Resting places for the dead in San Francisco turned out to be not that restful. From the city's beginning, elected officials struggled with problems caused by cemeteries in the wrong places.
The first burials in the city were at Mission Dolores and the Presidio, but when the Gold Rush hit and the city's population exploded, burial spots sprang up all over town.
In 1848 a Russian ship sailed into San Francisco. Several of its sailors died and were buried on the hill that took its name from the Russians.
Other early burial grounds were on Telegraph Hill and in North Beach.
"We regret to learn that it is in contemplation to cause the removal of the bodies now peaceably reposing in the burial ground near the north beach. ... We have since been told that the Yerba Buena cemetery was sufficiently ample. ... But we did certainly contemplate that the plot by the town near the north beach would be held sacred," editorialized the Daily Alta on March 28, 1850.
"Let the dead rest," the article concluded. Instead, the bodies were dug up and moved to the Yerba Buena Cemetery. Not all were removed, however, and when the bulldozers dig deep enough, skeletons are still found in North Beach.
City officials selected a 15-acre plot of land at what is now Eighth and Market streets. But by 1854 the Yerba Buena Cemetery was too small, and it was smack-dab in the middle of the growing city's business district.
"We notice some attempts have already been made and will probably be renewed to pass an ordinance through the Common Council providing for the removal of the bodies from the Yerba Buena Cemetery and transplanting them somewhere else. ... In this city there seems always to have been an indecent disregard of the sanctity of the grave," protested the Daily Alta on Sept. 17, 1854.
The new burial spot in 1854, the Lone Mountain Cemetery, later renamed Laurel Hill, was in the northwest section of the San Francisco Peninsula, or what came to be called the Richmond district.
Other cemeteries developed in the same area: the Catholic Calvary Cemetery, the Masonic Cemetery and the Oddfellows Cemetery.
By the 1880s, the people of the Richmond district were complaining that the 160 acres or so of cemeteries were in the way of roads that could bring them to the city's downtown. There were no direct routes for the horse-drawn trolley cars. Additionally, the cemeteries were filling up.
The Catholics found some land in an area in San Mateo County called Colma. They started the Holy Cross Cemetery in 1887. They were followed by the Jews, who established the Hills of Eternity. In 1900 San Francisco decreed no more burials within the city limits. But it took a state law to close the cemeteries and move the bodies. And it wasn't until the 1940s that the job was completed and Colma became known as the City of the Dead.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.