Colma, California

July 6, 2021

Colma, California

The city of Colma, California is featured in Sidewalk Spots. Colma is a city with an interesting distinction – it’s a cemetery city made for dead San Franciscans with 1,000 times more dead inhabitants than living ones. While many American suburbs are known for their outlet malls, Walmarts, and multiple fast food locations, Colma is famous for something different, multiple cemeteries. It has 17 of them,.

In the 1920s, San Francisco was a growing and booming metropolis. Unfortunately, it was also a tinderbox of wood structures tightly packed together just waiting for a disaster to hit. When the massive 1906 earthquake rocked the city, its cemeteries quickly filled up and the concentration of dead bodies in San Francisco cemeteries led to public health concerns. The solution was to move the dead from their San Francisco resting places in the city to Colma. As a result, the largest relocation of graves in history took place nearly 20 years after the earthquake.

Several of Colma’s graveyards are home to mass graves that contain tens of thousands of people who were relocated from their San Francisco-resting places. Though the city would pay to have anyone buried in its cemeteries moved to Colma, unless families paid $10 to have their loved ones moved, their bodies would end up being reburied in mass graves. The Holy Cross Cemetery has a marker that says 39, 307 Catholics are buried there, while a marker at the Cypress Lawn graveyard memorializes over 30,000 bodies in a mass grave there.

Over 155,000 bodies ended up being moved from San Francisco to Colma, but some of them didn’t make the trip. Construction crews can’t manage to dig a hole on the University of San Francisco’s campus without stumbling upon human remains. More bodies were discovered at the Legion of Honor when crews laid plumbing pipes and disturbed grave sites.

Included among the dead and buried in Colma are some of the most famous figures from the turn of the 20th century. Wild-West Sheriff Wyatt Earp and denim pants-pioneer Levi Strauss are both buried there along with newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst and railroad owner Charles Crocker.

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