Odd Fellows Cemetery, A Colma Disgrace
Present day aerial view of the Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma, CA. with a grid map of the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ laid over the commercial ‘cut flower’ nursery operating in agreement with Greenlawn ownership.

Odd Fellows Cemetery, A Colma Disgrace

26,000 Souls Interred Here Are Disgraced/Dishonored

Now known as the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ at Greenlawn, for the last 86 years these 26,000 souls lie interred in a mass grave.  We would have hoped that after the initial desecration of their remains that this site would have been considered, respected, with grave sites identifiable, and the ‘Section’ treasured by their descendants.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case and certainly not by the current ownership of Greenlawn!

Unfortunately, at least since 1981, the various owners of Greenlawn have seemingly taken the attitude, ‘if we just ignore it, no one will notice’.
She Finally Found Great-Granddad's Grave - In A "Junkyard" - And unfortunately, at least since 1981, the various owners of Greenlawn have seemingly taken the attitude, ‘if we just ignore it, no one will notice’. (Click image to enlarge)

Ms Rosand's Story Is Not Unique

Ms. Rosand’s findings are very similar to the findings of Rene Monie. A native of Marseilles, with a home in San Francisco, Rene also found his 2nd Great Grandmother, Marie, had been buried in San Francisco’s Odd Fellows Cemetery.

His follow-up also took him to Greenlawn in 2005. In Rene’s situation, he was told that the ‘Section’ was closed to the public. Further inquiry led him to the site of the ‘Section’ where he found that Greenlawn had converted the ‘Cemetery Section’ into an ongoing ‘cut-flower’ nursery business. The 5 acre ‘Section’ of graves was now traversed by tractors and pickup trucks with rows of both nursery plants and unplanted sections.

"Welcome" to the Odd Fellows Section of Greenlawn Cemetery
"Welcome" to the Odd Fellows Section of Greenlawn Cemetery

"Welcome" to the Odd Fellows section of the Greenlawn Cemetery

No flowers for the ‘Odd Fellows Section’; just chain link fence, trucks, tractors, weeds, farm debris, an odd assortment of storage containers, along with a damaged, broken old monument.

The broken monument and a collection of ‘storage containers’ and typical farm ‘stuff’ demean the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ of the Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma
The broken monument and a collection of ‘storage containers’ and typical farm ‘stuff’ demean the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ of the Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma
Weed covered topsoil mounds, skip-loader with small plow, trucks, and storage containers sit atop 25,000+ Odd Fellows grave sites at the Greenlanw Cemetery in Colma.
Weed covered topsoil mounds, skip-loader with small plow, trucks, and storage containers sit atop 25,000+ Odd Fellows grave sites at the Greenlanw Cemetery in Colma.
Vehicles and light tractor with implement sit parked over Odd Fellows graves at the Geenlawn Cemetery in Colma
Vehicles and light tractor with implement sit parked over Odd Fellows graves at the Geenlawn Cemetery in Colma

The Desecration Continues

An assortment of poorly maintained storage containers and small sheds lined the east fence line. Grave markers damaged by frequent farm tillage have been cast to the side, and the surrounding chain link fence was frequented by old pallets, plastic plant containers, waist-high weeds, piles of weed-covered topsoil, and all the typical ‘farm rubble’ commonly seen at a small nursery operation.

On the west side of the ‘Section’, just below the Home Depot parking structure, the ‘O.F. Section’ monument stood ‘damaged and broken’, serving as the only reminder that more than 26,000 souls are interred here.

In 2003, shortly after the farming operation had opened, Malcolm Carpenter, then Colma’s City Planner, commented that the nursery satisfied the maintenance requirements and looked good. 15 years later, could he make the same statement?

A damaged clay grave marker, one of 26,000 ordered and placed over the ‘Odd Fellows Section’, sits cast aside to the chain link fence line.
A damaged clay grave marker, one of 26,000 ordered and placed over the ‘Odd Fellows Section’, sits cast aside to the chain link fence line.
Seven damaged grave markers lie cast to the side of tilled area. Note the large rectangular marker denoting the ‘Harmony Section’ from Odd Fellows. The larger markers were used to indicate where those from ‘Harmony Section’ would be found within the grave site area. Tillage continually moves, damages, and eventually destroys grave markers. And this is what Greenlawn Cemetery chooses to allow to happen to the 26,000 buried there!
Seven damaged grave markers lie cast to the side of tilled area. Note the large rectangular marker denoting the ‘Harmony Section’ from Odd Fellows. The larger markers were used to indicate where those from ‘Harmony Section’ would be found within the grave site area. Tillage continually moves, damages, and eventually destroys grave markers. And this is what Greenlawn Cemetery chooses to allow to happen to the 26,000 buried there!
More grave markers, damaged by tillage, are left to lie amongst the weeds. Each marker represents a buried body from the Odd Fellows Cemetery
More grave markers, damaged by tillage, are left to lie amongst the weeds. Each marker represents a buried body from the Odd Fellows Cemetery

How Ironic...

How ironic that the 5 acre ‘Odd Fellows Section’ is now being used to provide cut flowers to the local fresh flower businesses that decorate hundreds of thousands of grave sites spread across Colma’s city of cemeteries.

No flowers for the ‘Odd Fellows Section’; just chain link fence, trucks, tractors, weeds, farm debris, an odd assortment of storage containers, and a damaged, broken old monument.

Fortunately for us with ancestors interred in the ‘O.F. Section’, Rene didn’t ‘fly home to France’. With a home in San Francisco, he has stayed and made his indignation felt. It has been felt by Greenlawn’s ownership and the State agency that provides oversight to the cemeteries within California, the ‘Funeral and Cemetery Bureau’, a department of California’s Dept of Consumer Affairs. Rene has also found allies in the national ‘Odd Fellows Association’, the ‘Garden of Innocence Project’, and several other concerned individuals, including myself, John Rector of Canby, OR.

Just as Rene and Ms. Rosand, and I’m sure many others, I discovered that my GG Grandfather, William Evans Hansell, and his wife, GG Grandmother, Caroline May Hansell, along with 7 of their children had originally been buried in their private family plot at Odd Fellows. Myself a 3rd generation native of San Francisco, my journey also took me to Greenlawn and the shock of finding the best view of the ‘O.F. Section’ was to be found on the top level of the adjacent Home Depot parking lot.

This is wrong; morally and ethically. And to find that the California Bureau of Cemeteries finds ’there is insufficient evidence to support a violation’ on the part of Greenlawn is also hard to comprehend. As of Nov. 2017, Commerce Holding Co. Inc., the group that now owns Greenlawn Memorial Park, recorded in excess of $5 million in endowment funding.

The bodies under the rows of crops “are from a different time in our history when the city would send us bodies. That area has nothing to do with the cemetery, it’s not anyone’s business.”

Danai Doukas, Counselor at Greenlawn Cemetery

There are no excuses and our ancestors are our business and our heritage. All grave sites are from a ‘different time’ and with the dead, time has no meaning. Those interred in the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ at Greenlawn Memorial Park have always deserved far better, as do those who cherish the lives and souls of their ancestors.

As December 2018, despite the evidence of destroying grave markers, the refusal of visitation to the area, and the overall desecration of the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ mass burial site, both the owners of Greenlawn Cemetery and the California State Bureau of Cemeteries have refused any wrong doing nor any willingness to correct this harm.

We need your help with letters and phone calls, to both parties. Regardless of whether you’ve a loved one buried in the ‘Odd Fellows Section’ at Greenlawn or not, all who have loved ones buried in a cemetery understand the base ‘wrong doing’ of this situation.

We’re not asking for a ‘fairway look’. We want the area restored to its purpose, a grave site. A clean natural area of reflection, with a restored monument whereby family and visitors can visit their deceased family members.  There are no excuses for willfully desecrating a grave site and allowing the practice to continue under color of law. There never has been. There never will be.

 

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Michael Schelter

    my ancestor Alexander Jousseaum Delatour 1817-1886 + grandson Arthur J Delatour were both buried @ the original Odd Fellows Cemetry in San Francisco + moved to Greenlawn Memorial Park inColma, California. I’m angry they are in a mass grave with no markings, extremely disrespectful. It must be time to write a good story to the San Francisco Chronicle.

    1. Joy Monroe

      I just found an ancestor on the list. I would like to contact other family members and John Rector and Rene Monie to join in on a fight for our ancestors right to a respectful space.
      Please, could you email me if a group is forming to fight this. If no group exists, we should start one. Maybe there would be power in numbers, exposing this atrocity.
      Thank you so much for this article and the list of the deceased.

  2. Marsha Adams

    One of my ancestors was buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery in sf in 1877. I dont dare download the pdf file mentioned on my personal computer. Do you know of any other place where I might get a verification that he was/is buried there now? No one will return my calls st Greenlawn but now I know why! They don’t care. We the descendants do care!
    Thanks
    Marsha Adams.
    Veto beach Fl.

    1. dave

      What pdf do you speak of?

        1. Ed

          You can also look at Family Search for record: “California, Collections of the California Genealogical Society, 1700-1942. In that record look for Burial Record for IOOF Cemetery, 1885-1905

  3. Max Butler

    Legal action needs to be taken to both sue the owners of the cemetery and the State Bureau of Cemeteries, which without a doubt is quite corrupt. How the State Bureau came up with its decision in favor of the cemetery owner would probably show some close connections and favoritism.

    1. Joy

      Hi, I would like to be included in any group forming to fight this horrible injustice. Do you know if there is a group? If not we need to form one and I don’t know how to go about that.
      I have registered my name to get updates but I feel the need to do more.

      Thanks for your post.

  4. Boney Cellars

    what about the Odd Fellow’s funeral bell?

  5. kanjin cederman

    This is an injustice that must be corrected. I bet if you started a legal fundraising you would be able to solve this issue.

    I am afraid this is happening in many places. We had the saner thing happen here in Seattle.

    FLT
    Kanjin

  6. Lorain Alexander-Maurer

    Please include me in any effort to fight this horrible situation. I am still in shock over this. How can this even be legal?

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