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California's city of Colma has more dead than living residents

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California's city of Colma has more dead than living residents

Paula Gaston

Colma is probably not on anyone's bucket list to travel, but many have driven by without even knowing about it. This week we drove down to San Francisco and like always, saw a massive amount of graves next to the freeway. "Are they all graves?" asked our guests. The question we have heard so many times before. So this time, we decided to make a little loop on our route, and visit "The City of Souls."

 

In 1900 the neighbor city of Colma, San Francisco, decided that the land within its city borders was getting too valuable, and they could not establish any new cemeteries. Later, they even decided to move all the existing graves outside the city. The huge grave relocation effort started in 1912. Over 150.000 graves were moved to Colma, and the city of Colma was established in 1924. Today, there are over 1.5 million "souls" and only about 1,700 living residents in Colma. The motto of the town used to be: "It's great to be alive in Colma."

Colma

There are 16 cemeteries in Colma. The biggest of them are the Cypress Lawn and the Holy Cross Cemetery. Also Italians, Japanese, Jews and Greeks have their own cemeteries here, and let's not forget the pet cemetery either. For a long time, just grave diggers and funeral service providers called Colma "home", but recent years quite a few big car dealers have moved in as well. Driving on the quiet main street we saw a small City Hall and a police station, and multiple grave stone shops. 

Funeral homes in Colma

Funeral homes in Colma

Colma is the final resting place for many mayors, senators and governors, even for some Alcatraz inmates. The most famous people buried here are probably the man behind the denim jeans, Levi Strauss, and the baseball legend Joe DiMaggio who once was married to Marilyn Monroe. Next to Cypress Lawn is the mausoleum of the Hearst family, the newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearts and his parents. I wrote about him when we visited the Hearst Castle earlier this year. I have heard that the best known burial site at the pets cemetery belongs to a dog of Tina Turner. 

The cemetery seen from the freeway is actually the Golden Gate National Cemetery, which is not part of Colma even though it is located right next door. This cemetery has over 140,000 graves which mostly belong to war veterans. Golden Gate Cemetery has been registered into the National Register of Historic Places

And now we know the history behind "The City of Souls."