Hills of Eternity Memorial Park
1299 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-4700 Established: 1889 Size: 20 “graciously landscaped” acres at the foot of the San Bruno Mountains, according to the cemetery’s website. Number of interments: More than 13,000 Open: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday through Friday. Closed on Shabbat, major Jewish Holy Days, and secular holidays.
Hills of Eternity (Giboth Olam in Hebrew) is affiliated with San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel and is the third of their graveyards. Originally composed mostly of Polish Jews, Congregation Sherith Israel opened its first graveyard — in 1850 — at Vallejo and Gough Streets in what’s now called San Francisco’s Cow Hollow District. At that point, it was the edge of town, but not for long. The Congregation moved its pioneers to the southernmost side of what is now Dolores Park when two of the Jewish graveyards moved out near the old Mission. Even that wasn’t far enough from trouble. Spurred by vandalism, the Congregation moved its pioneers a third time to a new graveyard called Hills of Eternity in Colma in 1889.
Colma, California has the distinction of being the only town founded to guarantee the rights of the dead, according to Michael Svanevik in his book City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma.Three of the four Jewish cemeteries in Colma are managed as one: Home of Peace, Hills of Eternity, and Salem Memorial Park all share staff and record-keeping.
Home of Peace predates the others by a year. Congregation Sherith Israel purchased land them in May 1888 and opened Hills of Eternity on January 1, 1889. The cemetery shares its entryway off of El Camino Real (the old Spanish Royal Road between the Missions) with Home of Peace. The two cemeteries had a lovely Gothic entry gate when they opened at the end of the 19th century, but it was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and was not replaced.
Near the entry to Hills of Eternity stands the Portals of Eternity Mausoleum and Chapel, which opened in 1934. It was originally designed by Samuel Hyman and Abraham Appleton, but has been added to and remodeled many times since. Its octagonal towers, capped by copper and tile domed roofs, are an example of neo-Byzantine architecture. Inside the mausoleum rests Cyril Magnin, who owned an upscale department store named for his grandfather on Union Square. He donated enough scratch to build the Jade Room in the old Asian Art Museum to house the Avery Brundage Collection of jades. Magnin also served as San Francisco’s chief of protocol for 24 years.
One of the most spectacular monuments in Hills of Eternity was sculpted by Leo Radke. The bronze Commedia dell’arte masks remember Savely Kramarov, an acclaimed Russian actor and comedian who emigrated to the U.S. for in order to be able to practice his religion. He is much less known in this country — he starred in Moscow on the Hudson with Robin Williams, as well as Red Heat and Tango and Cash — but he was considered the Charlie Chaplin of Russian back home. His grave receives lots of visitors.
Wyatt Earp’s second — or third? — headstone
The most popular permanent resident of Hills of Eternity is Wyatt Earp. Earp was never Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, and while he did take part in the shootout at the OK Corral, it was over in about 40 seconds. At the time of his death from liver failure in 1929, Earp worked as a sports writer in Los Angeles, consulted on Western movies, and owned oil lands near Bakersfield. His wife Josephine Marcus, who was Jewish, brought his ashes to be buried in her family plot in Colma. Her family still owns the plot.
Wyatt Earp’s current headstone
Earp’s legend is familiar to a lot of people, who leave coins, playing cards, cigars, or bullets on his monument to mark their visits. Local historian Michael Svanevik estimates 50-60 people visit Earp’s grave each month. It’s not easy to find, but it’s down the same row as C. Meyer. You can ask for directions in the cemetery office.
The large stone on Earp’s grave is the third (or fourth?) to mark the spot. A smaller gravestone, purchased by his widow Josephine, was stolen just after her death in 1944. That white marble stone was discovered in a backyard in Fresno. The second stone, made of flat granite, was found for sale in a flea market after actor Hugh O’Brien, who portrayed Earp in a TV series, offered a reward for the stone’s return. Cemetery officials set the 300-pound stone flush in concrete, but it was stolen again. Kevin Costner offered to replace it with a bigger one, but the Marcus family considered the offer self-serving and rejected it. Eventually, the Marcus family agreed to allow a group from Southern California to put this new stone in place in 1998-99. The earlier stone is on display in the Colma Historical museum.
The Miller monument at Woodlawn Cemetery, Colma, California. Photo by Loren Rhoads.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been interviewing the Administrators and Moderators of some of Facebook’s dozens of cemetery groups. There seems to be a group for every interest, from lovely photographs to history to cemetery wildlife.
In case you missed any in the series, here are links to each of them:
Grave of Mary C. Forbes, with her footstone in place at the Marshall State Historic Park. Photo by Loren Rhoads.
Q: There are a lot of cemetery aficionado groups on Facebook. What sets yours apart?
A: From my experience, many of the cemetery groups on Facebook are all about the photos. So is The Cemetery Club’s group — it only makes sense — but the most important aspect of our group is the community.
When I started the group years ago, it was to network with fellow taphophiles. I was working on my book Cemetery Walk and wanted a way to connect with a variety of people who all had some sort of interest in cemeteries. Eventually the group, which I consider a partner to my website www.TheCemeteryClub.com, took on a life of its own. We now have more than 1700 members from all around the world who share photos, ask each other questions, give advice, and promote a general sense of camaraderie. It’s a really great community and I certainly can take very little credit for that.
I would like to thank everyone who has been with me since the very beginning: TC, Iris, John, Tracy, Matt, Jason, Amy, Doug, and so many more (you know who you are!). On the days when I get overwhelmed by life, work, my many projects, and wonder if all the effort is worth it… I see a post in the group that reminds how passionate my friends are about gravestones and history. It reminds me that I’m not the only one who loves gravestones and everything they (literally) stand for. It may still seem an odd hobby or passion to some — though not nearly as many think it’s as weird as they used to — but it means a whole lot to us.
Q: Do you have a policy about what is appropriate to post?
A: My policy is pretty basic: Be kind, considerate of others, and don’t be a blatant salesperson. I have no problem with people promoting the work they do, a book they’ve written, etc., but anything spammy won’t last long. Obviously the phony FB profiles who are trying to sell shoes get the boot really fast. Others who over-promote themselves, yet don’t contribute to the group in any other way, don’t last very long either.
Q: How old is your group?
A: I think it dates back to 2005 or 2004. I wasn’t able to find a start date on Facebook.
Q: Is your group open to new members?
A: Yes! The group is always open to new members. We’ve been growing in leaps and bounds. It seemed like it took forever for us to hit 1,000. That was okay, since we had quality posts. In the last nine months or so, it’s really taken off. As far as criteria, you just have to be a real person and not just a fake spam profile. All are welcome. The more people we can get interested in our cemeteries and history, the better.
Q: Are you a member of any other cemetery groups?
A: I am a member of a number of cemetery groups. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to contribute to any of them. It’s tough enough to keep up with my own! Besides, you’ll find the same taphophiles are members of a bunch of these groups. I do my best to keep my social media life simplified. I do social media during my day job, too, so while I may not always be out there on my own channels, I’m usually networking in some way with someone.
Stanford Family Mausoleum
In the Stanford Arboretum, near the Arizona Garden
Between Palm Drive and Quarry Road, north of Campus Drive
Palo Alto, California 94305
Telephone: (650) 723-7974 Built: 1889 Number of Interments: 3 Open: Only on Founder’s Day celebrations, usually in early April, but in 2013, it was held in October
Born on a farm in New York, Leland Stanford studied law, but didn’t graduate. This didn’t prevent him from becoming a lawyer in Wisconsin in his 20s. He followed his brothers to California in 1852, setting himself up as a grocer and supplying the gold miners. This proved lucrative enough that he entered politics. He served as governor of California during the Civil War, a Lincoln Republican who managed to keep the state in the Union.
During his two-year stint in office, he also supported legislation that would build the railroad eastward over the Sierras. At the time, he was also president of the Central Pacific Railroad, but the United States had no policy against conflict of interest. He drove the Golden Spike uniting the Central Pacific with the Union Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah. Stanford headed the Central Pacific Railroad until his death, returning to politics in 1885 as a U.S. Senator.
When Stanford’s only son, Leland Jr., died suddenly of typhoid fever on a family trip to Florence in March 1884, his parents discussed what would be a fitting memorial to their only son. They settled on building a university on the horse farm they owned in Palo Alto, north of San Jose.
Leland Stanford Jr. was buried temporarily in a vault on the East Coast, while his parents visited Harvard, M.I.T., and other universities. Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect of Manhattan’s Central Park (and Oakland, California’s Mountain View Cemetery), was engaged to draw up plans for Leland Stanford Jr. University.
The Greek Sphinxes guard the back of the mausoleum.
By Fall 1884, Junior’s body was brought to California and buried in a brick mausoleum near the family’s mansion on the budding university’s grounds. This “small” mausoleum included a small sitting room “upholstered in gold and purple,” a stained glass ceiling, and a fresco of angels bearing Junior to heaven.
The granite and marble family mausoleum was completed in 1889. The tomb cost a reported $100,000, more than $2.3 million in adjusted dollars. The mausoleum is flanked by four Greek sphinxes, but the more well-endowed pair have been exiled to the rear of the mausoleum, facing the trees. Apparently Jane Stanford did not find their contours pleasing. A more sedate Egyptian couple now guard the front.
The Stanfords’ Egyptian guardians.
Stanford himself was interred in the mausoleum in June 1893. Five days later, his son’s lead-lined casket was exhumed a final time and moved to its hopefully eternal rest.
In April 1899, Jane’s youngest brother Henry Clay Lathrop died in San Francisco of dropsy, swelling caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Two years later, Jane commissioned a copy of William Wetmore Story’s Angel of Grief Weeping over the Dismantled Altar of Life. (The original sculpture marks Story’s own family grave in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery — and another copy marks the grave of Jennie Roosevelt Pool, a cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, buried in Colma’s Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Hers wasn’t commissioned until her death in 1911.) Lathrop’s monument stands slightly north of the mausoleum. Once it was in place, Jane had an urn of her brother’s ashes sealed in its base.
Jane and Leland Sr.’s sarcophagi
Jane died on a trip to Hawaii in 1905. She had been poisoned once at home before the trip and strychnine was found in the bicarbonate soda she consumed the night she died, but no one was ever charged with her murder. Her body was brought home to Palo Alto and interred in a marble sarcophagus between her husband and son.
The 1906 earthquake spared the mausoleum, but destroyed the Angel of Grief. The University commissioned a replacement from Antonio Bernieri, sculptor of the initial one.
The mausoleum and angel are surrounded by an arboretum that contains Crape Myrtle, Paperbark Maples, and Guadalupe Palms transplanted from elsewhere on campus as the university grew. In addition to the collection of trees, cactus, and other plants, the arboretum is “a wonderful destination for bird enthusiasts,” according to the Stanford University website.
Since 1905, the semi-isolated mausoleum has served as a lover’s lane. It continues to be the site of a raucous undergraduate Halloween party and a much more sedate Founder’s Day celebration, the only time the mausoleum is opened to the public. There is not a lot to see inside.
The copy of the Angel of Grief on the Stanford University campus.
Founder’s Day celebrations include a procession of flags, including the flags of Stanford’s various Colleges. The year I attended, the Green Street Mortuary Band and the Stanford Gospel Choir performed, alongside several students who’d written prize-winning essays about “what the founding of the University means to them.” Wreathes were laid and speeches given and a student sang the Stanford Hymn.
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