Alta Live: Cemeteries Beneath San Francisco

Writer Beth Winegarner and historian Woody LaBounty join Alta Live for an engrossing discussion about San Francisco’s curious history of city cemeteries.

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Beth Winegarner wrote for Alta Journal about San Francisco’s former City Cemetery, still home to thousands of human remains and located beneath what’s now the grounds of the Legion of Honor museum and Lincoln Park Golf Course. The writer told Alta Live that her research often led her to learn that a cemetery once stood in an unexpected part of San Francisco. “Maybe it closed and then moved, or maybe there are bodies still there,” she said. “And then 20 years later, there would be an article like, ‘People are digging to build something new and bodies were found, and they didn’t even realize there had been a cemetery there before.’ And that just happened over and over and over again.”

But the Legion of Honor and Lincoln Park Golf Course locations are notable because unlike in most areas of the city, many of the bodies there have not been moved to graves in the nearby town of Colma. “I often think of these treasures of art and paintings and sculpture and that they rest on the bones of these poor men and women who are still under there,” historian Woody LaBounty said, referring to the museum perched atop numerous graves. Many of those final resting places are occupied by indigent and immigrant workers, people who quite literally helped build San Francisco. The question of how to honor and respect their bodies is a complicated one, especially in a city suffering from a housing crisis. “It’s not hard to see in San Francisco how the needs of the living are always deemed to be more important,” LaBounty said of the dead in City Cemetery. “Is it better that they’re still there, and they’re ignored, and a golf course went over them? Or that they were pulled out of the ground and put in these large graves in Colma? Might be a tie.”

Check out these links to some of the topics Winegarner, LaBounty, and Spotswood brought up this week.

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