San Francisco History

North Beach Cemetery
(aka Powell Street)

Dates of Existence: 1847 to 1853
Location: between Greenwich, Filbert & Powell streets
Number interred: 900
Moved to: Yerba Buena Cemetery
"Cemeteries.  We do not possess information of ground having been appropriated for the highly necessary purpose of Cemeteries, either by individuals or by the town of San Francisco, nevertheless we cannot resist the belief that the matter should receive the attention of our citizens.  During the winter a large number of deaths have occurred, and but the burial ground near the north beach has proved available for interment.  A visit to this place of sepulture is sufficient to shock the sensibilities of men inured even to the battle-field rude burial of the dead.  The ground is not enclosed, the graves are headlessly prepared, without regard to order or caution, and there is every appearance of indecent haste having been resorted to in the several interments.  If the town of San Francisco, by the rascally perversion of that power which has rested in the hands of her numerous alcaldes, is now destitute of a plot of ground for a decent place of sepulture, then, for the love of Heaven, let us have individual efforts directed at once to the provision of some proper grounds for cemeteries."

Source: Daily Alta California, 12 March 1850.

THE OLD CEMETERY.—In the month of July, 1847, a mourning train followed to his last resting place all that was mortal of poor Anderson, an officer in the New York Volunteer Regiment, who left his home to come to this golden land to die. His comrades buried him with military honors, far from the city, where it was thought the rude hand of speculation would never disturb his mouldering remains. They buried him in a lonely spot where the music of the surging waves—a music that in life he loved so well—sung a daily requiem o'er his grave. Thus was commenced the first cemetery in San Francisco, in the vicinity of North Beach. As the city became populated, and thousands, attracted by the golden treasures of our land, flocked hither, the cemetery also grew, and the graves of the stranger soon spread around the little knoll which rose above the remains of Anderson, till hundreds had been buried there. When the proeprty in that vicinity became valuable, it was discovered that the grave-yard belonged to a private individual. We passed by there yesterday. The grave of the nameless stranger is trodden under foot, streets are being cut through the cemetery, and that holiest of all earthly spots has been desecrated. A portion of the cemetery, and whose graves are marked or enclosed, taht they should remove them to the new cemetery, or ere long the last trace of their last resting place will be blotted out.

Source: Daily Alta California, 04 Feb 1851.

THE NORTH BEACH GRAVE-YARD.—By the authority, we suppose, of the city, Powell street is being extended through this resting ground of the dead. If the extension of the street is needed we cannot object to the work being done. But that necessity is doubtful. If the street be cut through the burial ground, however, necessarily or not, there is a question or two which should be settled. If the dead are to be exhumed, who is to pay for their re-interment? There are persons in this State who have friends, dear friends, buried there, dear although mouldering in their cerements. It would be a shame to put them to this expense; some of them are unable to bear it. Yet their love and reverence for the dead are as pure and affectionate as if they were millionaires. It would probably be better to remove all the dead from that locality at once, rather than the course at present pursued, which seems to be to dig up coffins with as much unconcern as though they were stumps, and let them and their contents lie as carelessly until it suits the convenience of some one or any one to take them away. Some of those who have buried their friends there did not do so until they were assured by the Alcade that the places selected were where they would never be disturbed by public improvement, and being in a public cemetery, they justly thought that private cupidity and speculation should never be allowed to disturb their remains. It is not surprising if no small degree of feeling is now manifested by them when they find the graves of their friends desecrated, as they think, recklessly. As a general thing, civilization may be traced as unerringly by noting the sacredness with which the last dwellings of all are preserved, kept and guarded. What would the philosopher say of us, if his estimate of Californians was based upon what he might observe in and about our cemeteries?

Source: Daily Alta California, 10 Feb 1851.

"REMOVAL OF DEAD BODIES.—As the manner in which the dead bodies have been removed from Powell street to Yerba Buena cemetery has excited the attention for a good many, we have inquired into the facts, and as far as can be obtained from reliable authority, they are as follows. The Common Council made a contract with W. W. Walker to exhume and remove the dead bodies from Powell street to Yerba Buena cemetery, at a cost not exceeding $3,000. This bill was recently ordered paid, Mr. Walker taking good care to claim the full amount. It now appears that the job has not been completed; the bodies are not all yet exhumed. The payment of the bill, therefore, was premature. Mr. Walker hired a person named Fitzpatrick to do the work, and the manner in which he is said to have performed it is as follows. The bodies are stated to have been disinterred without much regard to the manner of doing it, so it was done: they were then pitched into heaps by the roadside, thence shovelled into carts and driven off; the coffins which were much decayed were burnt, and the others sold for fire-wood; the fence and palings around the graves were either sold as fire-wood, or as fencing to such as would purchased. Who is Fitzpatrick, and what character does he bear at present? He is a foreigner, and is now under heavy bail to answer a charge of brutal assault on a man named McQueen; subsequent to which attack he has threated to kill McQueen. It is stated that he has committed other outrageous acts.

If these things are true, and we understand they are, we leave it to our readers to determine how fitted he is for such an occupation; one that requires the greatest delicacy and attention for its proper performance. It remains to be asked, if Mr. Walker was aware of these transactions? If he ever visited the burial ground while these things were being done? If he did was it with his sanction or not? We have amongst us many honest and respectable poor men of our own country who are here in a state of destitution and who are willing to engage in any honest avocation to earn their sustenance for the present, until they can obtain steady employment. Why then select sucha person as this Fitzpatrick is reported to be? Do our Common Council ever inquire into the detail of affairs that are presented to them for their action? We believe that in general they do; but a sad inattention to details is observable in this particular instance, for we are assured, that no such revolting operations are said to have occurrred with regard to it would for a moment, been even tacitly sanctioned by the Council had they been aware of them. Strict inquiry should be instituted and if the work has not been performed in manner agreeable to contract, the money should be refunded above what the actual cost with a fair payment for labor, would amount to, but if the contract was loosely voided so as to permit these outrages, then the signers of it should be reprimanded."

Source: Daily Alta California, 7 February 1853. 

"DESECRATION.—The old cemetery on Powell street, beyond Filbert, has been horribly desecrated within the last year. During the last winter a Mr. Walker was engaged in the removal of bodies under a contract, and the work was done in a most unfeeling manner. The cemetery contained the remains of some of the most respectable of the early residents of San Francisco, but at the hands of the contractor and his sub-contractor the bodies were treated as though they were little better than carrion. Some of the bodies are still left, and lately our public spirited citizen Mr. Meiggs, in grading Powell street at his own expense, has had many of the bodies, some of them rather ruthlessly, taken up by his workmen. However, it is some consolation to know that he has had all the exhumed remains placed in new coffins and removed to their proper depository."

Source: Daily Alta California, 21 May 1853.

"PIONEER CEMETERIES. . . in 1848. . . Soon after, native residents and strangers were interred on Telegraph Hill, near the present corner of Vallejo and Sansome streets. Although within a stone's throw of the very heart of the commercial portion of the city, many bodies still rest here. After the exodus from every quarter of the globe commenced pouring through the Golden Gate, it was found that, owing to the ravages of fatal disease, a larger tract must be set apart for the burial of the dead. Accordingly a site was selected near North Beach, on Powell street, between Filbert and Greenwich. . ."

Source: Daily Alta California, 25 June 1861. 

"The Cemeteries of San Francisco. . .POWELL STREET GRAVEYARD. When the population of the town began to grow in '46, the graveyards previously in use were considered inconvenient of access, and the dead were interred near the corner of Powell and Greenwich streets; and that was the chief burial ground till March, 1850, at which time objection was made that the place was too near the town, and that the land was private property, the owners never having consented to any such use of their lots. About nine hundred persons were buried there. The boxes were removed by the city about eight years ago, when the enterprise of cutting through the northern end of Powell street was commenced, under the influence of Alderman Harry Meiggs, who expected to become a millionaire by the rise of property at North Beach."

Source: Daily Alta California, 22 July 1862.


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