Obscura Society SF: Expedition to Mare Island - Atlas Obscura

Vallejo, California

Obscura Society SF: Expedition to Mare Island

Join us for and exploration of Mare Island Historic Park and the oldest naval cemetery on the west coast

Join us in Vallejo for a private tour of the first shipyard west of the Mississippi, a 1901 chapel with Tiffany windows, the Admiral’s Mansion, and a wonderful old graveyard.

In 1854, Mare Island became the first naval base on the West Coast, overseen by Commander (soon to be Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut. The shipyard churned out its first warship five years later. During World War II, Mare Island built 17 submarines, 31 destroyer escorts, and over 300 landing craft. It was decommissioned and abandoned in the 1990s. Its building range from lovingly restored to ruins.

 Although the cemetery doesn’t boast any big names, it does contain some interesting stories:

Anna Arnold Key Turner — daughter of Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner — is buried with her husband David, a civil engineer who accompanied Admiral Farragut to Mare Island.

Lucy Lawson was convicted of paying a man $50 to murder her husband in 1875. After being pardoned, she took a job as a nanny for a military diplomat’s family and came with them to Mare Island.

Near the middle of the cemetery lie six Russian sailors who died during the Civil War era, fighting a fire that broke out in San Francisco’s Financial District. Their monuments caused an international incident.

Guiding our exploration will be an historian from the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation and an expert on the burials in the Naval Cemetery.


  • Saturday, April 19, 10am-1pm
  • Meet at the Mare Island Artifact Museum: 1100 Railroad Ave, Vallejo, CA 94592
  • Tour starts promptly at 10 a.m. Please allow time for parking.
  • Bring water.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking and dress in layers suitable for the potentially warm weather. 

Directions to meeting place: 

Take 80 East to Vallejo
Exit at Tennessee Street
Take Tennessee Street overpass west
2 miles on Tennessee Street takes you to Mare Island
Take the 2nd left at Railroad Avenue
Go 9/10 of a mile to reach the Museum 

Space is limited. Advance tickets suggested. Walk-up tickets may not be available.