E2E Ride: Colma Cemeteries

One of the juicier photo tags for the Equinox to Equinox rally is a cemetery older than 100 years.  Each tagged cemetery is 7 points which, for those of us who only have like 100 points, is significant.

The problem for me was that I could only think of one such cemetery nearby (Union Cemetery in Redwood City).  I decided to consult the Google machine and thank goodness I did, because I learned that Colma, a mere 20 miles north of me, is a veritable gold mine of historical cemeteries.

How many cemeteries does Colma have?  The town was founded in 1924 as a necropolis.  The town motto is: “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”and it’s also known as “the city of the silent”.  The dead outnumber the living in Colma by 1000 to 1.

This happened for one simple reason:  San Francisco.  It passed an ordinance in 1900 that no new cemeteries could be built in the city and then, in 1912, SF evicted all existing cemeteries from city limits.  The dead had to go somewhere, and they went to Colma.

My day started in a livelier locale: Nini’s Coffee Shop in San Mateo.  Yum!


My first stop was also in San Mateo: St John’s Cemetery, founded in 1885.



OK, seven points in, let’s go to Colma.

First stop was the massive Cypress Lawn Memorial Park (1892).  My online list of cemeteries was in alphabetical order and since Colma isn’t very large, I mostly just hit them in order, entering the next one into the GPS as I went.    I found out after I got home that William Randolph Hearst is buried at Cypress Lawn; I wish I’d known that and searched out the grave.  Though Cypress Lawn is huge and I may never have gotten to a second cemetery in Colma if I’d tried to find it.

Also, for the most part, my photography in the cemeteries weren’t of notable graves — instead, ones I thought indicative of the general vibe of the cemetery or had something unusual.   I was surprised by the separate personalities of each location.



Next up was Woodlawn Memorial Park (1904) — out of order alphabetically, but it was right next to Cypress Lawn.

Woodlawn was the first of the cemeteries that I visited with a massive Chinese section.  I thought it was really interesting.



Woodlawn also has a pretty famous resident:



(If you don’t know about Emperor Norton, get thee to Wikipedia)

Eternal Home Cemetery (1901) was next.  This cemetery was pretty small, so the only picture I took was for the rally with my cell phone.



Next, I went to Greenlawn Memorial Park (1903).  This one really highlights how the cemeteries are everywhere in Colma; note the classy juxtaposition of the French memorial and the Best Buy.



Hills of Eternity Jewish Cemetery (1889) was the first specifically ethnic cemetery I visited.



While leaving the Hills of Eternity, I literally bumped into the next cemetery: The Serbian Cemetery (1901).   Its Chapel of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a replica of a 1,000 year old structure in Serbia.



Even pets have somewhere to die in Colma:



Back to our rough alphabetical order, I headed to Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery (1887).   This one has the honor of being the oldest and largest cemetery in Colma.   Joe DiMaggio is buried here, as are many local political figures (including notable San Francisco mayor George Moscone).



Home of Peace Cemetery (1889) is on the same plot as the Hills of Eternity.  My favorite part of it was this little hobbit-hole mausoleum.



My favorite cemetery was next: the Italian Cemetery (1899).  This cemetery was breathtakingly beautiful.  Not only were the graves and mausoleums aesthetically pretty, the layout of the cemetery was interesting and intricate.  The alleyways were mostly cobblestone, lending a European feel to the experience.   Like most of the cemeteries I visited, it was empty, so I didn’t feel too badly about riding around amongst the mausoleums.



Most cemeteries had a dedicated children’s section, which I generally avoided due to Mom Hormones.  The Italian Cemetery children’s section was breathtaking, though, and I parked to take a ton of photos there.  It was absolutely heartbreaking but beautiful.



I didn’t go inside the Japanese Cemetery (1901) as it was very small off the side of the road and I didn’t feel like parking and taking my gear off to walk inside.



In the Olivet Memorial Park (1896), I found proof that you just never know what you’re going to encounter on the road.  I was heading out of the cemetery when I happened to turn my head and see this, which I think is probably close to the creepiest awesome thing I have ever seen.



Finally, my Colma adventures ended at the Salem Memorial Park and Garden Mausoleum (1891).  It was originally founded in 1877 as part of San Francisco’s City Cemetery in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, but moved to Colma and became the third Jewish Cemetery there.


So that was my ride today.   If my math is correct, I got 13 cemeteries plus 1 historical marker, so 96 points total.  Hooray!  Not the longest ride, but definitely an interesting one.

Not my usual kind of twisty road:



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