City Cemetery Landmark Designation - Help Wanted!
You know what I love even more than ghosts? Beer. HAHAH NO THAT’S CEMETERIES. Cemeteries are a gold mine of local history, they tell us so much about where we came from and who we are. They are critical in telling the story of a place.
When I search for stories to tell you guys, I’m often listening to hear voices that have been lost in the mix. I’m listening for untold, ignored, or incorrectly told stories. I want the past to speak to us and tell us about what we missed. In my Cemeteries of San Francisco series, I wanted to give voice to thousands of folks who lived and died here, but whose trace has been completely wiped from the slate of San Francisco. We tucked them away in sleepy Colma, interred in mass graves: out of sight, out of mind.
If you have read my cemetery work, you’ll know that some of these bodies won’t stay buried. Lots of them were left behind and missed during the move to Colma, but one spot in particular was intentionally overlooked. I’m talking about City Cemetery, now Lincoln Park.
On July 26, 2021, the San Francisco’s Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider the initiation of a landmark designation for Lincoln Park, site of the old City Cemetery. This cemetery was closed in 1900 but the bodies are still there. It was the public burial ground for about thirty years, and all kinds of folks are buried there: Chinese, Japanese, French, Jewish, Greeks, Scandinavians, Italians, African Americans, fraternal society members, and veterans still lie beneath Lincoln Park (now a golf course).
These are the men and women whose labor built San Francisco - our foremothers and forefathers. Some were too poor to be buried anywhere else, they had only a wooden marker with a number on it. Some might not have been accepted at any other cemetery because of their religion or ethnicity. Some were killed on the job and buried by a benevolent society because their widows could not afford otherwise. Some were even moved to City Cemetery from the original burial ground and Yerba Buena, from as early as the 1840s.
When the cemetery was open, it was a dismal sight. Contemporary writers describe it as gloomy, windswept, full of trash. But at least at that time the dead were visible, they had a place. Now they lie under a beautiful green lawn but have people teeing off overhead. I guess what I’m saying is that they deserve recognition. Their markers were thrown out, they were covered over like so much landfill to make way for beauty and recreation. Let’s at least acknowledge that they are there. Maybe we can give them a fucking plaque or something???
AND NOW YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO HELP MAKE THIS HAPPEN!
San Francisco Heritage needs YOUR HELP to reach out to City Supervisors and the Land Use Clerk to advocate for this designation. This will be the only time that public comment is solicited, and we need to act fast! All of the info you need is on the Heritage site - it’s as easy as sending an email! Heritage even has a sample letter for you to send. If you need some more inspiration, I’ve included my comment below.
I am writing in support of a city landmark designation of Lincoln Park, which from 1870 until the early 1900s was used as a large cemetery for Chinese, Japanese, French, Jewish, Greek, Scandinavian, Italian, African American, fraternal and verteran organizations.
The site is now a park and golf course, but an estimated ten thousand bodies still rest below the surface. Two prominent cemetery monuments still stand on the fairways.
I am a writer who seeks to uncover the buried stories of San Francisco. I write about cemeteries because I think they are important repositories of local history and have much to teach us about the past and the present. How we treat the dead tells us something about the living: and these souls have been left forgotten and invisible for more than a hundred years.
City Cemetery was the only municipal burial ground when it was active. In fact, when the original public burial ground, Yerba Buena, was closed, its inhabitants were sent to City to be reinterred. The folks buried there were often too poor to pay for a plot at a private cemetery, or they were an ethnic or religious minority that might not have been accepted anywhere else. While the socialites and proper “pioneers” were buried at Laurel Hill in a gorgeous park-like setting, the men and women whose labor built this town were laid to rest in a decrepit, windswept cemetery - poorly maintained and full of trash. When the cemetery was closed, the city reportedly kicked over the headboards and forgot all about them.
Lincoln Park is now a beautiful, well maintained site full of cypress trees and a lush lawn. It is dedicated to recreation and enjoyment for city residents. Beneath the facade, however, lie the people who made San Francisco possible. It seems to me that they deserve respect and recognition. Landmark designation is an important first step.
I urge you to vote yes on landmark designation when it comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee.
District 5 resident
(Header photo: Golden Gate, or City Cemetery, shown in an 1897 map by Southern Pacific Company/H.S. Crocker Co. (David Rumsey Map Collection) (David Rumsey Historical Map Collection))