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Ghosthunters: “Colma, CA – City of the Dead

Dear Weird CA;
I live here in San Francisco and wanted to write to you about the city of Colma. It is often called the "city of the dead" due to the fact that it has many cemeteries, which include a Jewish cemetery, Chinese cemetery, pet cemetery, and so forth. It is known that this town has more dead people than living. The reason there are so many cemeteries is because in San Francisco it is "not allowed" to bury people. Some kind of ordinance that passed in the early 1900's I think. You should check it out.  –Leticia

Welcome to Necropolis!

Incorporated in 1924, the city of Colma actually has a lot more dead resident (an estimated two million) than it does living (around 1,200). There are seventeen cemeteries within the city’s two square miles, which account for approximately 73% of the total acreage of the town. Some of bone yards contain some fairly noteworthy former folks, such as denim pioneer Levi Strauss, publishing potentate William Randolph Hearst and Tombstone gunslinger Wyatt Earp.

So just how did this city end up with so many dead occupants? According to Colma’s official web site, www.colma.ca.gov/briefhis.html:
A California State Law was passed in the late 1800's, State Penal Code 297 stated - prohibited any burials anywhere except an established cemetery such as one by a city or county, church, ethnic group or military. You could no longer bury a body on the homestead or along the wagon trail.

San Francisco had many cemeteries established by the time gold was discovered. Hundreds of thousands arrived bringing diseases, followed by deaths and filled their cemeteries to capacity.
Cemetery owners started looking for new locations to expand or relocate their burial grounds. They were frustrated in their attempt to buy San Francisco property. Land was too valuable for cemetery use said real estate promoters.

The San Francisco City Fathers passed Bill #54 & Ordinance #25 on 3-26-1900 stating that no further burials will be allowed in the City & County of San Francisco. With no further burials, they became a place of neglect and vandalism. They then became a health hazard.

Colma became the chosen area for cemeteries…

In August of 1912 the San Francisco's Board of Supervisors declared intent to evict all cemeteries in their jurisdiction.

On Jan. 14, 1914 Removal notices were sent to all cemeteries, branding them as “A public nuisance and a menace and detriment to the health and welfare of city dwellers.” There were many delays to this order as the cemeteries and some citizens fought to have it revoked. By Nov. of 1937 the legal battles were over and bodies not removed were now ordered to be removed.

Colma Cemeteries now inherited hundreds of thousands of additional bodies.

This all led to the incorporation of the cemetery area that became known as Lawndale on August 5, 1924. The Associated Cemeteries, made up of supervisors from each were concerned that what happened in S.F. could happen again. To protect the cemeteries they became organized and incorporated. They wanted the name Memorial Park but there was already a Memorial Park in our county. We kept Lawndale until the United States Postal Service informed us there was a Lawndale in Southern Calif. We went back to the name of Colma. This was on Nov. 17, 1941.

Colma’s living-to-dead ratio of residents has earned the city some morbid monikers, such as “City of Souls,” and “City of the Silent.” Ironically, or perhaps due to a little graveyard humor on the part of the local chamber of commerce, the city’s official slogan is actually, “It’s great to be alive in Colma.” Most of the city’s occupants wouldn’t know anything about that, though.

Weird California


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