Thursday, June 11, 2009

Colma~ City of the Dead

As mentioned in a previous Blog, Colma was one of our planned destinations on our road trip to the San Francisco area. Colma is unique in that it was founded in 1924 as a necropolis. It is one of the few cities where the dead residents outnumber the living. There are people that actually live there. They even have a Kohls and a Best Buy for heaven's sake. Also several car dealerships with more being built. There are some 17 cemeteries there, and one for pets too! So of course it was a must to visit.

We actually went twice as there is just so much to see. My favorite cemetery was Holy Cross. It was actually established in 1887 on the land of a former potato farm. In Holy Cross cemetery one of the most unique things is that the place seems to be laid out in sections according to monument size and type. There was the children's area for example, nothing more than 4 feet high on the monuments- small crosses, lambs, doves- so sweet. There were those grand 8 foot and taller pillars, obelisks, crosses and Angels. It is very easy to spend hours in this cemetery alone.

At the top of the hill in the Greek Cemetery I was able to get a photo of the view looking north across the main drag through town and out to the cemeteries on the other side. Keep in mind that behind me was another huge cemetery and more to the right and left of that. The row of houses you see in the distance are houses of the dead! This place is a gem for those of us who adore cemeteries.

This is the Chinese cemetery. Most every stone is either red or black granite and look very similar and neat.

I will definitely visit Colma again as I was not able to see it all on this trip. Jeff and I took loads of photos here of course, we hope you enjoy these.

Here is a little history on the city of Colma.

Colma is a small incorporated town in San Mateo County, California, at the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area. The population was 1,191 at the 2000 census. The town was founded as a necropolis in 1924.
With much of Colma's land dedicated to cemeteries (17 for the interment of humans and one for pets), the dead population outnumber the living by thousands to one. This has led to it being called, "the city of the silent," and also has given rise to a humorous motto among some residents: "It's great to be alive in Colma."

The community of Colma was formed in the 1800s as a collection of homes and small businesses along El Camino Real and the adjacent railroad line. Several churches, including Holy Angels Catholic Church, were founded in these early years. The community founded its own fire district, which serves the unincorporated area of Colma north of the town limits as well as the area that became a town in 1924.
Colma became the location of a large number of cemeteries when San Francisco, the town's powerful neighbor to the north, passed an ordinance in 1900 outlawing the construction of any more cemeteries in the city (mainly because of increased property values making the cost of using land for cemeteries prohibitive), and then passed another ordinance in 1912 evicting all existing cemeteries from city limits. (A similar scenario prevails in New York City's borough of Manhattan, where only one active cemetery still exists). The relocation of cemeteries from San Francisco to Colma is the subject of A Second Final Rest: The History of San Francisco's Lost Cemeteries, (2005) a documentary by Trina Lopez.

The Town of Lawndale was incorporated in 1924 primarily at the behest of the cemetery owners with the cooperation of the handful of residents who lived closest to the cemeteries. The residential and business area immediately to the north continued to be known as Colma. Because another city in California with the name Lawndale (in Los Angeles County) already existed, the post office retained the Colma designation, and so the town changed its name back to Colma in 1941.
Originally, the residents of the town were primarily employed in occupations related to the many cemeteries in the town. Since the 1980s, Colma has become more diversified, with a variety of retail businesses and automobile dealerships, which have brought more sales tax revenue to the town government.


Leila Marvel said...

Lovely informative imagery, I would love to travel there some day. It must be strange living in a place where the dead out number the living, though I find cemeteries very calming. I liked seeing the different the different styles of gravestones too.

Thank you for sharing, I look forward to more stories from your travels.

MoJo said...

What an absolutely fascinating community of living and spirits! LOVE all of it ...... the fine cemetery angel, the history you gave; the cemetery segregated by size!

More information on homes of the dead, please!

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