Walking out along the breakwater with the Golden Gate Bridge at my back and Alcatraz Prison ahead, I passed squares and rectangles, clearly man-made shapes, half in and under the water. Most of the shapes seemed to be made of some sort of aggregate rock and concrete, but here and there, other boulders are clearly dressed granite. Their gloss has been worn away by decades of salt, but it’s obviously expensive rock — ruins of something important, thrown away.
This is the jetty at the Marina Yacht Harbor, formed of broken gravestones from the Laurel Hill Cemetery when it was destroyed to make room for housing in the 1940s.
Some of the larger, more beautiful pieces of granite were re-purposed to house the Wave Organ, an art installation built in conjunction with the Exploratorium in the 1980s. Organ pipes of PVC and concrete rise from the ocean to make subtle environmental music: gulping, rushing, gurgling, sighing, all made by the motion of the waves against the pipes.
The granite is a soft shade of gray with flecks of charcoal black and mica. I settle on the bench. The pipe behind me booms, bass to counterpoint the tenor susurrus of the waves lapping near my feet. When the wind shifts, I hear wind chimes on a sailboat in the marina.
Many of the San Francisco pioneers were buried in Laurel Hill. Among them, Thomas Larkin, first American consul in Monterey, and James Fair, Comstock silver mine millionaire, were lucky enough to have family who would pay to move their monuments south to new cemeteries in Colma. David Broderick, an anti-slavery senator killed in a duel by a Supreme Court justice; “Squire” Clark, who built the first San Francisco wharf; Phineas Gage, who survived having an iron spike driven into his skull, albeit with some serious personality changes; and Andrew Hallidie, inventor of San Francisco’s iconic cable car: all were reburied in a massive grave — and their monuments were demolished and sold for scrap.
As lovely as the Wave Organ is, it makes me sad. So much is lost.
A couple of links:
Some history of San Francisco’s historic cemeteries
Roadtrip America visits the Wave Organ
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