, there can be no question that continued internments in said Golden Gate Cemetery will be a positive advantage to the improvement of the outside lands lying north of the park and prejudicial to the sanitary well being of that part of the city and county; and whereas, the location and renovation so made is, in the view of the improvements projected and the increasing demands of the public, a most eligble site for recreation purposes, and if connected with our public park would be a most valuable adjunct thereto as a healthy resort for our people; therefore,

Resolved. That inasmuch as the question of restricting burials in said Golden Gate cemetery should be considered with a due regard to the rights of all persons concerned, and the present and future wants and necessities of the public, the subject be and is hereby referred to a special committee consisting of three members of this board to be appointed by and to act in conjunction with his Honor the Mayor, to consider further interments therein; also if in their judgement further internments should be prohibited, to examine and report as to the interments made, the character and value of improvements made in plats [sic] or lots in said cemetery, and whether, if deemed proper that the remains therein interred should be removed to and reinterred in other cemeteries, what probable expense, if any, would be installed upon or should be borne by the city and county; also whether the plats or lots, wherein interments have been made, could be improved and allowed to remain without detriment of the use of said tract of land as a public park; also whether there exists any necessity for the city and county to acquire lands for cemetery purposes; also whether the said reservation should be placed under the care and control of the Board of Park Commissioners to improve and beautify it for the uses and purpose of the public and whether the increased appropriation authorized to be made by the last session of the Legislature for the improvement of the public parks will afford said board the means to carry out such systems of improvements.

Supervisor Burns moved the adoption of the resolution. The motion was carried, Curran and Lambert voting no."

Source: San Francisco Morning Call, 26 April 1887. 

Jewish Graves.

Hebrew Congregations At Variance.

Protests by Shaarey Zedek Beth Israel Against Closing the City Cemetery.

The congregations of Shaarey Zedek and Beth Israel are up in arms against the Point Lobos Improvement Club's attempt to cause the condemnation of the Golden Gate Cemetery. Both congregations have burial plots in the cemetery assured to them by a city ordinance passed in 1867 and by subsequent legislative enactment. The tidal wave of improvements which has swept over ultra western portions of the city has been assigned as a reason for the existing agitation against the cemetery, but from the investigations instituted by a Chronicle reporter yesterday it would appear that so far as the two Jewish cemeteries are concerned, the agitation comes from a deeper source and has a different significance.

As the readers of the Chronicle know, ill feeling has existed for years between the members of the rich congregations of Sherith Israel and Emanu-El, whose cemeteries have until recently been at the end of Nineteenth street, and the flocks of the poorer churches, because, according to the latter people's statements, the rich congregations charged more for a plot in their ground than poor people could afford to pay. The charge was $30 to $40 for a grave. At the Golden Gate Cemetery a grave may be had for $8. Since the rich congregations have opened cemeteries at San Mateo they have reduced rates to $22.50. The poorer classes say their richer brethren have run their cemeteries to make money.

A member of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek interviewed yesterday said he thought the agitation against the Golden Gate Cemetery found its animus in the fact that the president of the Point Lobos Improvement Club, who is a wealthy Jew, belongs to a rich congregation which is opposed to the poor churches.

Samuel Polack, president of the Congregation Shaarey Zedek, says he has protested to the Supervisors against the closing of the Jewish plots in Golden Gate Cemetery as contrary to moral law. The members of the Congregations having plots in the cemetery are very indignant over the action proposed by the improvement club. They intend to fight the matter to the end.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 20 March 1890, page 3. 

Desolate and Forsaken.

Neglected and Forlorn Condition of the City Cemetery.

The Sunken Graves of the Poor.

A Plot of Ground Covered With Long, Dry Grass and Rattling Brush—Rotting Headboards and Sticks for Footboards.

The blue waves of the bay dance gaily in the sunshine at the foot of the hills on which is the city's public burying ground.

The Jewish section is full of green foliage, and the little grassplots are neatly trimmed and cared for.

High up on the hillside the gateways of the Chinese subdivison stand firm and tall.

A land of graves, uncared for and seemingly forgotten. Here lie the city's pauper dead. The dry grass tangles thick and long, and here and there are bunches of scraggly brush—skeletons of dead bushes. But there is not a tree in the whole place. Not a slender fir tree, and not a bit of green vine or growing twig.

The neglected graves stretch out row after row. At the head of each was once a board numbered with the number of its silent owner. There are no names upon these headboards, and wind and weather have worked hard to obliterate even this simple mark of identity. Many of the numbers are illegible.

Here and there are sunken holes, which mark the place where once a mound was lifted.

It behooves a curious wanderer in this city of the silent to watch his footsteps carefully, for the sodden ground is treacherous and full of holes.

The old footboards lean tipsily over the graves or fall in decayed forlorness on the ground. Toward the end of the rows the boards are only charred sticks, burned out of all resemblance to what they once imitated. There are a few scattered single graves, which are fenced in alone and lettered with the names of the sleepers. The fences are crazy and dilapidated, and the earth within looks little cared for.

The grass is littered with rubbish. Old shoes, old hats, rusty tin cans and bits of paper lie scattered about.

Upon one lonely mound, set a little way apart by a rotting railing, there lay a broken cup that once held a plant. It was the only evidence of human thought or care in the whole dreary place, and that had evidently lain broken and forgotten for many months.

The Chinese burying-ground above is very crowded, so when the Chinese burn the clothes of the dead, as is their custom, they often toss them into the city plot and set them afire there.

yesterday the ground was strewn with garments so sodden with damp decay that they refused to burn. So they lay flapping gaudily above the sleeping citizens in the plot below, like some flaunting mockery of their low estate.

The different socieites and nationalities have plots on all sides, but they are generally well kept and decent.

The ground alone is wretched and forlorn. High on the hill there are clustered a few graves close to the edge of the cliff where it sheers into the water.

"Them's mariners," said the gravedigger, who stood dreaming on his shovel, and flicking a curly dog with a coffin rope. "They're put there so'st they can see the ships come in."

The mariners have decidedly the best of it, for though their little plot of ground is bare enough, in all conscience, it is not quite so miserable as the rest.

The wind rushes in from the sea and shakes the rattling branches of the scattered brush. Sometimes it overturns a tottering board or blows a broken paling from a falling fence.

The place looks as if the gravedigger and his curly dog were the only visitors that ever came to visit it.

Except the wind.

That is always there.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 3 February 1891, page 3. 

"THE GOLDEN GATE CEMETERY. A jury in the Circuit Court Hearing Evidence in a Condemnation Suite. The trial of the United States against the City and County of San Francisco for the purpose of a condemnation and valuation of 54 acres of land, now being known as the Golden Gate Cemetery, was commenced yesterday in the United State Circuit Court before Judge McKenna and jury.

The Secretary of War some time ago recommended that the land be condemned so as to be available for fortification purposes.

The city disputes the Government's claim that the intended fortifications are of greater public need than the cemetery now occupying the tract.

United States District Attorney Garter represents the Government at the trial, and John H. Durst, the City and County Attorney, assisted by John J. Stevens conduct the opposition.

Two expert real estate men have been selected to value the land in controversy. These are, for the Government, Thomas Magee, and for the city and county, R.P. Hammond, Jr.

Among the other witnesses subponaed are J.J. O'Farrell, George Toy and C.D. Carter, all dealers in real estate."

Source: San Francisco Morning Call, 2 June 1892. 

"CITY—North of Point Lobos avenue from Thirtythird avenue to Forty-eight avenue."

Source: San Francisco City Directory, 1895

"CITY—Thirty-fourth avenue, near Point Lobos avenue. Beth Olam, Caledonian, Chinese (6), Colored Masons, French, German, Grand Army of the Republic, office 35 Eddy street; Greco-Russian, Hebrew (Beth Olam and Salem), Italian, Japanese, Knights of Pythias, office 6 Eddy street; Master Mariners, Old Friends, Potter's Field, [Independent Order of] Red Men, Russian, Salem, Scandinavian, Seamen's, Slavonic-Illyric, St. Andrew's." [closed in 1900]

Source: San Francisco City Directory, 1896, 1900

"GOLDEN GATE CEMETERY MAY BE PUBLIC PARK — Supervisors to Ask Removal of Remains From the Old Burial Ground — All of the bodies in the Golden Gate cemetery, which for 40 years was used as one of the city's chief burial grounds, will be ordered removed, if the recommendation made yesterday by the supervisors' health committee is confirmed by the board.

Notices were ordered sent to the fraternal organizations notifying them of the city's intention to make a park of the site and to request their co-operation by the removal of the remains of their deceased members.

Chairman Payot and the members of the committee hold that the best use which may be made of the magnificent, yet deserted site of the cemetery, overlooking as it does the Golden gate, the bay, and ocean, is to turn it into a permanent park lined with the Presidio and the Golden Gate pleasure ground."

Source: San Francisco Morning Call, 10 December 1908. 

"GRAVES DESECRATED IN GOLDEN GATE CEMETERY — Vandals Wreck Tombs and Expose Bodies in Old Burial Ground — Supervisor Payot and Coroner Leland visited the site of the old Golden Gate cemetery yesterday to investigate the acts of vandalism committed about the exposed graves. Mrs. E. H. D'Donnell and Mrs. C. H. Rockwell, officers of the Richmond women's improvment club, had called Payot's attention to the desecration of many of the graves, particularly that of the tomb of Russian woman, Mary Gribbich, whose body, brought from Sacramento, had been interred in a handsome marble lined vault in 1892. The massive slab covering the tomb had been broken and pried away, revealing the costly garments and the rings worn by the dead woman in her last resting place.

Mrs. O'Donnell reported that curious crowds had been visiting the spot and unknown persons had cast rubbish upon the remains until the body was almost covered from view by the stuff.

Other exposed remains, she said had been similarly treated. Payot notified the police to use more vigilance in guarding the plot, and the coroner ordered the tomb of Mrs. Gribbich restored and resealed."

Source: San Francisco Morning Call, 16 December 1908. 

"Lincoln Park
$7500 Voted. . .

Recommendations were made by the Supervisor's Finance Committee yesterday for the appropriation of $7,500 to assist in the removal of bodies from the old Italian cemetery near Lincoln Park. All bodies from other cemeteries in that vicinity have been removed. It is with the view of clearing that part of the city of the old burying grounds and the enlargement of Lincoln Park that the appropriation has been recommended. . ."

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 21 October 1919, page 6.

City Scrapers Tear Open 1500 Graves in Old S. F. Cemetery

No effort made to re-inter bodies rooted up by teams.

By Vid Larsen.

They’re building a big memorial for dead soldiers in Lincoln Park. It will cost $250,000. It will stretch across a knoll in the park. From the knoll one can see the Pacific and the Marin-co coast line; the white houses jutting up from the Richmond district; a startling view of San Francisco in the background. In that memorial will gather in the future thousands of persons.

1500 Bodies Uncovered.

They may not know that scattered a few inches under their feet are the broken bones of some 1500 human beings. They may not know that just 25 feet from where Marshall Foch planted the tree and just a few days after he planted it the bodies of a woman and two babes were torn from the ground by a scraper and a team of horses. Nor may they know that four horses trampled over those bones and that a scraper dragged them 25 feet further away from the tree and reburied them.

The site of the $250,000 memorial to the dead was once a cemetery. It still is, but the bones are now scattered. In the excavation work for the memorial workmen have uncovered about 1500 skeleton-filled coffins. No provision was made for the reburying of the bodies. Workmen have cut down about nine or 10 feet in their work. Sometimes as many as four or five bodies have been pulled out in an hour.

Saw Graves Opened.

I visited Lincoln park. Just as I arrived one large and two small skeletons were ripped out of one grave. In the grave were household utensils. Besides the skeletons lay the coffin boards. Wrapped about them were the shrouds. Workmen steered clear of the mess. “It’s horrible.” It was the foreman talking. “We’ve taken up about 1500. We’ve uncovered all of them now, I think. It’s clear sailing now.”

Men Won’t Touch Them.

“The men don’t like them. Won’t touch the bones. The only thing we can do is to scrape them over and cover them up again.”

Later, the two Daily News men walked over to the memorial site. There were piles of bones not completely covered by the dirt. Along the ledge just where the hill drops abruptly were many coffins—cut in half by the steel teeth of the excavating machines.

Coffin Sticks Out From Bluff.

Here was the bottom end of a coffin sticking out of the sand bluff. Further along the bluff the head of the coffin. A skull there. The coffins poked out all along that cliff. At night, after the workmen have gone, small boys of the neighborhood kick their toes into the dirt. Why? One said that $35 had been found in one of the coffins. An expensive ring in another, he said. And the skulls—sometimes students at the Affiliated colleges bought them.

Anyway, it was fun.

Source: The Daily News, 23 December 1921.

Break Law in Taking Up Bodies, Is Charge

Skeletons have been ripped out of graves in Lincon park in voilation of laws and in violation of a court promise that this would not be done.

This was the charge made Saturday by C. W. Eastin, attorney, representing cemetery plot holders of the city.

Eastin charged that the scraping up of bodies on the hill of Lincoln park is a violation of the law as well as a violation of a stipulation made between him and the city of San Francisco.

Skeletons have been torn up in the excavation work for the $250,000 soldiers’ memorial.

This was revealed Friday by a story and pictures in The Daily News.

The bodies have been torn from their graves, scraped over a few feet and then covered with a thin layer of dirt. Bones have been broken, coffins smashed and in some cases coffins and skeletons have been cut in half by the teeth of the excavation machines.

Lull Signs Promise.

On Feb. 27, 1920, Eastin said Saturday, City Att’y Geo. Lull signed a promise for the city that no bodies would be removed from the old City cemetery without giving Eastin 30 days’ notice of such a removal.

This was done because Mary E. Bush sought injunctions against the city park board, auditor, supervisors and treasurer to prevent any bodies being torn up to make room for any improvements in Lincoln park.

The stipulation was signed, Eastin says, because the city did not want to have the injunction hanging over it.

“No human bodies shall be exhumed, disintered or removed,” from the cemetery, “without a 30 days’ notice to the plaintiff and her attorney.”

Gave No Notice.

That is the first paragraph of the stipulation signed by the city attorney.

No notice that bodies would be torn from their graves on the knoll of Lincoln park has ever been given either to the attorney or his client, it is alleged.

Eastin next week will bring legal action against the city officials. He will also ask for an injunction preventing the further removal of bodies.

He will also ask that the original injunction suit taken from the calendar when the stipulation was signed be replaced on the calendar and heard.

Eastin was first told of the removal of bodies by The Daily News.

Violate Laws, is Charge.

Not only does Eastin allege that it is a violation of the court agreement to remove the bodies, but that is actually in violation of the law.

More than that, he says there is grave doubt that building a war memorial or even the public golf links at Lincoln park is legal.

This because the U. S. government granted the land to the city for the express purpose of its being a burial ground.

“Courts have held,” he said Saturday, “that is means the land cannot be used for any other purpose.

“In other words, the city technically has not right to use that land for any other purpose than as a burial ground for the dead.

“I do not know yet whether we will attack the building of the memorial, bet we will certainly insist that the bodies of the dead be treated decently.

Must Stop, is Edict.

“This barbaric ripping of bodies from graves and scattering bones all over the lot must stop, and those responsible for doing it face punishment.

“I have pictures and facts showing that bodies were torn up as if they were so many stumps of trees.

“All through history humanity has protected the final resting places of its dead. Every possible law has been passed to protect the right of burial.

“There are laws which say that no power on earth can direct a funeral without consent of the closest kin.

“And laws have been passed protecting the sacredness of this plot.

Is a Felony.

“For instance, section 290 of the penal code says: Every person who mutilates, disinters or removes from the place of sepulchre the dead body of a human being without authority of the law, is guilty of a felony.

“These bodies have been removed from Lincoln Park without authority of the law—in fact, in actual violation of laws. Those who removed them, in my opinion, are guilty of a felony and could be sent to the state penitentiary.”

Source: The Daily News, 24 December 1921.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License