WNP156 - City Cemetery
Woody: [00:00:00] It’s Outside Lands San Francisco, the podcast of the Western Neighborhoods Project. I'm Woody LaBounty.
David: And I'm David Gallagher! I'm pepping it up this week. I'm all excited! Because we got a guest today and I don't have to carry the water all day with this podcast, with all the content. You know, I mean so often I'm doing all the work and you're just, you know, standing there, sitting there, pontificating, and I have to do the heavy lifting. But today we got a guest, Woody!
David: Yes, Woody.
Woody: We have a guest this week. Who is it?
David: Oh, we do? Oh.
Woody: Yes. Who is it?
David: Well, it's John Martini.
David: Noted historian.
Woody: Yeah. What else is he?
David: He's a former National Parks…
David: Park ranger.
Woody: Yeah, yeah.
David: And expert on all things [00:01:00] around the coast.
Woody: Welcome, John.
John: Hello David, hello Woody.
Woody: We haven't had you on the podcast since our sound equipment got so good.
John: That's right.
Woody: We had you in the old days when we had the Geary bus going by. So, you're going to love the way you sound.
John: And those sticky steel chairs.
Woody: Yeah, yeah. Now we've got, well, we don't want to talk about the chairs here at Hadley Studios. John, what are we going to talk about this week with you as our expert guest?
John: We're going to talk about San Francisco's forgotten cemetery at Lands End. City Cemetery, sometimes called the “Golden Gate Cemetery.”
Woody: So, we've done a few podcasts on cemeteries.
Woody: Because the Richmond District was the land of the dead, it seemed, for a good part of the late…
David: Might still be.
Woody: 1800s. Yeah, hey, I live there! The late 1800s into the 1900s.
David: Soon to be dead.
Woody: Yes. So, I thought we would've covered every [00:02:00] darn graveyard in the Richmond District.
John: Now, you, you only briefly alluded to this one. You guys were focused on, like, what we might call the “first tier” cemeteries. The ones that were clustered around Lone Mountain.
Woody: Trader Joe Heights, we call it now.
John: Odd Fellows Cemetery and Holy Cross and this is the one that was sort of the second tier and, in some cases, even the third tier cemetery. This was one that was way out in the wilds of Lands End. Land that nobody wanted. It was called, simply enough, it was called “City Cemetery” because it was a municipal cemetery for San Francisco.
David: So, this is on the site of today's Lincoln Park, right?
John: Lincoln Park and Fort Miley.
Woody: So, when you say first tier, second tier, even third tier, you're talking about like, first tier you're talking about like, this is a fancy cemetery? And second tier, it's like you're not as fancy?
John: Yeah, [00:03:00] I, I think you could put it there. It it's kind of money and kind of social status.
Woody: Oh, okay.
John: The first tier cemeteries were the ones that were sometimes called the “Lone Mountain Cemeteries.” This is a sidebar: it’s a little bit of a misnomer. Nobody was really buried atop Lone Mountain, but these were clustered around the base of it. Probably the toniest one was the Laurel Hill Cemetery, later became Fireman's Fund, and then UCSF Med today. And the people with money, politicians, pioneers of San Francisco and there was some ethnic makeup to some of these cemeteries. There was a Catholic cemetery…
David: Calvary was that one.
John: Calvary Cemetery, right. Then the Odd Fellows, which was a fraternal organization.
John: But then you got to the fraternal organizations and the ethnic organizations that really didn't quite have the same status. And they didn't have the money and [00:04:00] they needed a burial ground too. And the, what was called “City Cemetery,” kind of the quick background: the city's original burial ground, and I'm not talking about Mission Dolores, but the, when San Francisco had to start burying they're dead, during the Gold Rush?
John: They chose a place that seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere: Market near Eighth. Today we call it “Civic Center.”
John: And that was the first city cemetery. And that worked for about twenty years.
Woody: Because that was the outskirts of town. It was like you had to leave town and go a little distance.
John: That's right. Land…
Woody: Up to a sandy spot.
John: Land nobody wanted.
John: Which is where cemeteries generally get placed. By the late 1860s, the city was just exploding, and this land was looking pretty good. And what came to be called “Pioneer Cemetery,” they disinterred everybody, and they moved them out to a brand-new parcel of land that had been acquired on the highest [00:05:00] hill at over what's now Lands End. And that was, they called it “City Cemetery.” And the first internees there were several hundred people that were disinterred from the old cemetery in what's now Civic Center Plaza.
David: That's, that's interesting because we know, I mean from earlier podcasts, that your final resting place doesn't seem to really be final in San Francisco.
John: No, no, it’s…
David: Later on, we moved all those cemeteries from those first tier places in the Richmond District out to Colma. But…
John: It's really a moving target, yeah.
David: But it was happening before then.
John: It was happening before then, yeah.
John: That in the Presidio of San Francisco, there used to be a cemetery right about where the Lucas Family, or I'm sorry, there used to be a little burial ground right about where the Disney Family Museum is today. And that, they got moved to what's now called the “Golden Gate National Cemetery.”
John: So, there's a tradition of moving the dead. So here you go, in [00:06:00] 1868, 1870, they start reburying people. And part of this new cemetery out there at Lands End, City Cemetery, became what was called the “paupers grave.” These are indigent people. A lot of them dead bodies that, you know, turned up in the bay. People that died without family.
John: Intestate. Part of the cemetery was for other fraternal organizations, ones that maybe suffered from some of the racist feelings of the time period. There was a colored Odd Fellows cemetery. There was the Loyal Order of Red Men. There was the Italian cemetery, Serbian Cemetery. A big section, was a Chinese burial ground. Quite a few of whom were Chinese, who had come from China, died in California, and were eventually going to be going back to China. But they were temporarily buried at Lincoln Park before they were disinterred and shipped back.
Woody: Yeah. We should talk more about that in a second. Because I remember [00:07:00] we, you had a, you did a nice walk for us, on Halloween, of Lincoln Park in 2015.
John: Oh, the ambience was just great. The fog was coming in.
John: And people were in costume.
Woody: It was pouring in, but you talked a lot about this, and I want to get back to the, the sort of, I mean, we talked about there's no final resting place.
Woody: Well, for these Chinese individuals who died, it really wasn't, it was never intended to be a final resting place. It was just a, a place to be prepared to go back to China.
Woody: So, we'll talk about that in a second, but I want to talk about when you're saying these people started being interred in, what is today, Lincoln Park in the 1860s?
John: It was set up in 1868.
Woody: That's pretty early.
John: Yeah. The first bodies that I can find documentation were actually put there, was 1870.
John: And they continued until at least 1898.
Woody: It's amazing because, like, that whole part of town isn't even added to the City of San Francisco until the 1860s, until the late 1860s. So.
Woody: It was pretty early on, and you had to basically cross [00:08:00] tons of open land to get to the City Cemetery.
David: Yeah. How did you even get there?
Woody: Well, the Point Lobos Road was open, right? The Geary, which is today Geary Boulevard.
John: Yeah. It's not Geary Boulevard, but that was a private toll road.
John: And it cost, I think it was fifty cents, to drive your carriage on the toll road.
Woody: But if you have a dead person, will they let you on for that? I mean, how did you get there?
John: I'm guessing they included the toll in the cost of this. However, imagine if your loved one is buried out there?
John: And you're some Irish or Italian blue-collar family and you want to go out and see Grandpa and that’s…
Woody: Pay the toll.
John: Pay the toll, or, or pay to have an, what they call an “omnibus,” basically, a stagecoach, haul you out there.
John: It wasn't until the late 1880s that there was a steam railroad that ran around Lands End. Made the place a lot more accessible.
Woody: Oh, yeah.
John: But up until then it was, it really was on the other side of nowhere.
Woody: And as your walk really kind of showed, it was a, there weren't all those trees that were there. That are there now, so…
Woody: It was a wind [00:09:00] swept, open, foggy, cold, promontory at the Golden Gate. You know, it's really kind of, I don't know, foreboding out there.
David: Kind of a grim place to spend your eternity.
John: They're, yeah, they’d periodically have reporters go out and write stories about a visit to the City Cemetery, and they'd mentioned in passing that, you know, there were certain areas were really well tended, especially the Serbian section, the Jewish section. And then some areas were, kind of, a little bit more distressed looking. But they tended to focus on the potter’s field, which was where at least 11,000 of the city's indigent were buried. There was no one to look out for them. And they said there wasn't a tree, there wasn't a scrub of grass, just line upon line of faded and collapsing headboards with everything short of tumbleweeds blowing around. Paper and debris, because [00:10:00] no one cared for these folks.
John: They weren't high on the city's priority. And they had the high ground, right about where the Legion of Honor is today.
Woody: So, let's talk about the, the tradition of the Chinese, sort of…
David: The temporary burial.
Woody: The temporary burial.
Woody: I don't even know if, is it really a burial? It's not even a burial.
John: It's a temporary interment.
John: Yeah. The, from, I'm not Chinese, but from what I know from my reading and talking to my Chinese friends, you want to be buried with your family in China. And a lot of these, especially, young single guys that came to America to look for gold, working on the railroads, their idea was they were going to make a pile of money and go back and live like kings in China and then be buried with their families. And key is having your grave looked after by the rest of your descendants. So the idea of dying and being stuck in the United States was just unthinkable. So, a lot of the guys saw the writing on the wall and they, they took out, essentially, insurance. They paid into fraternal organizations or what we would [00:11:00] call insurance companies, saying that, “If I die, you're going to get me back to China, get me back to my hometown.” Hedging their bets, you know, they all expected to get rich.
John: Well, you know, you got to look out.
Woody: You don't expect to die.
John: And what happened is when you did die, the fraternal organization came they picked up your body, and they took you out to this area of Lincoln Cemet, now Lincoln Park, City Cemetery, they buried the body and anywhere from about six months to about five years, the body was left in what's called, we call “a shallow grave.” So, it could start to decompose and then a bone collector came around, a fellow whose job was to go around to the various cemeteries. He and his workers disinterred the dead. There were very prescribed rules and rituals to go through. And one of those, which was no knives were allowed. That's when to clean the bones. It's one of the reasons that the [00:12:00] body was allowed to decompose for so long so that any minor flesh that was left would easily come off. They would actually sift the sand where the body had been buried to make sure that every single bone was collected. They had checklists of all the bones that were going to be there. Because some of them were about the size of a bean.
John: Very important too in the pre-Revolution China: the queue had to be collected from, from men. The bones were dried, polished, and then they were packed in hermetically sealed boxes with all the information of what town they were supposed to go back to. And then the bones were packed and shipped back to China. And then the guys had prepaid and it, it was costly, but you want to make sure it was done right. And even included the cost of your funeral when you got back to China.
Woody: Now, I know we're going to get to this part about what's still out there today, but isn't one of the, sort of, artifacts from the old cemetery that's still out there at Lincoln Park today, wasn't that part of a Chinese [00:13:00] organization that was out there?
John: Yeah. It, it's called the “Chinese Funerary Temple,” to give it a name [ed. note - The Kong Chow Funerary Chapel]. It's visible right off of the 34th Avenue entrance when you're driving to Lincoln Park, it’s in a little copse of trees.
David: Right in the middle of the golf course.
John: Sure is. And it's an enclosure, very Asian design with Chinese characters carved over the entrance of the door. It's just a hollow empty building, doesn't even really have walls or a roof. And it's unclear exactly what took place here, but apparently that's where funeral offerings were made, the body was set out, paper, fake paper money was generally burned. Food offerings were set up, incense, the person's personal belongings were frequently burned on site. And then the body was taken further up the hill where it was temporarily interred. And the cemetery to this, the, the characters carved over the doorway, they translate to “Place for coffins [00:14:00] resting, for going to Guangdong Province.” What we call “Canton Province.” Which is where the vast majority of San Francisco Chinese are from.
John: Guangdong today.
Woody: Right. And, and David, I, I know we've been out there, there's another monument that's out there, and it's specifically for another group of people. But also, I, I kind of feel like this was not in the same vein as the Chinese funerary thing. This was more like a, like a monu, it really is a monument to, to the people who were buried out there, which is the Seaman’s Memorial, right?
John: Yeah. It's about a seventeen-foot-tall bronze monument. A tall, I think you call it a “plinth.”
Woody: Yeah. Or “obelisk” or something.
David: And that's just below the parking lot, if you stand on the edge of the parking lot and you look back towards the city, you'll see it right, right over the…
David: Right over the, the guardrail.
Woody: I guess I mean, it's not utilitarian. It really is sort of like a monument to…
Woody: To merchant seamen essentially, right?
John: That's right. It has dedicatory plaque. It was paid for by Dr. [00:15:00] Cogswell who was big in, especially in the temperance movement in San Francisco. And they raised money, and they built this monument to the indigent merchant seamen. If there was a group of working guys that were, just had no rights and were exploited all over the place, it was merchant sailors in the nineteenth century in San Francisco. So, Cogswell had this monument erected and it has an entablature on it, it has maritime motifs on all sides, and it essentially, they wanted to create a snug harbor for these guys to, you know, watch their final port.
John: And, and these guys were too, pretty much indigent. They, they worked hard, they lived rough lives, and they chose a spot where they could look at the Golden Gate, watch the ships coming in and out.
Woody: That's what seems so neat about it.
Woody: Like you said, there's no trees back then, right? So, they're buried on this hill looking right out at the water and the Golden Gate. Very neat.
John: And I found on the internet that there, there's a manufacturer's mark, and a little bit of Googling, and it was a catalog item. They, yeah, that you could… [00:16:00]
Woody: Merchant seamen memorials? You could just get…
John: No, no, no.
Woody: It at a Sears catalog?
John: No, it, the panels were interchangeable on the sides.
Woody: Ah, okay.
John: You know, it could be, I don't know, an orphan’s monument or, you know, the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence.
David: So, they could put a different picture in the plate?
John: You got it, yeah, yeah. They're like Sutro and his statues, they order them from a catalog.
Woody: Right. So, what happens to the cemetery here? I mean, so…
John: Well, the people in the Richmond District…
John: Which is starting to…
Woody: Hey, I live in the Richmond District.
John: Hey! And there were a lot of people who were starting to live in the Richmond District.
John: Especially in the 1880s.
John: And when the, because two things happened: a rail, a railroad made its way down to what's now Ocean Beach.
David: That's a Sutro’s railroad, right?
John: No, this one was called the “Park and Ocean Railroad.”
David: Oh, the other one.
Woody: The one that went through the Sunset, yeah.
David: Park Ocean, yeah.
John: And hard on its heels came to Adolf Sutro’s competing railroad, which ran out Geary Boulevard, excuse me, ran out California.
Woody: California, yeah.
John: Then went around Lands End, right [00:17:00] below City Cemetery.
John: And all of a sudden it becomes more accessible. That's great if you have family interred there. However, if you want to build a house in, close by, it's going to affect property values. And the, the Richmond Association, early on in the 1880’s, they're going, “This cemetery's got to go.”
John: And, and frankly, the, there were a lot of homeless that lived around the edge of the cemetery. And one of the things was food offerings that were left during the Chinese funerals, where there are stories of the homeless would come in after the Chinese families left and gorge on the food that were left. And it was, it was pretty miserable.
John: And so, the, the “cemeteries must go” was the story.
David: And I mean the, the Sutro Railroad, which went around Lands End, right? I mean, it was a real sightseeing thing. You're along the cliff-line and you see this beautiful…
David: Tourist-y sort of route. And part of that route is blighted by this…
Woody: Wind swept.
David: By this…
Woody: Beat up cemetery.
David: Cemetery. Terrible cemetery.
John: That [00:18:00] was one of the sites along the line. They used to PR going, “You can go right past the Italian cemetery.” I think there was even a stop there at, like, California and, and 30…
John: Yeah, to go to the cemeteries.
Woody: Well, we've also talked, David and I, at the previous podcast on the cemeteries, that they, they basically prohibited burials in San Francisco, the city did, in 1900.
John: Yeah. They, they passed a law saying no more burials in City Cemetery in 1898.
Woody: So even earlier, yeah.
John: Even earlier.
Woody: So, you're not going to bury anybody anymore.
John: Well, there, there are, people were complaining that the city was still burying people in the pauper's grave after 1900.
John: Then you're at 1902 came this, you know: “That's it. No more interments in the city.” And part of the fallout of that was that without any more interments: you need people being buried and paying in, to pay for the rest of the cemetery being maintained. The cash flow stops.
Woody: Yeah. And so, it gets worse and worse.
John: It gets worse and worse and worse.
Woody: Okay, [00:19:00] so tell me here, John. So you got the cemetery, it's falling apart, there's no new money coming in, there's no new burials coming in. And then, we had just done a podcast last week on the golf course at, in Golden Gate Park. And we were talking about the golf course that came out at Lincoln Park. And I think I said, accidentally it was, or mistakenly, that it was like 1910s. You're telling me, I think you told me, that it was like 1902. They put that golf course in.
John: The first three holes went in in 1902.
Woody: So, they stopped the burials in 1898. They might've buried some people as late as 1902 and they're building a golf course?
David: They couldn't wait till the people cooled off!
Woody: They're like putting a golf course in!?
John: I, they're really unclear if they were playing, like, around the headstones.
John: Or if they, you know, clear cut an area and disinterred people where the fairways, and I, it's, it's just unclear. But the golf course expands over the years. You, you run into the big problem. Pre-1906, records are…
John: Hard to find, yeah.
Woody: Yeah, they burned up.
John: Everything got destroyrf in the fire. [00:20:00] But in 1910, Lincoln Park is announced as, “It's a city park.” Word is out, everybody has to move out, and all the fraternal organizations and the Chinese are supposed to disinter everybody who’s left. Move them on. And…
Woody: To other cemeteries, like in Colma and places like that.
John: Colma was, of course, San Francisco's new burial ground. And that's where the dead were supposed to have been moved. 1917 Lincoln Golf Course in increments finally reaches eighteen holes. And then in 1921, they break ground for what's called the “Palace of the Legion of Honor,” funded by Alma Bretteville Spreckels at the highest ground, on top of Lincoln Park. Now…
Woody: It's a, it's a beautiful place to put this museum, this French museum.
John: Now, a mini review from a couple of minutes ago: who held the high ground at the, at Lincoln Park?
Woody: I’m thinking…
David: The indigent, the potter's field was up at the very highest point.
John: At the very highest point, and the records [00:21:00] were pretty mum on, you know, removing the, the indigent and relocating them. They found out when they began building the Legion of Honor in 1921, they hadn't done a very good job. At least 1500 burials were uncovered during the construction of the Legion of Honor.
John: And no one had anticipated finding them. There was no provision made for disinterring and removing them. And the newspapers at the time were filled with these horrible stories of burials just being ripped out of the ground with, with no regard for the, for the human remains.
David: No record keeping? No…
John: No one knew who they were.
David: They were not even trying to…
John: No. Kids from the Richmond District were coming in and, reportedly, stealing, especially skulls, and selling them for specimens to the medical students.
Woody: So, and this is just the footprint of Legion of Honor that we're talking about, that they're, they're digging up. So, they don't, they didn't provide for this in the budget?
Woody: Of building Legion of Honor?
Woody: Somehow, they just cut corners and they built the Legion of Honor, right?
John: They just built the Legion of Honor, yeah.
Woody: And [00:22:00] so, we all kind of forget about this.
John: It, it was one of those things that it was, like, alluded to. And I, you know, when I was a kid, “There used to be a cemetery out here. Wooh.” And 1993, the Legion of Honor that gets a much-needed seismic upgrade, and they decide they're going to expand too. They're going to build a new gallery underneath the courtyard where the, where the Rodin’s Thinker sits?
Woody: The Thinker is, yeah.
John: In the, so they dig out the entire center of the courtyard and they dig out around the foundations of the Legion of Honor. And over 740 more graves were unearthed.
John: Several hundred of them right in the courtyard.
Woody: And, but they weren't surprised this time though. Were they?
John: Yes, they were. Because…
David: Well, because they didn't remember what they had done in 1921.
John: Well, nobody wrote a memo saying, “Hey, we, we recovered 1500, but we left 10,000 more behind.”
David: But what you just said about the willy-nilly attitude in 1921 or whenever in the ‘20s when it was first built, was really brought to bear in some of the, some of the things they found when they [00:23:00] excavated in 1993. I mean, there were things like, like sewage lines and plumbing going right through coffins. Like a, like a body bisected…
David: And a, and a sewer line running through.
David: At an angle.
John: Yeah. I, I think it's just an, an ode to, in the 1920s, these were unknown people, and we just had a different way of looking at, at things. By contrast, in 1993, you know, work came to a halt when the, when the bodies were uncovered. And archeologists were brought in and the coroner. And they, they, very carefully disinterred the bodies. They were able to do analytics on several hundred of these people. Got some great insights into the terrible, terrible health conditions that these people suffered through, you know, in the, in the late 19th century in San Francisco. And then the bodies were reinterred, yeah, I think it's in Forest Lawn Cemetery down in Colma.
Woody: I think it’s Cypress Lawn, Cypress Lawn.
John: Cypress Lawn.
Woody: Yeah, they have [00:24:00] like a mass mound about a grave.
John: Because we don't know who they were.
John: The records are gone. What they did know from interment was the vast majority were apparently European, based on the clothes that were left. There were rosaries, there were religious metals. Some were obviously Chinese, possibly Chinese who couldn't even afford to get sent back to China.
David and Woody: Right.
John: There was apparently some people, some were buried wearing Levi's. These were, these were pure working-class folks. Some, some of the burial sites had two cadavers in a coffin. The, the old records say that sometimes like the children, foundlings, in the orphanages, if two died, they'd bury them in the same coffin to save money.
John: I think the most fascinating thing was that these are the people that built San Francisco. Physically built San Francisco. We're probably talking laborers and seamstresses and laundresses. Some, there were some [00:25:00] military personnel that were buried out there. And the fact that so little was known about them, just it, it was heartbreaking. That they’re dying and on the edge of America, with no one to take care of them. Buried in a pauper's grave and then forgotten and then disinterred to build a museum.
John: The good thing is, is that now we remember them.
John: And they were able to tell us quite a bit about their lives, even though they were silent. We, we learned. The sidebar on that would be that, while they were doing the excavations, what's called the sidewalls of the excavations, they could see that there were more coffins, there were more burials. And at a certain point, according to the archeologists on the dig, the word just came out from the coroner, “Stop recovering. Because we don't know how far this is going to go.”
John: No one knows. There were at least 11,000 interments of indigents. And we know that between the 1921 and the 1994 that [00:26:00] about 2,500 were recovered. How many more are out there under the fairways? We don't know, but maybe there's worse places to spend eternity.
Woody: Yeah. It's got a great view, and you got fine art above you, I guess. But, but it's true it's, it's a crazy story in a lot of ways and it's very interesting and kind of touching in a lot of ways, that, but I, I don't, it doesn't really bother me. I kind of like the fact that there's still bodies up there. That even though they put in a golf course and they put in a museum, that some people were still there.
Woody: And that they, kind of, didn't get moved. Because I had relatives that were moved out of cemeteries in San Francisco, moved down to Colma and…
David: Yeah, me too.
Woody: Yeah, and so…
John: Same here.
Woody: It kind of bugs me a little, you know. So, I like that some people got to stay…
Woody: In San Francisco. Even if we don't know who they are and exactly where they are.
John: Yeah. There, there's no, no disrespect to the dead of Lincoln Park.
John: They're, they're part of our heritage too.
Woody: Yeah. Thank you, John for coming. And we have some stuff on our website about the cemeteries.
Woody: And I think we even have a couple of haunting [00:27:00] photos.
Woody: Of the disinterment in, or the discovery let's say, in 1993 and four.
David: Three, yeah.
Woody: What else can people do on our website, David?
David: Well, Woody, there's so much you can do on our website. But one of the main things you can do is become a member of the Western Neighborhoods Project.
Woody: By clicking the “Become a Member” link at the top of every page.
David: That's right!
Woody: And you just fill out the form, and you give us some money, and you're a member!
Woody: It's easy, it's done!
David: And then you get a message from me saying, “Thanks a whole lot.”
David: And, you know, and I'll be your friend forever.
Woody: Yeah! And that's all there is to it.
David: Well, at least until the next year when your membership expires.
Woody: And then you have to do it all over.
David: Then I'll be a friend for a year.
Woody: Well, thank you David. Thank you, John Martini. I think you, you know, you're so great, we're going to have you back next week!
Woody: We'll talk about something else.
John: Thank you!
Woody: Yeah, you're coming back. We'll buy you lunch or something.
John: I work for coffee.
Woody: I'll see you next week. And I'll see you next week, David.
David: I'll see you next week, Woody!
Voiceover: The Western Neighborhoods Project podcast was recorded [00:28:00] by Ian Hadley at Hadley Studios.
Woody: To learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history, go to outsidelands.org.