Colma, CA, has an interesting distinction - it is a cemetery city made for dead San Franciscans. This city of the dead emerged when the land that had previously been reserved for burials became increasingly valuable in the Golden Gate City, and as a result further burials there were banned.
This silent city has 1,000 times more dead inhabitants than living, and hundreds of thousands of corpses were even moved to the city after being evicted from their San Francisco resting places. Cemeteries in Colma are now home to some of the most famous names in American history as well as tens of thousands of people who have been lost in its mass graves.
This city owes its existence to the timeless problem faced by San Francisco: the need for space. Even long-time living residents of the city are being slowly driven out of their homes by dead interlopers looking to displace them. Yet, Colma remains the highly sought-after destination for San Francisco's most well-regarded corpses.
Moving The Bodies To Colma Was A Challenge
In order to transport the bodies efficiently, the city decided that they should be moved to Colma the same day that they were exhumed. Some of the dead were even moved in the same caskets they were buried in, but if the caskets hadn't weathered the elements very well then the remains would be put into boxes. Catholic priests were present at every exhumation at Calvary Cemetery, but 55,000 Catholic bodies ended up in a mass grave site in Colma. While San Francisco paid for the bodies to be moved, tombstones were left behind if no loved ones came forward to pay the cost of moving them.
Many Gravestones Were Left Behind In San Francisco
In 1900, every body was removed from San Francisco and cemeteries were banned, but that doesn't mean that their grave markers always went with them. Unless loved ones paid the city to bring along the gravestones, people would instead be reinterred in mass graves. Some abandoned gravestones were reused to create gutters in the city or to reinforce sea barriers to keep the San Francisco Bay at bay.
Some Bodies Were Accidentally Left Behind And Discovered During Construction Projects
Over 155,000 bodies ended up being moved from San Francisco to Colma, but some of them didn't make the trip. Construction crews can't manage to dig a hole on the University of San Francisco's campus without stumbling upon human remains. Perhaps more unsettling were the discoveries made at the Legion of Honor when crews laid plumbing pipes and disturbed grave sites in the 1920s. Workers sometimes even threw bones into the ocean when they were in the path of their work.
Famous Neuroscience Patient Phineas Gage Is Buried There
In 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage was packing some black powder into a hole with a metal rod. Suddenly, the reactive powder blew up, sending the metal rod through the left side of Gage's face and out of the back of his head, miraculously not killing him. Gage quickly gained notoriety after doctors learned that his personality had changed as a result of his injury. He became the first patient to lead neurologists to identify the connection between brain injuries and changes in behavior and personality traits. Gage later died in 1860 due to seizures and was buried in one of Colma's cemeteries.