Tag Archives: Hills of Eternity

This Weekend’s Bay Area Cemetery Tours

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
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, 10 am – noon
Old St. Mary Cemetery
Gilroy, California
The next Historical Walking Tour features Old St. Mary Cemetery, the museum’s most popular tour. Among the graves are those of John Gilroy, Father Hudson, Jose Maria Amador, and Catherine O’Toole Murphy Dunne. Meet in front of the Serra Cottage, 7950 Church St. Reservations are appreciated by calling (408) 846-0446.

Saturday, November 1, 1:30 pm
Cypress Lawn Memorial Park
1370 El Camino Real
Colma, California 94014-3239
Phone: (650) 550-8810
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
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
Crocker Road
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.

Cemetery of the Week #116: Wyatt Earp’s gravesite

View of Hills of Eternity

View of Hills of Eternity

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.

Rhoads_Savely_EternityNear 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

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

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.

Useful links:

The Hills of Eternity homepage

My review of Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

My review of Images of America: Colma

Other Colma cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park

Woodlawn Memorial Park

Colma, Before the Graveyards

Colma, CA (Images of America)Colma, CA by Michael Smookler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing that keeps this book from getting 5 stars is that it isn’t longer. I have several books on the cemeteries of Colma, California, so it’s nice to have one about the city’s history prior to its 17 graveyards. Smookler does a good job of giving a sense of what life was like there, before the living were replaced by the dead.

For those who don’t know, Colma, California was a sleepy little farming town south of San Francisco.  When the big city real estate interests decided they wanted to develop the land in the peninsular city that had been devoted to graveyards, they passed a series of laws outlawing burial in the city, which slowly strangled the cemeteries of their income.  Eventually, all the bodies were removed from San Francisco and the grave monuments were smashed up to provide breakwaters at Ocean Beach, the Marina, the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and other construction projects around town.

As if that isn’t morbid enough, Colma absorbed all the pioneers who were unearthed.  Now the dead outnumber the living in Colma more than 100,000 to 1.

Smookler’s book illustrates the farming village before and after the change.  Irish immigrants grew potatoes, Itallians grew flowers, there were blacksmiths and horse ranchers and pig farmers.  Then the Archbishop of San Francisco, seeing the writing on the wall, purchased a large tract of land for a cemetery. The Catholics were followed by the owners of Laurel Hill Cemetery, several Jewish congregations, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and ethnic groups from the Chinese, the Japanese, the Serbians, and the Italians, all of whom purchased land so they could remain together after death.

Colma remains a fascinating place to this day.  Smookler’s book reveals the town beyond the graveyard walls, shaped by local employment opportunities and the proximity of its quiet residents.  I found the book entirely fascinating.

You can order your own copy from Amazon: Colma (Images of America) (Arcadia Publishing))

Other books I’ve reviewed that relate to Colma:

City of Souls: San Francisco’s Necropolis at Colma

Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past

Permanent Californians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of California

Cypress Lawn: Guardian of California’s Heritage

Pillars of the Past: At Rest at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park