Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t be caught dead in a cemetery? (Sorry, I couldn’t help it.) Sure, there are a lot of people who find where the dead sleep a very disturbing place to be. Call my family crazy, but we love a good cemetery. What makes a cemetery good? Well, the mere fact that it’s been around for a while helps. Plus, there’s nothing more historical than reading the epitaphs on tombstones older than yourself. With the ability to Google names these days, it makes looking up some of the more prominent buried folks very interesting.
Northern California has quite a few cemeteries rich in history and stories from the past. Here are a few that might surprise you.
1. Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, Colma
Wyatt Earp was laid to rest here with his common-law wife Josephine. A man who represents the Wild West, Earp was known as a constable, city policeman, county sheriff, Deputy U.S. Marshal, teamster, buffalo hunter, bouncer, saloon-keeper, gambler, brothel keeper, miner, and boxing referee.
2. Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma
Okay, so we need to include two in Colma. Because, I mean just look at this photo. Head over here and walk through the graves in the mist of the morning...you just may stumble upon the resting place of famous baseball star and former husband of Marilyn Monroe, none other than Joe DiMaggio.
3. Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland
What began as a pioneer cemetery in the late 1800s has become a historical place for many notable Northern Californians. Names like Folgers, Kaiser, Tilden, Shattuck, Knowland, Ghiradelli and many others definitely ring a bell to those of us who grew up in the Bay Area.
4. Nevada City Cemetery
Over 400 pioneers are buried here, many whose names have long ago been erased from markers by the passage of time. The oldest city cemetery in Nevada County, this home of the dead is full of people who fell victim to consumption, drownings, mining accidents and vengeful murders over gold claims. It's showing signs of decay and age these days, and it can be especially creepy when you walk through the children's burial plots. The youngest was a mere 5 months old at the time of death.
5. Mare Island Cemetery, Vallejo
The first naval base on the west coast was established here. During the Mexican American War, a boat with horses for the Mexican military in the Bay Area foundered around this peninsula that jutted out into the north part of the bay in 1830. General Vallejo, leader of the Mexican army, thought his favorite mare was lost. But they found her on what is now Mare Island, named after his horse. This cemetery was in use between 1846 to 1921.
6. Chico Cemetery, Butte County
World War I vets are buried here. And there's just something a little eerie about a fallen soldier's grave. It's a place where a legacy of respect will be shown and where no matter who comes to these places, they'll feel the impact of their sacrifice. This cemetery accepted burials from 1852 to 1902. Now there's no more room at the inn. So we'll just walk lightly with much respect.
7. Pine Grove Cemetery, Nevada County
Walking through a cemetery might seem disturbing to some, but it's a great opportunity to be face to face with history. Men and women who have served and died represent all wars and campaigns in our country's background. Talk to your kids about World War I or the Civil War. They can see exactly who is represented here.
8. Ferndale Cemetery, Ferndale
One of the most charming towns in Humboldt County, dotted with Victorians and set alongside the Eel River. Take a walk through their cemetery at night. We double dog dare you.
9. Dunsmuir City Cemetery, Siskiyou County
In some parts of Northern California all you need are 3-5 graves on the land to be considered a cemetery. This is why so many small places like here in Dunsmuir seem almost lost in time. They become one in a million little places where people are laid to rest and over the years are forgotten. This gives a cemetery an ethereal feel and a haunting element that we all can sense.
10. San Francisco National Cemetery, The Presedio
While a cemetery can feel heavy and foreboding, it's hard to experience that here at The Presedio. With the backdrop of the Golden Gate, this spot seems the perfect place for eternal slumber. All nine acres of this cemetery make for a history lesson in itself. And, as disturbing as death can be to some, what makes this one special is that it's only one of four official cemeteries in San Francisco proper.
11. Evergreen Cemetery, Santa Cruz
The very first to be buried here was tiny 19 day old Julia Arcan in 1850. The family lost their baby girl while crossing through Death Valley. They not only began this cemetery, but some believe are the ones who named the valley where they lost their little love - Death Valley.
12. Old City Cemetery, Sacramento
Tour this with a docent and you'll get your money's worth. The history of Sacramento comes to life here. 600 victims of a cholera outbreak in 1850 are buried in a mass grave. Senators, railroad founders, and even a survivor of the infamous Donner Party are buried here.
13. Alhambra Cemetery, Martinez
Some of the most amazing historical folks may just be buried here. Google this cemetery and you'll get some fascinating stories of lives well-lived. Many of John Muir's family are buried here, along with a woman who at the age of 9 saved a 4 year old from drowning in a river. That 4 year old was named Abraham Lincoln. There's even a gentleman buried here by the name of George Bailey, an investment banker. When his larger clients tried to cash in their investments with him, George said he needed to go to San Francisco to collect the funds. Three days later his body washed up on the Bay shores. He'd committed suicide. Apparently, this George Bailey bears a striking resemblance to the character of the same name in the movie "It's A Wonderful Life." Minus the adorable angel, Clarence, of course.
Whether you get spooked walking through the resting place of the dead or not, these cemeteries are definitely worth a walk-through. Share your favorite cemetery with us in the comments on Facebook.