Nov
24
2010

What is California's "City of the Dead?"

New Colma subdivision - courtesy Tom Hilton - CC-BY

California’s City of the Dead has a little over 1.5 million residents.  About 1500 of those residents are alive.

Near the beginning of the 20th century, San Francisco politicians began a campaign to move the cemeteries out of town by promoting the idea that cemeteries spread disease, the more important reason being that they wanted to free up San Francisco real estate.  San Francisco was already heavily developed.  The non-rent-paying dead could rest somewhere else.  In 1900 San Francisco passed an ordinance that no more burials were to be allowed in the city.  In 1914 eviction orders went out for all cemeteries to remove their dead and their monuments.

Years earlier the Catholic Church established Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, just south of San Francisco, making Colma the most likely destination for the now homeless dead.

Officially designated a “necropolis” (city of the dead) with an area of only 2.2 square miles, Colma holds a record with 17 cemeteries, which include cemeteries specific to Catholics, Jews, Italians, Chinese, Eastern Orthodox, Serbs, Japanese and even pets.

Some of Colma’s more notable permanent residents include William Randolf Hearst, Joe

DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, Lefty O’Doul, and many other famous people.

Even though Colma has only about 1500 people, it also has more than its share of stores, malls and restaurants.  Funerals bring many visitors and Colma tries to accommodate by offering whatever services they might need.  Florists do very well there.

I had the privilege of living in Colma for about six months in 1970.  Residents of Colma are rightfully proud of their little city and fully live up to the city motto: “It’s Great to be Alive in Colma!”

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