San Farncisco cemetery headstone
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These gravestones were found in the backyard of a Presidio Heights home on Clay Street that was getting a new deck built. They were used as stepping stones in the garden and were placed with the lettering facing down in the dirt. As you can see the gravestones have been broken so the names of the deceased are hidden.

The Laurel Hill Cemetery was located near by on the other side of California Street. It is probable that the gravestones were stolen from the derilict cemetery and modified for a new purpose.

What follows is an article written about the vandalism and the lack of care some of the cemeteries suffered with until their final demise.

Article Excerpt About the Vandalism at San Francisco Cemeteries

Most San Francisco Cemeteries estalished alternate cemetery properties in Colma (Lawndale). The Archdiocese establshed Holy Cross Cemetery; Greenlawn Cemetery was established by the Odd Fellows group; and the Masonic was succeeded by Woodlawn Cemetery; but the Laurel Hill Association did not establish a new Colma cemetery. A new Colma organization, Cypress Lawn Cemetery, a non-profit association, succeeded to most of the family plots formerly held by Laurel Hill.

...Thus the Richmond District cemeteries continued to deteriorate, which encouraged further vandalism, grave-robbing, malicious mischief and delinquency.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle sumarizing the "cemeteries problem" at the time Calvary Cemetery was being moved from San Francisco, stated (Tuesday, June 20, 1939):

"Here, during the cemetery's (Calvary) abandoned years -- the last burials were made in the early 1900's -- ghouls held vandalish orgies, on moonless, foggy nights, shadowy forms have slunk into vaults. Clanking sounds, the muffled crash of a sledge-hammer, have echoed forth as vandals looted the vaults of bronze flower urns, of silver coffin handles.

Tramps piled up their pots and pans, set up their cooking utensils for a macabre type of housekeeping. Some even say these dank vaults were hide-outs for bootleggers, during the prohibition years a police guard was posted several years ago, after ghouls, apparently with a knowledge of early San Francisco history, had desecrated the musty vaults of the Donahues. One was the same Peter Donahue who rose from blacksmith "-- he wore a leather apron and banged away on his anvil under a buckeye tree at Market and Montgomery Streets -- to be the founder of the Union Iron Works and the Northwestern Pacific Railway . . . ."

Other ghouls have wreaked havoc. Bronze and iron grilled doors of other ornate marble and granite above-ground vaults have been pried open. Inslde all is shambles. Flower urns have been ripped from wall braces, coffins hacked open, bones strewn about . . . ."

An official of Cypress Lawn Cemetery, who had participated in the Laurel Hill Cemetery removal project, in an informal interview with the writer stated that the cemeteries were well known as lovers' lanes. In the Richmond District, high school groups sometimes held "bonfire rallies" in the old cemeteries prior to athleic contests, using fence-stakes from grave borders for fuel, and fraternity initiations sometimes were held in the cemeteries. Richmond residents were afraid of the cemeteries as places where possible rapists, child-molesters, and other unsavory characters could hide out.

The lack of care caused natural deterioration. As stated in the aforementioned San Francisco Newspaper article:

"In the years that followed, time, weather and vandals assumed control, weeds choked the gravel paths, over-ran the graves. Tombstones fell. Ornaments, such as brooding angels became bedraggled -- wings, arms, and legs missing."

San Francisco Cemeteries Page Articles Maps