Tag Archives: San Francisco National Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #91: San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery
1 Lincoln Boulevard, Presidio of San Francisco
San Francisco, California 94129
Telephone: (650) 589-7737 or 1646
Founded: 1846
First known burial: 1854
Size: 28.34 acres
Number of interments: 30,000
Open: Daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Of the two official graveyards remaining in San Francisco, one is a military cemetery with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The cemetery, part of the 1480-acre Presidio, provides a link to the earliest European history of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1776, the Spanish founded a garrison here to guard the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

In 1922, 38 skeletons—believed to be the remains of Spanish conquistadors—were discovered in an isolated area of the Presidio. The U.S. Army transferred them to a mass grave inside its post cemetery.

In fact, the American history of the Presidio began in1846—four years before California became a state—when the U.S. Army took it over from Mexico. The Presidio became a Union outpost to prevent Confederate seizure of the gold fields during the Civil War. In the 1870s, the Presidio served as a staging center for the Indian Wars. Later, the Sixth Army used it as their headquarters as they fought World War II in the Pacific.

Looking toward the San Francisco Bay

Looking toward the San Francisco Bay at the Visitor Center

The original American post cemetery covered nine and a half acres. In 1851, the hillside on which the graveyard stood was all sand dune and scrub. Prior to the discovery of marble in the Sierras, graves were only marked with wood. Galen Dillman of the National Parks Conservancy told me, “The wind would come up in a storm and send headboards flying all over the place.” Consequently, most bodies lost their identification. Dillman said, “The Army re-interred those that they’d lost track of, plus the original Indian, Spanish, and Mexican burial grounds, in front of the visitor center.” Now a monument to the unknowns labels the mass grave, saluting the valiant dead of past conflicts.

In 1866, Congress established six all-Black regiments to patrol the remote western frontier and fight in the Indian Wars. Although the pay was only $13 a month, many African Americans enlisted because the Army “offered more dignity than typically could be attained in civilian life,” according to the Park Service brochure. Legend has it that these soldiers became known as Buffalo Soldiers because Native Americans thought their curly dark hair resembled a buffalo’s coat. 450 men from the all-Black units are buried inthe San Francisco National Cemetery. Some graves are proudly labeled “Buffalo Soldier.”

In 1884, by order of Lieutenant General Sheridan, the Presidio’s post cemetery became the first national cemetery on the West Coast. The graveyard expanded as needed until it now covers almost thirty acres.

After its rise in status, a lot of the burials at the San Francisco National Cemetery came from re-interments. As the U.S. Army closed its forts in the west, they refused to leave their dead behind. Also, when San Francisco evicted its public cemeteries early in the 20th century, any military personnel unclaimed by their families were brought to the Presidio.

Despite its status as closed since 1992, burials continue in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Looking past the headstones at Alcatraz Island

Among those buried in the Presidio is Archie Williams. In 1936, Williams ran the 400-meter at the Berlin Olympics, winning the gold medal. Adolf Hitler snubbed Williams and his teammate Jesse Owens, refusing to shake their hands because they were African American.

Upon graduation from the University of California in 1938, Archie Williams had trouble finding work because, Dillman explained, there was so little call for black engineers. Williams became interested in flying and entered the Tuskegee Institute. The quota system of the time guaranteed that if one hundred white pilots graduated from flight school, only ten black pilots could graduate from Tuskegee. Williams made the cut and flew in World War II and Korea.

After his retirement from the Air Force, Williams taught high school mathematics in San Anselmo, not far from San Francisco.

Toward the end of our tour, Dillman pointed out one final trailblazer. The San Francisco National Cemetery is the resting place of Congressman Philip Burton, who wrote legislation to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The 75,500-acre national park stretches from south of the city in the San Francisco Watershed (which includes the lakes resting atop the San Andreas Fault) north across the Golden Gate past Point Reyes Station and along Tomales Bay. The park spans redwood forests, beaches, marshes, and grassy hillside meadows. Hawks, deer, and seabirds live there, along with an occasional mountain lion, bobcat, and eagle. Whales visit. The park, a haven for city dwellers, has thirteen million visitors a year.

A clause in Burton’s bill said that if the Army ever pulled out of the Presidio, the land would be turned over to the National Park Service. When the bill passed into law in 1972, the Army claimed it would never leave. However, in 1989, budget measures closed the base. Transfer to the Park Service occurred in 1994.

An island in the midst of parkland, the National Cemetery itself does not belong to the Park Service. It continues to be overseen by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Still, if you’re looking to hear a few stories in a peaceful green oasis, I encourage you to check out the National Park Conservancy’s web site. Its calendar will let you know when you can link up with Galen Dillman’s tour. Ask him to tell you about the Buffalo Soldiers, the Union Army’s female spy, and the daring rescue from the submarine. He brings those stories to life.

Dillman’s next tour is scheduled for March 16, 2013 from 10 a.m to noon.

Useful links:
History of the San Francisco National Cemetery

Department of Veteran Affairs page on the SFNC

Tours of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including the National Cemetery

Someone else took Galen Dillman’s tour

Park Service brochure about the Buffalo Soldiers at the Presidio

An earlier post about the San Francisco National Cemetery on Cemetery Travel

GPS information on CemeteryRegistry.us

2012 Northern California Autumn Cemetery Tours & Events

The Graves family monument, Cypress Lawn

Many cemeteries host tours or fundraisers in the autumn to increase awareness and raise funds for the upkeep of these fragile community treasures. I hope this list inspires you to check around your own area to see what’s being offered. If you find anything intriguing, please post the link in the comments below.

Also, if you find misinformation or broken links in my list below, would you let me know? While I’ve done my best to be accurate, I cut and pasted from a number of sources. Something may have gotten garbled in translation.

Here’s the list:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
First Wednesday presents: Preserving San Jose’s Cemeteries, Honoring Our Past
San Jose’s official City Historian, Judge Paul Bernal, will present highlights of his activities with the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County’s In Grave Danger Gang, which locates lost headstones, restores markers, maintains a historic cemetery, and honors those who came before us. Judge Bernal will also discuss the recent rediscovery of a cemetery on the grounds of the county hospital.
Location: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, 550 Schiro Program Room 5th floor, San Jose
Phone: (408) 808-2137
Admission: Free
Event link: http://library.sjsu.edu/events/first-wednesday-presents-preserving-san-jose-s-cemeteries-honoring-our-past

Thursday, September 6, 2012 (repeated September 22 & October 27)
10 a.m. – Noon
National Cemetery Walk
Hear about Medal of Honor recipients, a Union spy, an Indian scout, Buffalo Soldiers, and others buried here at the San Francisco National Cemetery. This one-mile walk has a steep uphill climb. Dress warmly. Rain cancels.
Location: San Francisco National Cemetery, Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco Meet docent Galen Dillman at the cemetery entrance gate, corner of Lincoln Boulevard. and Sheridan Avenue.
Reservations required! Phone: (415) 561-4323.
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.parksconservancy.org/events/park-interp/national-cemetery-walk-3.html

Saturday, September 8, 2012
10 a.m. – Noon. Tour begins promptly at 10 a.m.
Tomb Walk
Please join Professor Michael Svanevik for an all-new walking tour of Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. You will see amazing monuments and grand tombs and hear fascinating tales. Michael Svanevik, a specialist in cemetery lore, is a longtime professor of history at College of San Mateo. Please park inside the cemetery gate and meet in front of the office. Comfortable shoes strongly recommended.
Location: Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma
Reservations required! Phone: (650) 522-7490
Admission: $25 per person, payable to the San Mateo Senior Center.
Event link: http://www.holycrosscemeteries.com/blog/?cat=8

Saturday, September 8, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Exploring Mountain View Cemetery
This docent-led tour by Jane Leroe will highlight the people, architecture, beauty and history of the cemetery.
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Friday, September 14 and Saturday, September 15, 2012
Tours begin every 20 minutes between 7:30 p.m. and 9:50 p.m.
Lamplight Tours of Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Walk at night through Santa Rosa’s oldest cemetery to see and hear all new dramatic portrayals of some of our city’s early settlers. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a flashlight. Tours leave from the McDonald Gate.
Location: Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa
Reservations required! Phone: (707) 543-3292.
Admission: $30 per person.
Event link: http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/departments/recreationandparks/parks/cityparks/cemetery/Pages/events.aspx

Saturday, September 15, 2012
3 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Beyond the Pale Cemetery Tour
Enjoy an evening of dinner, dessert, tours, entertainment, silent auction, historical re-enactments, and a complimentary glass of wine while raising funds for the Plumas Museum.
Location: Quincy Cemetery, Cemetery Hill, Quincy, CA 95971
Reservations required! Phone: (530) 283-6320
Admission: $65 per person.
Event link: http://plumasmuseum.org/events.html

Saturday, September 22, 2012
10 a.m.
Redwood City: Union Cemetery tour
During a docent-led tour, learn how the redwood industry helped the famous people buried in 19th-century Union Cemetery build Redwood City.
Location: Union Cemetery, Woodside Road and El Camino Real, Redwood City.
Phone: (650) 593-1793
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.historysmc.org/walkingtours.html

Saturday, September 22, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Design, Architects, and Architecture
Following the ‘father’ of Landscape Architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted, Mountain View Cemetery began in 1864 an interaction with a wide variety of architects and designers, both quick and deceased, which continues to this day. Come see their work and hear their stories. Docent Stafford Buckley is a garden professional and long-time Mountain View Cemetery docent.
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13, 2012
Tours at 5:30, 6:15, 7, and 7:45 p.m.
10th Annual Barbara Bull Memorial Cemetery Walk
Sebastopol women’s stories come to life with Cemetery Walk. This year’s vignettes feature stories of a woman aviator, our first librarian, a mayor’s daughter from 1906, Sebastopol’s woman city clerk, a woman who witnessed Queen Victoria’s coronation, and a woman journalist. The event includes dinner, cemetery walk with six performances of historical vignettes, and dessert and coffee at the historic Luther Burbank Experiment Farm Cottage adjacent to Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Cemetery.
Location: Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Cemetery
Phone: (707) 823-0884 or (707) 829-1757
Admission: $25 for the 5:30 p.m. tours. $30 for the 6:15 p.m., 7 p.m., and 7:45 p.m. tours.
Event link: http://www.wschsgrf.org/

Saturday, October 13, 2012
1:30
Gargoyles, Foo Dogs and More: Interesting And Unusual Monuments at Cypress Lawn
Join other cemetery enthusiasts and lovers of history, art, and nature in discovering the cultural treasures of our beautiful organic outdoor museum and arboretum. Cypress Lawn has been a part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s cultural heritage since its founding in 1892. It is a 200-acre living museum of magnificent funeral art, architecture, and horticulture unlike any other museum in the world, full of the life stories of the men and women whose visions and dreams have shaped the Golden State of California.
Location: Tours start at the Noble Chapel located on the East Gardens of Cypress Lawn left past Cypress Lawn’s 120 year old Archway. Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma.
Phone: (650) 550-8810
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.cypresslawnheritagefoundation.com/events.html#walking

Saturday, October 13, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Exploring Mountain View Cemetery
This docent-led tour by Ruby Long will highlight the people, architecture, beauty and history of the cemetery.
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Saturday, October 13, 2012
10 a.m.
Children’s Tour of Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery
Docent-led tour.
Location: Old City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
Phone: (916) 448-0811
Admission: free
Event link: http://www.oldcitycemetery.com/calendar.htm

Friday, October 19, and Saturday, October 20, 2012
Four tours per night after dark
Lantern Tours of Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery
Costumed actors speak for those in the graves at your feet.
Location: Old City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
Phone: (800) 839-3006
Admission: $30 + handling fee
Event link: http://www.oldcitycemetery.com/Flyers/Lantern%20Tour_2012_SEPT.pdf

Sunday, October 21, 2012
2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Douglas Keister presents Stories in Stone: New York
Location: Cypress Lawn’s Reception Center, 2nd Floor of the Administration Building, 1370 El Camino Real, Colma, California
Phone: (650) 550-8811
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.cypresslawnheritagefoundation.com/events.html#walking

Friday, October 26, and Saturday, October 27, 2012
Four tours per night after dark
Lantern Tours of Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery
Costumed actors speak for those in the graves at your feet.
Location: Old City Cemetery, 1000 Broadway, Sacramento
Phone: (800) 839-3006
Admission: $30 + handling fee
Event link: http://www.oldcitycemetery.com/Flyers/Lantern%20Tour_2012_SEPT.pdf

Saturday, October 27, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
UC Berkeley’s Blue and Gold
Docent-led tour by Ron Bachman and Jane Leroe. Come explore the history of UC Berkeley at Mountain View Cemetery. Meet famous founders, faculty, and alums. Go Bears!
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Saturday, October 27, 2012
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Spooky Tales at Evergreen Cemetery
Get ready for Halloween with this spook-tacular journey through the cemetery. Docents will tell ghost stories from those buried at Evergreen (Don’t worry, it’s nothing too scary), teach you how to make a tombstone rubbing, send you on a spooky tour through the cemetery and much more. Be sure to wear your costume!
Location: Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95060
Phone: (831) 429-1964 x 7020
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.santacruzmah.org/event/spooky-tales-at-evergreen-cemetery/

Saturday, October 27, 2012
Noon – 3 p.m.
7th Annual Pumpkin Festival
Celebrate Halloween at our fun-filled pumpkin patch meadow with free pumpkins, activities, and treats for the kids!
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Saturday, October 27, 2012
1:30 p.m.
The Only in October Tomb Walk with Michael Svanevik
Join other cemetery enthusiasts and lovers of history, art, and nature in discovering the cultural treasures of our beautiful organic outdoor museum and arboretum. Cypress Lawn has been a part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s cultural heritage since its founding in 1892. It is a 200-acre living museum of magnificent funeral art, architecture and horticulture unlike any other museum in the world: a place full of the life stories of the men and women whose visions and dreams have shaped the Golden State of California.
Location: Tours start at the Noble Chapel located on the East Gardens of Cypress Lawn left past Cypress Lawn’s 120 year old Archway. Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma.
Phone: (650) 550-8810
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.cypresslawnheritagefoundation.com/events.html#walking

Sunday, October 28, 2012
Noon
Halloween Tour of Colma’s Cemeteries
We meet at the Colma BART station at noon, then take a spirited bike tour of several massive cemeteries where famous San Franciscans are buried. We’ll visit Woodlawn, Home of Peace and Hills of Eternity, Cypress Lawn, and Holy Cross.
Location: meet at the COLMA BART STATION at 12 noon
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.chriscarlsson.com/events/event/halloween-tour-of-colmas-cemeteries/

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
5 p.m.
Halloween Walking Tour of the Redding Cemetery
Cemeteries are “history books” that give insight regarding important changes that have occurred in the local area and in society as a whole. The Redding Cemetery is the oldest remaining cemetery in Redding and is the last resting place for many important, famous, and notorious people who lived in or traveled through the area. The walks focuses on the history of cemeteries in the U.S.; symbolism found in cemetery traditions and headstones; and the inter-relationship between people buried here. Actually, history at the cemeteries’ site goes back before there was a town of Redding.
Location: Meet at the Corner of Eureka Way and Continental Street.
Admission: Free
Event link: http://shastahistorical.org/events/

Saturday, November 3, 2012
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Walking Tour of Old St. Mary Cemetery
Join the Historical Society for a walking tour.
Location: Meet at St. Joseph Family Center, 7950 Church Street, Gilroy.
Phone: (408) 846-0446 to RSVP.
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.cityofgilroy.org/cityofgilroy/community/community_calendar/calendar_details.aspx?date=11/3/2012&type=0&typeindex=0

Saturday, November 10, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Exploring Mountain View Cemetery
This docent-led tour by Stafford Buckley will highlight the people, architecture, beauty and history of the cemetery.
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Saturday, November 24, 2012
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Symbolism in the Cemetery
This docent-led tour by Sandy Rauch will highlight the architecture and symbolism of the cemetery.
Location: Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
Phone: (510) 658-2588
Admission: Free
Event link: http://www.mountainviewcemetery.org/calendar.html

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lines

Today is the 105th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s a good day to celebrate the beauty of the city that I love.

San Francisco National Cemetery

This was taken last November in the San Francisco National Cemetery. I’d been sick for weeks, but on Veterans Day, I finally felt well enough to take a walk in the sunshine. San Francisco obliged with a beautiful fall day.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever hiked to the top of the graveyard before, but as I strolled back down toward the bay, I was struck by the martial precision of the lines of headstones climbing over the curves of the hills. San Francisco National Cemetery is an unusual military cemetery in that it contains a number of normal tombstones amongst the standard government-issue markers. On this side of the cemetery, however, identical stones march in parallel ranks, a visual monument recalling the soldiers buried below.

Cemetery lecture this weekend

San Francisco National Cemetery

Local historian Michael Svanevik will talk about the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio (now a National Park) on Sunday, March 20 at 2 pm. The lecture is called “Burial on a Federal Reservation: San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.”

 

The free lecture is part of Cypress Lawn Memorial Park’s monthly educational series. Light refreshments will be served.

Cypress Lawn’s Reception Center
2nd Floor, Administration Building
1370 El Camino Real, Colma, California

The whole 2011 series of lectures is online here.

See you there!