At great expense to himself, my great-grandfather, William Suttmeister, moved the bodies of his wife and kindred from the Laurel Hill cemetery in San Francisco to a tomb in Colma where I brought my daughter and grandson so they can own their heritage. These bodies were evicted from their graves. Many tombstones were used to make a sea wall.
My daughter came into my life for the first time when she was sixteen. When she bonded with Bill Cornwell, she forsake her father, she choosing to believe I was a “parasite” because Mr. Cornwell wanted to believe I was a “parasite” so he could take my grandson from me. Mr. Cornwell was jealous of my ancestry, and at forty had failed to sire children. Cornwell did not want my daughter to serve as my Trustee and bid her to ignore my calls. Cornwell refused to respond to his cripple mother’s calls, she confined to a wheelchair. Mr. Cornwell is a Tea Party crazy who claim they are protecting America’s patriotic Heritage from “parasites”
It is my plan to take some of the cremated ashes of Hollis Lee Williams to the family crypt in Colma. As my adopted son, via the Elks Society, I am in keeping with the traditions and good work of the Odd Fellows, and thus, Family Traditions.
The trouble I have had in burying and honoring my dear friend and adopted son appear to be leading me to found an Odd Fellows-like organization that would make sure homeless veterans will leave this earth with dignity and respect, and will no longer be orphans.
Below is an e-mail I sent to the Mayor of Eugene on March 15th. The same message was faxed to Congressman Peter DeFazio. I had a vision of Hollis’ hand coming down from a cloud and pulling up the next homeless veteran – to heavan! In turn, that nameless unfamilied veteran pulls up the next veteran. A Hand from a Band of Brothers.
Burying the dead was taken very seriously by early Odd Fellows, and most lodges purchased land and established cemeteries as one of their first activities in a new town or city. In many areas all phases of burial (sometimes including services now provided by undertakers) were provided by Odd Fellows in the earlier days. Cemeteries were often open to the public, and plots were sold for a few dollars each. Many California lodges still own and operate cemeteries, and in some instances the major cemetery in the community is the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
Hollis Williams Memorial
From John Ambrose
Dear Kitty Piercy
My dear friend Hollis passed away on March 8th. He was a homeless Veteran for many years and had been placed in an apartment two months ago by HUD-VASH. He also received funds from The Vet-Vincent De Paul program. Because Hollis has no next of kin, I adopted him through the Elks Society, and am paying for his cremation with monies from a Special Needs Trust. I am on SSI. Mr. Williams is now my son. I did not want him to be treated like a unfamilied pauper – after he is dead!
The people at HUD-VASH have been very helpful, however, they have no funding in order to make sure Veterans like Hollis – have not served in vain! For this reason, I have established the Hollis Williams Memorial Fund at Selco Community Credit Union. At Hollis’ memorial, I will present the idea that if we collect $1,005 dollars, then Hollis himself can pay for the burial cost of the next Homeless Vet who dies unfamilied. This is the passing of a baton amongst a Band of Brothers. Here is a hand from heaven lifting up the next Homeless Veteran who passes on.
I am not a Veteran. I was drafted in 1966, but because of grave emotional problems I was classified 4F.
I have always respected those who served, and have considered them my brothers.
Mememorial will be at Campbell Senior Center at 1:30 the 17th
Visiting the sick was a daring, bold thing to do in 1819, and indeed for in excess of one hundred years more, because of the very real possibility the visitors would contract the illness or disease. Odd Fellows, and Rebekahs after they came into existence in 1851, visited the sick as a matter of course. Odd Fellows and Rebekahs continue to this day to make special efforts to visit the sick.
Relief of the distressed was a major goal of most or all fraternal organizations, then and now. Odd Fellow Lodges normally provided monetary sick benefits to its members who were ill or injured and unable to work. A few California lodges still provide monetary sick and/or death benefits for members. Assistance to those in need, whether in the form of donations to charities, or donations of money or goods and services to members or others in the community is commonly provided today by all lodges.
In addition, lodges commonly provided all kinds of assistance to members who were in need, such as a box of groceries, a cord of wood, or a member or visiting nurse to care for a seriously ill member at home. With the modern day social welfare programs operated by government agencies, these services by the Order are no longer as vital as they once were, but Odd Fellows and Rebekahs still provide friendship that members require for a wholesome and full life.
Odd Fellow Lodges continue to conduct funeral and memorial services for members when requested prior to their death or by their families. This may be the only service, or may be in conjunction with a church service or with other organizations.
Educating the orphan was also taken seriously, and orphans of Odd Fellows, and Rebekahs too, could expect to receive at least a high school education through the lodge. In California the Rebekahs were in the forefront of caring for the orphans, and in the late 1800’s they were granted authority to establish the Odd Fellow-Rebekah Children’s Home in Gilroy. They likewise were in the forefront of providing funds to insure an education for orphans and needy children of members.
Have cemetery removals similar to the ones in San Francisco happened in other cities?
Cemetery removals have happened all over the world, but are usually spawned by individual circumstance, rather than by laws systematically passed that ban cemeteries from an entire jurisdiction. The city of Paris relocated the bones of approximately six million dead to the Catacombs during the 1700s and 1800s. One major distinction is that Parisians did not vote on whether or not to preserve the cemeteries, while San Francisco citizens voted on the issue four times, albeit only after the city had already banned burial and cremation within city and county limits (San Francisco’s city and county borders are the same). Also, most remains from San Francisco cemeteries were kept intact if conditions allowed, rather than just preservation of bones.
What were the “Big Four” cemeteries?
The “Big Four” cemeteries were Odd Fellows’, Masonic, Laurel Hill, and Calvary. They were located in the Inner Richmond area of San Francisco, and surrounded Lone Mountain, with Odd Fellows’ to the west, Masonic to the south, Laurel Hill to the north, and Calvary to the east. These are the cemeteries on which A Second Final Rest concentrates. While many other cemeteries came and went before the “Big Four” were removed, the “Big Four” were the ones most directly affected by legal battles and referenda that finally banished almost all cemeteries from San Francisco. They were removed from San Francisco between the early 1930s and 1947. All bodies were exhumed and relocated by 1941, but lack of manpower due to World War II prevented the complete removal of monuments from Laurel Hill until 1947.
What happened to the bodies once they were removed from the cemeteries?
The vast majority of bodies were moved to mass gravesites in Colma, a small town known as “The City of Souls”, just a few miles south of San Francisco. Colma has the peculiar distinction of being home to approximately 2,000 living and 2 million deceased individuals. Colma has seventeen cemeteries, including a pet cemetery.
Did either the City of San Francisco or the cemeteries pay for relocation of bodies if families did not want their deceased loved ones put in a mass grave?
No. Anyone wanting to have decedents privately reburied had to pay for it themselves. The “Big Four” cemeteries have mass grave sites in Colma cemeteries: Laurel Hill’s site, called Laurel Hill Mound, is in Cypress Lawn Cemetery; Calvary’s is in Holy Cross Cemetery; Odd Fellows’ is in Greenlawn Cemetery, and Masonic’s is in Woodlawn Cemetery. There is also a small mass gravesite with approximately 100 bodies in the Japanese Cemetery.
Were bodies in the cemeteries removed in an orderly and respectful fashion?
Presumably, the bodies removed from Odd Fellows’ and Masonic cemeteries were exhumed in an orderly manner, but because these two cemeteries were removed in the 1930s, several years before bodies were removed from the larger and more prestigious Laurel Hill and Calvary cemeteries, the regulations governing their disassembly were not as comprehensive as they were for the latter two, and almost no details of their removal conditions exist. Laurel Hill and Calvary cemeteries made great efforts to locate survivors and/or plot owners before disinterment, and Cypress Lawn and Holy Cross maintain fairly detailed records for those reburied in their mass gravesites.
The Board of Trustees of the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association signed a contract with the Cypress Lawn Cemetery Association and the Cypress Abbey Company for removal of bodies to Cypress Lawn Cemetery. Approximately 35,000 bodies were removed over a sixteen-month period, with sites being disinterred blocked from public view by six-foot tall windscreens. Remains were placed in reinterment boxes of various sizes, depending on the condition of the remains. Each box had a metal identification tag affixed to it. All bodies disinterred one day were transported to Cypress Lawn and reinterred in Cypress Abbey Company’s mausoleum the same day. Laurel Hill Cemetery Association originally planned to reinter the remains in a new mausoleum, but because of the start of World War II in 1941, construction was delayed for six years. After the war, construction prices had risen enough that proceeds from the sale of Laurel Hill Cemetery land were no longer sufficient for mausoleum construction. Eventually, the Association settled on the burial mound plan that included an elaborate monument.
The Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco oversaw the removal of Calvary Cemetery remains to Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. A priest was in attendance at all phases of body removal and transport, and an inspector from the Department of Public Health was on hand for disinterment. Relatives could watch the disinterment if they wished. As with Laurel Hill removals, screens were erected, remains placed in boxes according to condition, and bodies disinterred on one day transported to Holy Cross and reinterred the same day.
(Information from Location, Regulation, and Removal of Cemeteries in the City and County of San Francisco by William A. Proctor, Department of City Planning, City and County of San Francisco, August 1950.)
Did either the City of San Francisco or the cemeteries pay for the relocation of tombstones?
No. Anyone wanting to preserve the tombstone of a loved one had to pay for the relocation of it. The San Francisco City and County cemetery removal ordinance of 1937 (after which time Laurel Hill and Calvary cemeteries were removed) mandated that grave markers and monuments could remain on cemetery property for ninety days after bodies were removed. Those not claimed were turned over to the City and County Department of Public Works, which used them for a variety of purposes, including sea wall construction at Aquatic Park, creation of a breakwater/municipal yacht harbor in the Marina District, lining for rain gutters in Buena Vista Park, and erosion prevention material at Ocean Beach. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article dated May 17, 1946, an organization called the Laurel Hill-Anza Vista Development Company hired contractor Charles L. Harney to haul away monuments from Calvary and Laurel Hill Cemetery sites. Harney then accepted the SF Park Commission’s bid of 80 cents a ton to dump the monuments into San Francisco Bay, where they remain.
Were records kept of where bodies were moved to?
Yes, but much of the recordkeeping was left up to the cemeteries themselves. Cemeteries in Colma with mass gravesites containing bodies moved from San Francisco have records. They vary greatly in their thoroughness. San Francisco has been referred to as a “genealogist’s nightmare”, due not only to the loss of information on the city’s deceased that resulted from the various cemetery removals, but also from the destruction of vital records at City Hall in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
Did bodies removed from San Francisco get moved anywhere else aside from Colma, California?
While the majority of bodies from the San Francisco cemeteries were moved to the mass gravesites in Colma, any next of kin could privately reinter decedents wherever they chose. Many were moved to cemeteries in Oakland, California.
Why is Mission Dolores Cemetery still intact?
Mission Dolores is the birthplace of San Francisco. It was built in 1776 and is the oldest building in the city. Because the location is of such historical significance, the cemetery has, at least in part, been preserved. It is not by chance that remains of individuals of historical significance have been preserved in the today’s reduced version of the cemetery, while those of commoners and indigenous people who originally dwelled in the area are not well represented. Many of the indigenous people were likely not buried on the consecrated ground of the mission if they did not convert to Christianity, but on the perimeter of it. See Ron Filion’s page on Mission Dolores for some intriguing bits on the cemetery’s history.
Why are the Presidio military cemetery (San Francisco National Cemetery) and the Presidio pet cemetery still intact?
The two cemeteries were located on federal land, and not subject to local laws. The Presidio was decommissioned as a military area, and has been part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area since 1994. The San Francisco National Cemetery is managed by the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The nonprofit organization Swords to Plowshares is the official caretaker of the pet cemetery.
Why is the Columbarium still allowed to take cremated remains?
Once part of the Odd Fellows’ Cemetery, The San Francisco Columbarium was, for unknown reasons, neither dismantled nor maintained after the bodies were removed from the surrounding cemetery in the 1930s. Over time, the Columbarium passed through various hands and fell into disrepair until the early 1980s, when it was purchased by the Neptune Society. It has been meticulously restored since this time. While there are laws banning burial of bodies and cremation within city limits, there is no specific ban on the housing of cremated remains. The Columbarium provides the main, if not only, secular location where one’s remains can be housed in San Francisco legally and for public visitation.
What happened to the cemetery that was at the present-day site of Dolores Park?
The present-day location of Dolores Park was once the site of both Nevai Shalome (Home of Peace, Peaceful Abode) and Giboth Olam (Hills of Eternity) cemeteries. The cemeteries were owned by Congregation Emanu-El and Congregation Sherith Israel, respectively. Lacking space on which to expand, the congregations bought property in Colma and moved the bodies in the San Francisco cemeteries there by 1900, before San Francisco banned burials and cremations. Today, there are three Jewish cemeteries in Colma — Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum, Hills of Eternity Cemetery and Mausoleum, and Salem Memorial Park and Garden Mausoleum.
Was there a cemetery where San Francisco City Hall is today?
Yes. From 1850 to 1871, Yerba Buena Cemetery, the first city-sanctioned cemetery in San Francisco, occupied a triangular swath of land bordered by Market, McAllister and Larkin streets. Today, the new San Francisco Public Library building and the Asian Art Museum (the original San Francisco Public Library building) also occupy this land. Many of San Francisco’s first cemeteries were consolidated into this one location after residents complained of the unsightly appearance and unsanitary conditions of the city’s spontaneously established graveyards in the Telegraph Hill, North Beach, and Russian Hill neighborhoods.