This Sunday, September 16, I will show some of my favorite photographs from 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die at one of my favorite cemeteries in the book, Colma’s Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.
Cypress Lawn was founded in the 1890s as a garden cemetery. To this day, it is full of lovely statuary, an exotic arboretum, carpet flowerbeds, and monuments to the founding fathers of San Francisco. It also has acres of stained glass in its public catacombs. It’s one of the loveliest cemeteries in Northern California.
My space opera trilogy is finally all finished, except for the going over the copyeditor’s notes on the last book, so I can turn my thoughts back to graveyards. I’ve visited several lovely ones in the California Wine Country in the last couple of months, so I will start researching and writing those up soon.
Today was the meeting of the Cypress Lawn Book Club down in Colma. Our third book was The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. I went down early, so I could park under a tree and read in the cemetery on this glorious summer day. (Cypress Lawn was featured as the Cemetery of the Week here.)
The highlight of the book club meeting was that we were joined today by Mary Ann Cruz, the director of the Cypress Lawn Cremation Society. She has worked as a mortician, embalmer, and mortuary cosmetologist for 16 years, so her backstage stories were fascinating, colorful, and a whole lot of fun.
I re-read this for the Cypress Lawn Book Club and enjoyed it a second time, but I still don’t find it particularly funny. Some of that is my familiarity with Forest Lawn in its current incarnation, complete with speakers in the trees piping music across the flat grave markers. It’s hard to be over the top when the bar is set so high.
The book club was put off by the way the female characters are depicted, but the book was published in 1948 and I don’t think anyone comes off particularly well. I could look past that.
I think that if you’re curious about backstage mortuary practices, if you’re a cemetery aficionado, quite possibly if you loved Mad Men, you should check out this book.
You can pick up a copy of your own from Amazon here.
Colma’s lovely Cypress Lawn Memorial Park is trying something new: a book club! The club idea is so new that they don’t have it listed on the Heritage Foundation’s website yet, but the first two books were chosen at the club’s first meeting earlier this month. I’m honored to say that Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel is one of them.
Even if you’re not close enough to attend, you can still read along with us. The schedule so far:
The book club will meet at 11 a.m. in Cypress Lawn’s Reception Center at 1370 El Camino Real, Colma, California. If you’d like more information, please contact Terry Hamburg.
Future books will range from autobiographies and novels written by people interred at Cypress Lawn and may include more cemetery history or history of the San Francisco Bay Area. When possible, the book club will visit the appropriate grave sites.
I’ve never been a part of a book club, so I’m very much looking forward to this.
October was a whirlwind of writing about cemeteries and talking about cemeteries and touring cemeteries. You can believe I was in heaven.
Mountain View Cemetery tour, led by Arthur Kay
The month started with my speech at the Death Salon about how the graveyards were removed from San Francisco. That led to a very small group tour of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, led by Arthur Kay. He helped me find a gravestone I was looking for, as well as the grave of one of the last Romanoff princesses and a whole lot of other locally important people. The day was incredibly hot and I was sick with a bad cold, but it was worth making the effort to get out in the sunshine.
Cypress Lawn at sunset
A week later, still sick with that stupid cold, I managed to see Douglas Keister’s photos of graves in the Holy Land at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. That was immediately followed by his gracious and fascinating hands-on seminar on how to take cemetery photos. The warm gold light spilling across the cemetery made me feel so much better. I wish I’d taken more photos.
I took the weekend of my birthday off — mostly because there weren’t any cemetery tours I wanted to attend that weekend and I was still sick. The final weekend of the month, I was spoiled for choice. I wanted to go down to Gilroy, California to see Old St Mary Cemetery, since it’s only open on days when the Historical Society leads tours, but I wasn’t sure I could make it by 10 a.m. on the day after my family had been out trick or treating.
The Carquinez Bridge seen from Alhambra Cemetery
Instead, I dragged my daughter and husband up to Martinez to see the amazing Alhambra Cemetery. The cemetery overlooks the Carquinez Strait in the northern part of San Francisco Bay. The Historical Society held a tombstone scavenger hunt for the kids, which entertained my daughter while I read the historic signs and marveled over all the lovely tombstones. We’d never been to Martinez, so afterward we treated ourselves to a Thai lunch and poked briefly through the antique shops before getting one of the best iced mochas my husband has ever tried. It was the perfect family outing.
Finally, on November 2 — All Souls’ Day — my friend Samuel came up to the northern tip of Napa County with me so we could tour Cloverdale Cemetery. Susan Bennett led the tour in character as Gravedigger Tom. The tour group was enormous, which did my heart good to see. We learned about the history of Cloverdale and its surroundings through the lens of the California Gold Rush and the farming era that followed, through the days of the spas and summer camps and religious splinter groups.
Old St. Mary Cemetery represents the southern tip of my ongoing research for the Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area book. Cloverdale is the northernmost boundary. It would have been something to see them both in the same weekend, 161 miles as the Google maps, but I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish.
November 3 dragged me out of cemeteries and back to real life. I had to dive into revising the first book of the space opera trilogy I sold to Night Shade Books in February. I’d been waiting for the book to come back from the editor all year, so of course it arrived in the middle of my cemetery madness. It’s turned in at last and the book is in press now, for release next summer. There are more details here, if Hong Kong-style revenge science fiction is your kind of thing. I’m very proud of it.
Long story short, it’s been a while since I blogged on Cemetery Travel, for which I’m sorry. I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle everything. The second book of The Dangerous Type trilogy is due soon and I need to toggle back and forth from being a cemetery historian to a science fiction writer. It feels strange to have both sides of my life converge at last, but it’s an exciting place to be.
Last year’s Cloverdale Cemetery tour. Photo provided by the Cloverdale Historical Society.
It seems like every local cemetery is having a tour this weekend. I’m going to hit as many as I can. Hope to see you there!
Saturday, November 1, 10-11:30 am Alhambra Cemetery
Carquinez Scenic Route
Martinez, California 94553 http://www.cityofmartinez.org/cals/default.asp
This is a free family event. Families are invited to celebrate the lives of local citizens buried at the Alhambra Pioneer Cemetery with a headstone hunt that incorporates math, history, and observation skills. Day of the Dead crafts will also be provided, including folding paper marigolds, creating banners, and coloring sugar skull pictures.
Please pre-register at (925) 372-3510 by October 31.
Saturday, November 1, 1:30 pm Cypress Lawn Memorial Park
1370 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014-3239
Phone: (650) 550-8810 http://www.cypresslawnheritagefoundation.com/events.html#walking
Local cemetery historian Michael Svanevik will lead a walking tour of lovely Cypress Lawn. Its title is “Northern California’s Fortune Builders.” The tour starts at the Noble Chapel (located on Cypress Lawn’s East Gardens).
Sunday, November 2, 11:30-3:30 pm Hills of Eternity/Home of Peace Cemeteries
1299/1301 El Camino Boulevard
Colma, California 94014
Phone: (415) 750-7545 https://www.emanuelsf.org/hoehop125
Buried Treasures: An ‘Underground History’ Walk — Come commemorate the 125th anniversary of Jewish cemeteries in Colma and honor those who planted the seeds of the Jewish community in the Bay Area. There will be a treasure hunt tour, an opportunity to watch the ritual burial of prayer books, and a chance to help preserve the pioneer headstones in the oldest part of the cemetery. Refreshments provided.
Sunday, November 2, 1 – 2:30 pm. Riverside Cemetery
Cloverdale, California 95425
Phone: (707) 894-2067
Meet Gravedigger Tom at the cemetery entrance on Crocker Road. The suggested donation is between $5 – $10 dollars per person. People should wear long pants and hiking/walking shoes. Due to loose gravel and walking up hills/around graves, we recommend that only those who are sure-footed join in. Gravedigger Tom will tell many fascinating stories regarding the cemetery, including some of the people who are buried there. He also is known to share ghost stories.
The Cloverdale Cemetery is located on the west side of the Russian River. From Cloverdale, take First Street east. The parking for the cemetery is on the left hand side before the river.
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