Between 1920 and 1940, the city of San Francisco disinterred and moved hundreds of thousands of bodies in the largest relocation of the dead in history. On October 14, we grabbed our bikes and set out to explore the sprawling Colma Necropolis, where just under 2000 living residents share their city with 1.5 million dead.
he city is home to 17 cemeteries, covering the hillsides of the gentle valley with tombstones, mausoleums and columbariums. Burials began in the 1880s and continue to this day, with the largest influx of new residents moving in during San Francisco’s mass export of its Gold Rush era dead.
an Francisco realized by the turn of the last century that it was quickly running out of space on the tiny peninsula and as cemeteries quickly filled to bursting, city fathers began gently implying, then strongly suggesting, that a new place be found for the dead. The place they settled on was Colma, countryside just outside the city, still within a reasonable train or carriage distance for funerals. New burials began almost immediately, but it took the city another couple of decades and a legal battle to finally begin digging people up.
f the hundreds of thousands relocated, many were moved individually by carriage or hearse, their headstones transported with them. But for those who had no family, or whose family could not raise the fees for transport, a more ignoble fate awaited them in Colma’s many headstoneless mass graves. Highlights of our explorations after the jump>