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Outside Lands Podcast Episode 92: Laurel Hill Cemetery

David, Woody, and Nicole Meldahl talk about the Richmond District's Lone Mountain Cemetery, later Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1854-1941, RIP.
Outside Lands San Francisco Podcast - Oct 11, 2014

Outside Lands Podcast Episode 92: Laurel Hill Cemetery Outside Lands Podcast Episode 92: Laurel Hill Cemetery

(above) Laurel Hill Cemetery, circa 1910

Sather Monument and family plot.


Podcast Transcription

WNP92 - Laurel Hill 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.

Woody: David!

David: Sorry, I was reading something.

Woody: Thank you for joining us!

David: Well…

Woody: We actually are, there's three of us here today. Nicole! Welcome, Nicole Meldahl.

Nicole: Hi, thank you for having me.

Woody: Nicole is, well, who is Nicole, David? You got to…

David: Nicole is our number one volunteer here at the Western Neighborhoods Project. Our archivist, our doing a lot of writing and collection management, and she is an all-around bon vivant!

Woody: And she is going to join us and give us some essential facts about our subject today. But before we get to that, let's talk about…

David: I can't help but think that she's try, she's bucking for replacing me.

Woody: Well.

David: Do we need three of us here?

Woody: Nicole?

Nicole: Yes.

David: Alright, okay. I've been voted [00:01:00] down. Alright.

Woody: No, she is a, she is a canny one. She's saying you have a space here.  Quickly, let me read some mail. We do get mail, David, so we should probably read some podcast mail.

David: That's right. We got mail from Will McCuller.

Woody: Who is a longtime listener.

David: And Western Neighborhoods Project member.

Woody: Thank you, Will.

David: We're all members.

Woody: Yes, all three of us. “Hello, Woody and David. I enjoyed the ‘Bison in the Park’ podcast as it reminded me of spending many days viewing these majestic animals.”

David: [makes a strange sound]

Woody: Is that a bison sound?

David: Sort of.

Woody: That’s terrible! “One point I'd like to add is: we kids always heard (no pun intended),” Heard, okay?

David: Heard, ha-ha.

Woody: “To never, to never wear any red clothing when visiting the bison paddock as it could cause them to charge at us.”

David: Oh, and we know that the bison, though they look very ruminant and sol, somnolent, they are dangerous animals.

Woody: Yeah. Will said it never happened though and he also said that he would be listening to the podcast [00:02:00] this week. So that's one down.

David: Whew!

Woody: Thank you, Will for writing in.

David: Thanks, Will.

Woody: Now, David, our subject today that we're going to talk about you, me and Nicole?

David: Yes.

Woody: We can preface it with an event we're going to do at the end of the month.

David: Right, we're going to do an event on Halloween, that's October 31st for the rest of you, at the Balboa Theater. It's a movie night called “Spooky San Francisco.” Wooh!

Nicole: Wooh!

Woody: Thank you, Nicole.

David: Tickets are going fast! Only $10.

Woody: And this is a movie night, in what sense? Are we going to show some Bela Lugosi film? What are we talking about here?

David: No. Well, if you remember last year, we did a different movie night called “Secret San Francisco” in which we showed a lot of different history clips and our own productions and different things about the history of San Francisco. And this is in a similar vein.

Woody: Yes.

David: “Spooky San Francisco” will feature Trina Lopez's [00:03:00] documentary called A Second Final Rest.

Woody: Which…

David: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries.

Woody: Lost cemeteries. So, that's one of the things we're going to show.

David: We're going to show a few other things too, though.

Woody: For the tenth anniversary of her making that.

David: That's right.

Woody: And it's a great film and it's about?

David: Rarely shown on the big screen!

Woody: That's right. And it's about, we're also going to have spooky surprises, right?

David: Oh, yes. [in a Mr. Ed voice]

Woody: Okay, good.

David: That was Mr. Ed.

Woody: We, we talked about Mr. Ed some other podcast. We really got to get him, Mr. Ed, out of the loop here. No more Mr. Ed references.

David: All right, I'll work on my My Favorite Martian imitation then.

Woody: People of a certain age are not going to know what you're talking about, David.

David: Look it up!

Woody: Nicole, do you know what that, has any, do you know My Favorite Martian? No?

Nicole: I don't know that one. I know Mr. Ed. I watched that as a kid.

Woody: Okay, good. Thank you, Nicole. So maybe Mr. Ed is the way to go.

David: I think there was a crossover episode between My Favorite Martian and Mr. Ed.

Woody: Oh wait, there was!

David: That's not what our podcast is about, Woody.

Woody: You're [00:04:00] absolutely right, there was! Wow, that just brought me back, thank you.

David: Well, we're talking today, Woody, about one of the lost cemeteries of San Francisco.

Nicole: Were they lost or were they relocated?

Woody: Thank you.

David: Well, people don't know. So, they're lost.

Woody: No, that, Nicole is right.

David: All right.

Woody: They were, they were moved. They were relocated and that's what Trina's documentary is about. And we're going to talk about one of those relocated cemeteries today.

David: Okay!

Woody: Specifically, which cemetery, Nicole?

Nicole: Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Woody: Laurel Hill Cemetery, which was not originally called “Laurel Hill Cemetery,” is that right?

Nicole: That's correct. It was called “Lone Mountain Cemetery.”

Woody: And why, Nicole, was it called “Lone Mountain Cemetery?”

Nicole: Because it was near Lone Mountain?

Woody: David?

David: I agree! Ding, ding! Correct. But I think, also, the original plan for the cemetery encompassed Lone Mountain.

Woody: That is, that is true. Now, first of all, we should say a lot of people don't even know where a Lone Mountain is. We should really be clear about where Lone Mountain is.

David: Lone Mountain is, [00:05:00] in the center of the city. It's, it's the high peak where USF is today.

Woody: Right, right. I think that's the way people are going to think of it. The University of San Francisco. It's to, it's kind of near the Richmond District, Masonic over to Arguello, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: And that, that big old hill, that has a big old college on it. That's Lone Mountain.

David: Right and for years and years it was just, just a bare hill. I think it had a cross on it.

Woody: It did.

David: You often see it on old maps or pictures with a cross right at the peak. But there really, the cemetery never got up that steep hill.

Woody: Right. The cemetery wasn't even on Lone Mountain, the one we're talking about. But David, you make a good point. The original plans for the cemetery, it was going to be 320 acres.

David: Right.

Woody: Giant. But they started off with a smaller initial footprint that never really grew. And where was that footprint, Nicole?

Nicole: California to Euclid to Masonic and Arguello. [pronounces it ‘ar-GWAY-oh’]

Woody: Arguello [pronounces it ‘ar-GWAY-oh’]. I [00:06:00] like that!

David: We say “ar-GWEL-lo.”

Nicole:  I’m a Southern Californian.

David: Oh!

Nicole: Oof!

Woody: We're going to edit that part out. We can get into why it's “ar-GWEL-lo” another time, but we, we think it's a Portuguese pronunciation.

Nicole: Oh.

Woody: Yeah.

Nicole: My mistake.

Woody: Yeah, it's okay. I also think…

David: Fact lady, Get a job.

Nicole: I know facts, I don't pronounce them correctly.

Woody: There you go. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Lone Mountain Cemetery, the same cemetery. I think of it as where Trader Joe's is today. Where Masonic is.

David: Right, I mean, Trader Joe's is essentially right in the middle of it.

Woody: Right.

David: I mean, that part of Masonic didn't, didn't continue, it ended there at Geary, or Point Lobos at the time. And the Lone Mountain or Laurel Hill Cemetery started right there, the only street that was there, so, the Presidio Avenue, which was then called “Cemetery Avenue,” went through. And that was the border.

Woody: Right. Lone Mountain [00:07:00] Cemetery, later Laurel Hill Cemetery, was dedicated May 30th, 1854. Which is really early for San Francisco.

David: Well, was it the first cemetery in San Francisco?

Nicole: No, it was not the first cemetery in San Francisco. The first cemetery was at Yerba Buena where the San Francisco Public Library is today.

Woody: In the Civic Center?

Nicole: Yeah.

Woody: That was called “Yerba Buena Cemetery.”

David: Oh.

Woody: And then, well, why, why don't they just, why didn't they just keep burying people at Yerba Buena Cemetery?

Nicole: Because it was filled up.

Woody: All those dead bodies.

David: And the city was growing, Woody. The city was going to, out they could see, visionaries of 1854, could see that San Francisco would grow past the Yerba Buena Cemetery.

Woody: Right. And the city at that point, the city limit was Larkin Street.

David: Right.

Woody: That's how far east it was. Or that that was the western boundary.

David: There was a good portion of nothingness between Larkin and where they built the cemetery.

Woody: Right. We talk about how it started by being called “Lone Mountain Cemetery.” [00:08:00]

David: Yep.

Woody: Because…

Nicole: You could see Lone Mountain.

Woody: You could see Lone Mountain and that was like the biggest landmark, I think. And as David mentioned that they thought they could expand over Lone Mountain at one point, but it never quite got that big. Why did it change names to “Laurel Hill Cemetery?” What was the background to that? And I can tell you, I know when it changed names. It opens in 1854 as Lone Mountain, but it doesn't change names until 1867.

David: This had something to do with money.

Woody: It does.

David: Right?

Woody: It does.

David: I mean they, the, the Lone Mountain Cemetery association or…

Woody: It was a business.

David: The corporation.

Woody: It was a business.

David: Yeah. It, they weren't making money. I mean.

Woody: They had…

David: And they had to reorganize.

Woody: They had some issues. And so, this goes back to the name that we're affiliated with: Outside Lands. Right? It has to do with the Outside Lands Act that was done in 1866. And we may have talked about this before, but there was a big dispute over how to [00:09:00] parcel out the whole, all this land on the west side of the city. And it was settled with this Outside Lands Act. So, there were squatters and people arguing, “I own this. I don't own that. The state owns that. The federal government owns that.” And as part of that, there was a big problem with the Lone Mountain Cemetery Association that created a financial crisis that meant it had to be reorganized with some new investors and a new association and they changed the name.

David: Because isn't that the name of one on the East Coast?

Woody: Yeah.

David: And it just sounds nicer.

Woody: Oh, you think so?

David: Like “Lone Mountain” is like, “Oh, brrr!”

Woody: It's so cold! The dead!

David: Laurel Hill, “Ah, the rolling hills. We can go and picnic there.” Which I believe at the time of Victorian cemeteries before the public parks movement, I believe, were places where was like the only open space in urban areas. And so, people would often use them as parks. Isn't that right, Nicole?

Nicole: That is correct.

Woody: So, Lone Mountain is a big cemetery in Philadelphia. It's an old [00:10:00] one in Philadelphia. And I think they were trying…

David: Lone Mountain you said, “Lone Mountain.”

Woody: Oh, I'm sorry, you're right. Laurel Hill, I apologize. And so, I think it also gave people who were, who knew this cemetery back East and you know, whether they were buried there or used it to picnic, it gave them that sense of you know, this was an established real thing, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: Laurel Hill.

David: Right.

Woody: And they actually had paths and sort of winding lanes that they named after other cemeteries back East.

David: Right.

Woody: Such as Mount Auburn which was in Massachusetts, or Greenwood which was a famous one in Brooklyn.

David: Yep.

Woody: Yeah.

Nicole: And the first interment was named John Orr. He was interred on John, or on June 10th, 1854. And his tombstone was inscribed, “To the memory of the first inhabitant of this silent city.”

David: Wow.

Woody: Well, his tombstone said that?

David: Huh?

Woody: Were they saying that John Orr was the first inhabitant? Oh, wow. Oh! Oh, oh, he's the first inhabitant of…

David and Woody: The cemetery! [in unison]

Woody: Oh, so I’m a little thick.

David: So he's been…

Woody: I didn’t get that.

David: In death, he stood so much [00:11:00] taller than life.

Woody: Yeah.

David: He had nothing to say about his life. But in death, he's the first guy in the, in the cemetery.

Woody: Yeah, just for celebrity name dropping. Do we know anybody else that we can mention that was buried at Laurel Hill that history buffs or people who know the early pioneers might know?

David: Well, I, you know, I, I came across this really interesting story on the SF genealogy website, about a man named F.P Wierzbicki, M.D. Now, he may not be at the…

Woody: Wierzbicki.

David: He may. Yeah, it's a, it's, I guess it's, maybe it's Wierzbicki [pronounces it ‘VEERS-bicki’]. I don't know, but it's W-I-E-R-Z-B-I-C-K-I, M.D. Now, may not be a household name to you, Woody.

Woody: No. Well, now he is.

David: But he wrote a book called, “California, As It Is and As It May Be, Or, A Guide to the Gold Region.” He wrote this in 1849, it was [00:12:00] the first guide to coming to California.

Woody: Really?

David: For people who were coming to, to make their fortunes.

Woody: And he was buried at Laurel Hill?

David: He was and…

Woody: Or Lone Mountain or whatever it was called at the time.

David: Yeah, it was Lone Mountain. And the Grabhorn Press reprinted this book in 1933, and they asked a man named George D. Lyman to write an introduction, and Lyman was like, “I never heard of Wierzbicki either!”

Woody: Where's Bicki? I think I saw him going around the corner.

David: So, he's like you. So, he wrote this long description of how he, he said, “Well, I, I must go to his grave, in Laurel Hill Cemetery and find him.”

Woody: And this is in ‘33 or something?

David: This is 1933. And I mean…

Woody: Laurel Hill was still there then.

David: It was still there.

Woody: Yeah.

David: And they searched him out. He went to N. Gray and Company, he found the burial records, he found his plot. He, it's a long, beautiful story of how he went to [00:13:00] find Wierzbicki's grave. Found it. Learned a lot about Wierzbicki in the, in the, in the process. However, I want to tell you that you can find the grave of F.B. Wierzbicki today.

Woody: I can?

David: In the Presidio.

Nicole: Yay!

David: They moved him.

Woody: Really? He got moved to the Presidio?

David: Yeah.

Nicole: A lot of them got moved to the Presidio.

Woody: What, what happens to the cemetery? What happens to Laurel Hill Cemetery? Because it's not there now. We have Trader Joe. So, Nicole, what happened?

Nicole: Do we maybe want to hear about some more recognizable names that are buried in the cemetery, before we move on?

Woody: Yes, we do. Do you have any recognizable names?

Nicole: That was a, was a riveting story, but I think for some of our listeners who don't like more obscure history, they'd also like to know that Thomas Larkin of Larkin Street was buried there.

Woody: I've heard of him.

David: Yeah.

Nicole: Major James Van Ness of Van Ness Street, was buried there.

Woody: I've heard of that street.

David: Yeah.

Nicole: Lauren Pickering. Maybe you don’t know the name, but know that he did found the San Francisco Call.

Woody: Which was a newspaper.

David: Oh, yep. [00:14:00]

Nicole: And the most ironic part: David Broderick and David Terry were buried in the same cemetery.

Woody: Now, we had a podcast a couple weeks ago about the Broderick-Terry Duel in which David Terry, the former California State Supreme Court Justice, shot the United States Senator David Broderick. And he was buried at: Laurel Hill Cemetery.

David: Right.

Woody: He had a big monument on the top of the hill there. And so…

David: Almost any picture you see that is identified as “Laurel Hill Cemetery” will almost always have this monument in it.

Woody: Yeah. It's a giant pillar, an obelisk, going up. So…

David: And that thing was right, pretty much, right up the hill behind where Trader Joe's is.

Woody: Trader Joe's getting so much play in this!

David: I mean, that market there that’s non-union.

Woody: That's right.

David: That has a long line of cars blocking-up the street every day.

Woody: So, we have pioneers of the city, we have writers, Wierzbicki, Senators, Broderick, Civil War heroes, and soldiers and all sorts [00:15:00] of people, including, by the way I should mention, my great-great-grandmother was buried there. And she was exhumed when my great-great-grandfather was accused of poisoning her. And then she was reburied there. But: she does not rest there today because the cemetery got moved. So, we have all these pioneers and my great-great-grandmother in the cemetery. What happens? How could they possibly move all these important people out of the city, what happened?

David: Progress.

Woody: Progress.

Nicole: And moving them slowly.

Woody: Slowly. Because?

David: Well, so you know that in 1900…

Woody: 1902, yeah, go ahead.

David: 1900, there were no more burials allowed in the city and county of San Francisco, except at the Presidio Pet Cemetery.

Woody: Wasn't that in 1902? And didn't they allow soldiers to be buried in the Presidio?

Nicole: I think it was 1900.

Woody: Okay, fine.

Nicole: And they definitely let soldiers be buried in the Presidio.

Woody: Thank you, Nicole. Well, we were both right!

David: Well, that's Federal, that's Federal land.

Woody: Okay, okay. So, they stop burials.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Which is the lifeblood of a cemetery business.

David: You got to keep putting [00:16:00] people in the ground if you want to keep…

David and Woody: Making money. [in unison]

Woody: Which means you don't keep up the cemetery because you don't have new money coming in, right?

David: Right.

Woody: So, no more watering the lawns. No more pruning the Myrtle tree.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And so, it becomes a disrepair and an eyesore to people. And they don't even have loved ones going in there anymore.

David: No.

Woody: So, it's just a big scary place.

David: Right.

Nicole: Right. So those loved ones, were asked to move their loved ones down to Cyprus Lawn in Colma.

Woody: And a lot of these cemeteries closed and moved the bodies to Colma.

David: Yeah. There were a number of cemeteries across that ridge, right.

Woody: So, between 1939 and 1941 over 35,000 bodies were moved out of the former Laurel Hill Cemetery and out to Cypress Lawn.

David: How many were buried in the, in the Laurel Hill Cemetery?

Woody: I'm hoping over 35,000. But…

David: Yeah.

Woody: There might be some…

David: Might be more.

Woody: That got missed.

David: And also, I mean, so we say that they were, those were moved to Cypress Lawn. So [00:17:00] people who, for whom they could find relatives and who, for whom the relatives would pay to move them, they could move them to wherever they wanted.

Woody: Right.

David: They would take, take possession of the remains and move them to wherever. Everyone who was left, were, was moved to Cypress Lawn in a mass grave down there, right?

Woody: Yeah, which has a big monument there.

David: Yeah.

Woody: You can go visit it. My great-grandmother and some other relatives of mine, my relatives stepped up.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And moved them and paid for it. And they actually are buried at Cyprus Lawn, but they have their own individual graves there.

Nicole: But what happened to all the headstones that weren't claimed?

Woody: Oh, that's a whole other story. But you know something about that, don't you?

Nicole: I do know something about that. They show up, every once in a while, in landfill and, and definitely down by Ocean Beach.  At low tide, they'll pop out.

David: We made a video about the headstones.

Woody: They were basically used in public works projects.

David: Yeah.

Woody: The ones that weren't claimed or used in any other, reused.

David: It's a, yeah, I mean, they were, they were [00:18:00] turned over to the city in a, in a couple different ways. In the early ‘40s, there was heavy rains in the winter and for emergency shoring up of the, of the Great Highway they used them. It wasn't like they just said, “Oh, we don't need these.” I mean, they, there was a certain amount of respect for them, but at a certain point they said, “We need to…”

Woody: Right.

David: “We need something, and we don't have anything else.”

Woody: And a lot of the things in the cemetery weren't headstones with engravings on them either. I mean, there was just a lot of concrete and curb stone.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And different other things that were used as well.

David: Decorative features.

Woody: Right. And over in the Marina District…

David: At the Wave Organ.

Woody: At the Wave Oregon, you can go out there and see a lot of this material. So that is the story of Lone Mountain Cemetery, which turns into Laurel Hill Cemetery, which turns into Trader Joe's, yeah.

David: I have one other question. So the, and Laurel Hill is a California state historic landmark. Did you know that? The [00:19:00] site is a state historic landmark.

Nicole: Is there a marker?

David and Woody: There was a marker. [in unison]

 David: On California, right where, right at the main entrance to UCSF. What's now UCSF.

Woody: Right, used to be Fireman’s Fund.

David: Yeah, and now there isn't a marker.

Woody: No, in fact…

David: What happened to it?

Woody: I don't know. On the brick wall there is the outline of the marker.

David: Yeah.

Woody: Like one of those typical California plaques, right?

David: Yeah.

Woody: In that kind of way, but the marker's gone. And I went in and asked somebody at the front desk, who didn't know what the heck I was talking about.

David: Yeah.

Woody: So, I don't know if it was prey to copper thieves or something like that or, I don't know what happened.

David: You think it was copper?

Woody: I don't know, that's an old marker.

David: Bronze. Bronze, the robber…

Woody: Okay. Bronze thieves, whatever. So, yeah.

David: Metal scavengers stole our marker.

Woody: Well, I will say that a lot of people, even back then, in the late ‘30s, were fighting really hard to preserve part of the cemetery. Because it had the pioneers and it had important people buried there. [00:20:00] And they were thinking maybe of having a whole housing project around the pioneer section of the cemetery.

David: Yeah.

Woody: At the top of the hill and saving that as a park. But it failed. And nothing left.

Nicole: Not nothing left. There's still some bodies buried beneath, in UCSF's satellite campus on Laurel Heights.

Woody: So, at UCSF, which used to be Fireman’s Fund, you're saying there's still bodies buried under there?

Nicole: Yeah. In 2006 there was construction excavation, and they found some bodies.

Woody: I think they always find bodies. They always say they move the bodies, but then whenever they do any work, they always find more bodies.

David: Yeah. Well, you had to bury them deep, Woody.

Woody: Well, okay, so we're going to, I think we're going to learn more about this on October 31st.

David: Right, come out to our movie show, 7:00 PM on Halloween night at the Balboa Theater.

Woody: Yeah.

David: Get your ticket in advance.

Woody: How do you do that, David?

David: You can go to our website outsidelands.org and click on the “Spooky San Francisco” picture right on the front page.

Woody: And then you can order your ticket, and you can come.

David: Yeah.

Woody: And we'll have other surprises and maybe secret giveaways.

David: Maybe a [00:21:00] quiz.

Woody: Maybe a quiz. Everybody likes a quiz, right?

Nicole: And prizes go to the best man dressed like Adolph Sutro.

Woody: What about woman?

Nicole: Or women dressed like Adolph Sutro.

Woody: There you go!

Nicole: Mutton chops are winners.

Woody: There you go, okay. We just announced that!

David: I'm going to get some, yeah.

David: And you could also become a member, on our website, if you click on the “Become a Member” link.  I'm a member, you're a member.

David: Nicole's a member.

Nicole: I'm a member!

Woody: Nicole's a member. Nicole, thank you, I know you were in the office today and we'd just, like, pulled you in to be on the podcast. Thank you for being our, playing along with us and doing this with us.

Nicole: You are welcome. Thank you for having me.

David: Thank you, Nicole.

Woody: We'll have you again. Alright David, I'll see you next week.

David: Alright Woody.

Woody: And if Nicole doesn't have dinner plans, I might see her next week.

Nicole: Yay!

Woody: Learn more about the Western Neighborhoods Project and more about San Francisco history at outsidelands.org. [00:22:00]

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