Cemetery of the Week #66: Sacramento City Cemetery

Old City Cemetery muse

a.k.a. Old City Cemetery
1000 Broadway
Sacramento, California 95818
Telephone: (916) 448-0811
Founded: December 1849
Size: 44 acres
Number of interments: more than 25,000
Open: Summer hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday.
Due to city budget constraints, the City Cemetery will be closed every Wednesday and Thursday until further notice.

Approximately 90 miles northeast of San Francisco, Sacramento became capitol of California in 1854.  More recently, Sacramento hosted governors Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwartzenegger.

Prior to that, Sacramento became the first California boomtown in 1849. The former frontier outpost benefitted immensely as the last provisioning point for the forty-niners on their way up to the Sierra Gold Fields. Between 1848 and 1853, over half a million people passed through Sacramento on the way to seek their fortunes.

Sacramento City Cemetery was founded by a city ordinance in December 1849 to be a “public grave yard” unaffiliated with any religious organization. It wasn’t the first public graveyard in town: New Helvetia Cemetery, now Sutter Middle School, preceded it. Still, the Old City Cemetery remains as the oldest original (non-rebuilt) historical site in Sacramento.

Sacramento mourner

It’s an incredibly beautiful place. Beneath the arching branches of oaks and the fronts of palms, white marble markers stand against the flawless blue Californian sky. Ornamentation varies from Egyptian Revival to little lambs, from hands clutching each other throughout eternity to angels and muses standing upright against their grief. The Grand Army of the Republic has a noble monument. Enormous antique rosebushes sparkle with vivid blossoms. Squirrels chase over the gravestones, followed by low-slinking cats.

Historical markers stand before several of the plots, describing the lives and times of Sacramento’s most permanent residents. Senators, governors, and a Supreme Court Justice share the ground with 2000 pioneers from around the globe. Among the historic dead lies Mark Hopkins, one of the men responsible fro the transcontinental railroad. His monument cost $80,000 in 1879. John Sutter Jr. was the son of the man on whose property gold was discovered. The Tilden family descended from settlers who came over on the Mayflower. The son of Alexander Hamilton was buried in three places before finally coming to rest in the Sacramento City Cemetery. 600 Sacramentans buried in a mass grave during the cholera epidemic of 1850 testify to the hardships of pioneer life.

The Old City Cemetery Committee formed in 1987 to combat neglect in the cemetery and repair broken tombstones. Volunteers continue to research the cemetery, raise funds for repair, tend the garden plots, and lead tours. Their extensive tour schedule is here.  This weekend’s tour focuses on Close Calls and Calamities. The theme of next week’s evening fundraiser is Beer, Babes, and Brawls, for an audience 21 and over, since it includes a beer-tasting. A .pdf flyer is here.

Useful links:

The Old City Cemetery homepage

Map of the cemetery

The Old City Cemetery Facebook page

California Native Plant Demonstration Garden in the cemetery

Cemetery Registry page on the cemetery

Other Old City Cemetery links on Cemetery Travel:

My visit to Cora’s grave

Behind the Scenes at the Old City Cemetery

Child’s grave in Sacramento


About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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9 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #66: Sacramento City Cemetery

  1. Betsy Erickson says:

    Thank you to the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery for working with my daughter two years ago. They allowed her to work with them and earn her Girl Scout Gold Award. My daughter took almost 800 digital pictures of the Pioneer section for their digital catalog project. She verified the information on the headstones and took the pictures. Again, this is a great group of volunteers and I say Thank You!

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Thanks for coming by, Betsy. I’m not affiliated with the cemetery, but I am a huge fan. It’s great to hear they’re encouraging kids to visit cemeteries!

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