I’m going to miss another Cemetery of the Week tonight because I’ve been working on my speech for next weekend’s Death Salon here in my hometown. Want to come and hear it in person? There are still some tickets left. Here’s the link.
The line up of speakers varies from my historical view of cemeteries in San Francisco to Jill Tracy talking about writing music in the Mutter Museum after hours to Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician) talking about her new book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. There will be talks about working as a death doula, postmortem facial reconstruction, Santa Muerte, and funeral food traditions — and much, much more.
I missed the Death Salon in London earlier this year, but I was lucky enough to attend the initial Death Salon in Los Angeles last October. I blogged about it for days on Morbid Is as Morbid Does. Check it out here, if you’re interested.
In the meantime, the thought of the day as I researched my lecture: the first “official” city graveyard in San Francisco was really small. Bounded by what we now call Filbert and Greenwich Streets and bisected by what is now Powell Street, the graveyard had as many as 900 people buried in it between 1846 and 1850. They must have been packed in pretty tight.
To call the space a cemetery is to be generous. It had no fence. Sheep grazed on the property. Without laws regarding the depths of graves, many were shallow and, unsurprisingly, the smell was bad. In 1850, the Daily Alta California reported, “A visit to this place of sepulture is sufficient to shock the sensibilities of men inured even to the battlefield rude burial of the dead.”
After the Gold Rush began in earnest in 1849, the graveyard’s land was suddenly more valuable. Its owner stepped forward and demanded the bodies be cleared away so that he could develop his property. It has been commercial ever since.