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San Francisco, California

United States Marine Hospital Cemetery

This sailor's boneyard was lost under a parking lot for decades before being rediscovered. 

Despite holding the bodies of hundreds of sailors, the United States Marine Hospital Cemetery was lost for decades, a victim of the hospital’s own growth.

The Marine Hospital of San Francisco was established in 1875 to provide medical support for the coastal port. Then in 1881, due to a San Francisco law forbidding burial in the city limits, the hospital (which was located on the military Presidio, fell outside of this statute) built a small cemetery for sailors and seamen who were too poor to afford their own burial and had no family to be shipped back to. By the 1930’s, the graveyard’s wooden, white-washed crosses had begun to disappear or fall over and the cemetery was forgotten and used as a dump by locals. In 1969 the Veteran’s Administration finally covered the site with a parking lot. The graves went unnoticed for two decades until the military finally began the sale of the Presidio in 1989. 

After the cemetery was rediscovered, archaeologists found that around 600 bodies had been buried on the site and subsequently covered by over 10 feet of trash and paving. Even after the graveyard was discovered, it took until 2011 for the National Park Service (who now attend to the Presidio grounds) to install a memorial plaque. The granite plaque is laid into the ground at the end of terminus of a trail in a small wooden enclosure called the “Military Cemetery Vista.”