Odd Fellows Cemetery, San Francisco: Removal
Workers commence removal of ‘Odd Fellows’ remains. Note fence constructed to keep work from easy view. All of the headstones shown here, would have been discarded as no one had claimed them.

Odd Fellows Cemetery, San Francisco: Removal

The Removal to Greenlawn Cemetery in Colma

The removal process was anything but straight forward, organized, or professional. That’s not to say there were not good intentions, but frankly no one in City government had ever undertaken such an operation. But despite ‘best efforts’ bodies were certainly missed. And if bodies were missed, one can only assume that there were days when things became a muddle. 

Incredibly, plot owners were given but one public notification which was published in the SF Call, Sept, 1912……a full 20 years prior to bodies being removed. Notes and records were handwritten, labor far from professional, and oversight intended but likely minimal. With money to be made on land and reburial services, the dignity of the dead likely became a quick afterthought for many.

Hearses line up for removal of bodies to Colma. Some families were able to have family remains privately removed and taken to the cemetery of choice for private reburial. This was by far the exception as most could not afford the cost.
Hearses line up for removal of bodies to Colma. Some families were able to have family remains privately removed and taken to the cemetery of choice for private reburial. This was by far the exception as most could not afford the cost.

This certainly would have been the situation for ‘Odd Fellows’ as it was the first cemetery to be treated in so undignified a manner. Unaffiliated to church or faith, unclaimed head stones were tossed into the Pacific at Lands’ End and used in the construction of the Marina District’s St Francis Yacht Club break wall. As a young boy in the 1950’s and growing up in the Marina, I remember scrambling amidst the break wall rubble and stopping to read names and dates. Grave markers were used in street projects, while gravesite statuary, marble, decorative walls, crypt doors, and wrought iron fencing disappeared on a regular basis. Anything of value was likely stolen or sold. This was the ‘Depression’. Times were tough, and items of value belonging to the dead and their families, were likely ‘fair game’. Anything in ‘Odd Fellows’ would have been free for the taking and come nightfall, likely it was.

People climbing over the remains of San Francisco’s cemeteries dumped along Ocean Beach
People climbing over the remains of San Francisco’s cemeteries dumped along Ocean Beach
Break wall at St. Francis Yacht Club in the Marina contains thousands of unclaimed headstones from both Odd Fellows and Masonic Cemeteries.
Break wall at St. Francis Yacht Club in the Marina contains thousands of unclaimed headstones from both Odd Fellows and Masonic Cemeteries.

Leveling of Odd Fellows "Yerba Buena" Section

In looking at the pictures of the leveling of Odd Fellows former ‘Yerba Buena’ section in 1933, note the different clothing worn by the laborers of the day. Fedoras and caps, suit coats and long sleeve shirts. The men of the day needed work and men of all types showed up for work.

1933, In the area known as the ‘Yerba Buena’ section of Odd Fellows, workers are transporting soil by wheel barrow from the sloped area of Yerba Buena. Running the wheel barrows down the lumber, they would deposit the soil on the west side of the new ‘Rossi Field’ and level by hand raking.
1933, In the area known as the ‘Yerba Buena’ section of Odd Fellows, workers are transporting soil by wheel barrow from the sloped area of Yerba Buena. Running the wheel barrows down the lumber, they would deposit the soil on the west side of the new ‘Rossi Field’ and level by hand raking.
Workers levelling slope in the former ‘Yerba Buena’ section to enlarge playing surface at Rossi Field. Note Columbarium in the distance
Workers levelling slope in the former ‘Yerba Buena’ section to enlarge playing surface at Rossi Field. Note Columbarium in the distance

Reinternment at Greenlawn in Colma

In late 1932, at Colma’s GreenLawn Cemetery, a 5-acre section of the cemetery became the site for the mass reinternment from Odd Fellows. More than 26,000 grave marking stones were ordered and placed over each ‘grave site’ marking the location of the remains.

Greenlawn Cemetery, Aerial view 1977. ‘Odd Fellows Section’ highlighted in yellow. Monument indicated w. dotGreenLawn Cemetery, Aerial view 1977. ‘Odd Fellows Section’ highlighted in yellow. Monument indicated w. dot
Greenlawn Cemetery, Aerial view 1977. ‘Odd Fellows Section’ highlighted in yellow. Monument indicated w. dotGreenLawn Cemetery, Aerial view 1977. ‘Odd Fellows Section’ highlighted in yellow. Monument indicated w. dot

In part three of the Odd Fellows Cemetery history, we will see where things are today and how Greenlawn Cemetery is profiting by leasing the Odd Fellows reinternment site to commercial growers. Continue reading here

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. pamela wingate landry

    My grandfather,grandmother and other family members had their remains descrated from oddfellows because they could not pay to have them reenterned. You can bet the city of san Francisco got money for the land from which offfellows was on.
    This is a a disgrace to those families that paid flor their loved one to be buried there.

  2. Cindy

    This is such a shame. I actually visited the cemetery several years ago and was told that my family could not afford a tombstone so that is why they are buried in the mass grave under the Odd Fellow Marker in the flower field. Apparently, I was not told the truth and had to take a picture of my family’s mass grave marker through the fence. I feel so misinformed. I’m glad I found this article because I thought it sounded odd when I was given this information. Yes, just off the parking lot of Home Depot. I took pictures when I visited the gravesite.

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