Olivet Memorial Park
Also called Mount Olivet Cemetery
1601 Hillside Boulevard
Colma, California 94014
Telephone: (650) 755-0322
Size: 65 acres
Number of Interments: 100,000
At the foot of San Bruno Mountain in the cemetery town of Colma lies Olivet Memorial Park, which proclaims itself as a “Cemetery for All Faiths.” It was founded as Mount Olivet Cemetery by Austen Walrath (buried here in 1902) with the backing of the Abbey Land and Improvement Company.
San Francisco architect William H. Crim Jr. designed the Old English Abbey Chapel, as well as the Columbarium and “Incinerary.” Cremation began at Olivet as early as 1911. Since then, the cemetery has cremated more than 45,000 people.
Some of its earliest cremation retorts were designed by Mattrup Jensen, who took over as superintendent from Walrath. Jensen’s crematory retorts were used by cemeteries across the US. He believed that Colma cemeteries should be designed to look like outdoor cathedrals. Jensen eventually became the first mayor of Lawndale, before the town changed its name to Colma.
The striking 18-foot-tall black granite monument to the Sailors Union of the Pacific was sculpted by John Stoll. It bears the legend: “And the sea shall give up its dead — from every latitude here rest our brothers of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.” California governor Earl Warren dedicated the sculpture in 1946 to remember the 6,000 merchant marines who died over the course of World War II. Many others have been buried in the plot since.
Another monument remembers the Showfolks of America. The national organization, made up of circus or carnival people, held conventions in San Francisco after 1945. The area around the clown-faced monument is known as Showmen’s Rest. It was filled with clowns and other performers by the 1990s.
When he was captured near Oroville in 1911, the man called Ishi was believed to be the last survivor of the Yahi tribe. Called “the last survivor of Stone Age California,” he was brought to the University of California in San Francisco, where he lived until his death of tuberculosis in 1916. He never revealed his true name. Alfred Kroeber, the anthropologist who studied him, called him Ishi, which simply means man in Yahi. He was cremated at Olivet and the cemetery’s columbarium held his remains in a “modest dark vase set on a dark green marble base.” He may have created his own burial urn.
After his death, his brain had been removed during an autopsy. The brain was rediscovered by anthropologists in the Smithsonian Institution in 1997. It was reunited with his ashes and transferred to an undisclosed location.
Also buried here is Arthur “Doc” Barker, the youngest member of the Barker gang. He was arrested for the last time in January 1935 for the kidnapping of Minnesota banker Edward G. Bremer. After Barker was transferred to Alcatraz, he died leading an escape attempt in 1939, when he was shot in the head. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Olivet’s unendowed Cosmos Plot.
Another Alcatraz inmate, Joseph “Dutch” Bowers, was arrested for robbing a post office in 1931. He was the first inmate to attempt escape when he climbed a fence in front of the guards and was shot and killed in April 1936. Other inmates believed that Alcatraz had driven him crazy. Bowers is buried in an unmarked grave.
Silent film actress Marguerite de La Motte appeared in over 50 films. She worked with Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, but made only four talking pictures before she retired from the film business. She died in 1950 at the age of 47 and was cremated here. She has a modest niche in the columbarium.
Singer Danniebelle Hall, who died in 2000, combined gospel with dance music. Her epitaph in the mausoleum proclaims her “The Designer’s Original.”
Michael Svanevik talks about Olivet in his book City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma.
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