San Francisco History

Calvary Cemetery

Dates of Existence: 1860 to 1940
Location: approximately 49 acres between Geary & Turk streets, Parker & St. Joseph's avenues
Number interred: approximately 55,000
Moved to: Holy Cross, Colma
Notes: was originally a subdivision of the Lone Mountain Cemetery
"The Cemeteries of San Francisco. . .CALVARY CEMETERY. The newest of the cemeteries of San Francisco, is the Calvary, adjacent to Lone Mountain, and southward from it. Calvary Cemetery is owned by the Archbishop, as a sole corporator representing the Catholic Church of the diocese, and it is now the chief burial place for the persons of that faith in San Francisco."
Source: Daily Alta California, 22 July 1862.
"COSTLY TOMBS. . .It will soon be twenty-seven years since Archbishop Alemany consecrated Calvary cemetery.  Previous to that time burial-grounds had existed in the yard of the old Mission Dolores church, where the sturdy forefathers of the city sleep; on the North beach, and in Yerba Buena, on the site of the present City Hall.  In 1860 Calvary was opened, and in November of that year John Riley, a pauper, was the first to occupy a grave therein.  The site was well chosen, at the foot of Lone mountain.  The soil was light and sandy.  From many spots exquisite views of the city and bay could be obtained.  Seventeen years after the opening of the cemetery it was computed that 23,500 bodies had found interment there. . .

Calvary is the most populous cemetery of San Francisco at the present time.  When first opened it was in the country; it is now between Parker and Masonic avenues and Geary and Turk streets.  It has been gradually filling up with coffins for these twenty-six years, and now the headstones in some parts of the grounds seem as thick as standing corn.  Hardly a day passes that three or four funeral processions do not climb the hillside leading to the entrance gate.  It is indeed a city of the dead. . .

On the western slope, and in the valley which is the extreme boundary of the cemetery, is the pauper burying-ground.  Here plain, short, wooden crosses mark the spots where bodies are laid when friends are too poor to buy lots.  They are very numerous; in some places the bodies lie as thick as in the abbey. . .

The usual allowance of land for a corpse is seven feet by three and a half; and when we say the usual, this is really the maximum also, for the greatest and richest, this life ended, can occupy no more.   In Calvary cemetery, lots costs 60 cents a square foot.  Enough ground to hold a baby can be bought for $10; but the regular cost for a small single lot is about $15.  For this the purchaser gets a deed from the Bishop authorizing him to occupy the lot for the purpose of interment until the year 2000.  Some of the deeds contain a provision that the holder may on demand secure a renewal of his lease for 300 years more.  But there will be very little left of the Calvary graves in A.D. 2000. . .

One interesting spot in this cemetery is a small patch on the western slope of the hill, which is known as the unconsecrated ground.  It is here that suicides are buried, and children who die without being baptized.  Another interesting spot in Calvary is a plat known as The Heart.  It is a piece of ground shaped like a heart; here the priests are buried.  There are a good many priests in the Heart.  A simple headboard, with a name and a date, or maybe a slab, with a few roses strewn on it, the gift of some grateful parishioner, are all that mark the resting place of some soldier of the cross."

Source: San Francisco Morning Call, 27 March 1887.


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