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San Francisco, California

Buena Vista Park Tombstones

Gold Rush-era tombstones line the park's paths. 

If you look very closely as you explore the winding, tree-lined paths of Buena Vista Park, overlooking Haight Street, you’ll find some of the city’s earliest tombstones, in this, the city’s earliest park.

Following the mass relocation of the city’s cemeteries to Colma in the first half of the 20th century, the city was left not only with acres of new, buildable property, but also with a surplus of old tombstones. Only the tombstones and mausoleums of the city’s rich, famous, and those with living family who paid to have markers moved were relocated. The rest of were sent to the rubble pile, eventually becoming building material in the growing city.

In addition to making their way to new homes in Colma’s vast necropolis, the huge numbers of unclaimed tombstones ended up being used in breakwaters in the Marina District, as path liners at Buena Vista Park, and at Aquatic Park, where the distinctive stones can still be made out at low tide.

More recently, a cache of old stones were used to build the wonderful Wave Organ near the St. Francis Yacht Club.

Today, only three cemeteries remain in the city of San Francisco, at Mission Dolores, the Presidio, and the lovely Richmond District Columbarium.