One Cola graveyard

Who’s Who in the Colma Graveyards

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As Halloween approaches and you’re looking for something to do, take a trip down to the spooky Colma Graveyards. Filled with the graves of Bay Area celebrities and only about 30 minutes north right off the 280, some consider Colma to be “The City Of Souls.” 

In 1900, San Francisco passed an ordinance that no more burials could take place within the city limits as the land needed to be used for living people, not dead ones. In 1914, cemeteries in San Francisco were sent eviction notices. After years of court battles, the voter-approved notice became official in 1937. With cemeteries needing to evict their dead, Colma opened up as a new home for them.

Originally known as Lawndale, Colma is a 2.2 square mile town full of cemeteries. On August 5, 1924, the town of Lawndale became an incorporated city, which means California officially recognized the city and gave it corporate powers. The name was changed to Colma in 1941. The first cemetery, Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, was opened on June 3, 1886. By 1900, there were seven cemeteries established, with another six being added by 1910.

Now, Colma has about 1,580 residents, which is extremely small compared to the estimated 1.5 million deceased people in the town. Because of its approximate 1:950 ratio of living to dead, there’s quite a few well known people buried in Colma, some from Menlo Park, making it a great spot to visit for a Halloween excursion.

bajada 2
Anthony Bajada

Anthony Bajada

Anthony Bajada was born on September 22, 1902, in Hamrun, Malta. As a teenager, he served in the British Army during WWI, before immigrating to the United States in 1920 at the age of 17, arriving in New York City. He made his way across the country to San Francisco via railroad. There, he met his future wife, Elizabeth Waldvogel Bajada, who he married five years later, in San Francisco’s St. Paul of the Shipwreck Church. He lived in the Peninsula for most of his life, where he invented what became the modern can tab mechanism.

Before his invention, people needed to use can openers, which was inconvenient because of the need of a separate tool, or pull tabs, which were choking hazards, to remove the lid of the can. On January 24, 1956, Bajada filed for the patent, US2842295A. His invention was called “Lid closure for can containers.” He received the patent on July 8, 1958, but it expired 17 years later on July 8, 1975. Within the two months after his patent expired, both the Reynolds Metals Company and inventor Ermal C. Fraze filed patents for a “pull tab” can opening mechanism, which became the type of can mechanism we are used to seeing on soda cans today.

In 1961, Bajada moved to Palo Alto and eventually to Menlo Park in 1968. He had a passion for playing the guitar, and joined the Silver Strings Orchestra in San Francisco in 1945. When living in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, he played with the Aurora Orchestra. Bajada lived in Menlo Park until his death in Scottsdale Arizona on July 20, 2000. A funeral mass was held for him in St. Raymond Catholic Church, before he was buried in a shared crypt with his wife in the All Saints Mausoleum in Colma’s Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery.

Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi

Vince Guaraldi was born in San Francisco on July 17, 1928. He began learning the piano at age seven, and began taking lessons from composer and jazz pianist Leonard Auletti while at Abraham Lincoln High School. After high school, he went to San Francisco State College

In 1946, at the age of 18, he got his first commissioned gig from a summer resort in Yosemite. He then served two years in the military, from 1946 to 1948, before marrying his high school classmate Shirley Moskowitz in 1953. However, the two divorced in 1970. 

In 1962, he released what is considered his breakthrough album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.  The album had both Guaraldi’s original compositions and covers of songs from the 1959 film Black Orpheus. From the album came the song Cast Your Fate to the Wind, which won a Grammy in 1963. However, Guaraldi is most known for his music from the Peanuts television series.  

On February 6 1976, after completing the studio recording work on It’s Arbor Day Charlie Brown in the afternoon, Guaraldi took a break at Red Cottage Inn in Menlo Park. He was performing at Butterfield’s (building torn down in 2010) with the Vince Guaraldi Trio, who had Seward McCain on bass, and Jim Zimmerman on drums that night. A member of the band found him dead that night in his hotel room; he had died of a fatal heart attack at the age of 47.

39 days after he died, on March 16th 1976, It’s Arbor Day Charlie Brown debuted on CBS-TV. Almost 46 years after his death, in January 2022, Guaraldi’s soundtrack album for A Charlie Brown Christmas hit number six on Billboard’s Hot 200 Album Chart, the highest it had ever been.

After his death, there was a private service at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Daly City. This was followed by a public service in San Francisco, which KRON-TV covered. He was buried in what is now a shared grave with his mother in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma.

George Moscone

George Moscone

George Moscone was born on November 24, 1929 in San Francisco to George Joseph Moscone and Lena Moscone. He attended St. Brigid’s and then St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, then went to Santa Rosa Junior College before switching to College of the Pacific. He got his law degree from University of California’s Hastings Law School, and after a stint in the Navy, he started his private law practice in 1956. He married Gina Moscone in 1954. They had four children: Jenifer, Rebecca, Christopher, and Jonathan. 

In 1960, he ran in the San Francisco assembly race against Milton Marks. He lost the race, but was soon elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1963. His time at the Board ended in 1966 when he was elected to the California State Senate. He was picked to be a majority leader in the Senate and continued as majority leader until the 1975 mayor election. He was elected over Supervisor John Barbagelata by 4,270 votes and became mayor of San Francisco in 1975.

Moscone was the first mayor to appoint women, LGBTQ+ people, and other minorities to positions of power in meaningful amounts. “He was the first truly progressive mayor of San Francisco,” said Rich DeLeon, a San Francisco State University political scientist and author of Left Coast City. “To get elected, he didn’t go downtown–––he demonstrated there was this new grassroots coalition of previously excluded groups.” He played a significant role in preventing the Giants from moving to Toronto. He also secured a rebuilt sewer system after the state had mandated a building freeze on the city, causing long delays. 

Moscone was assassinated by former Supervisor Dan White after White learned he was not planning to reelect him to the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 27, 1978 in the famous Moscone-Milk assassinations (Harvey Milk was cremated with his ashes spread into the Pacific Ocean). Moscone and Milk’s funeral and memorial service were held on November 29th, 1978. He was buried in Colma’s Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, where his headstone is inscribed with the words “WE LOVE YOU DAD.”

Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio

Joe DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914 as Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio in Martinez, California. He was the eighth of nine children of Sicilian immigrants Giuseppe and Rosalia DiMaggio. He grew up in the neighborhood of North Beach, in San Francisco, where there is now a playground and basketball court named after him.

Both DiMaggio and his brothers had a love for baseball. Two of his brothers, Vince and Dominic, also played major league baseball. As he grew up, he played in semi-pro and amateur teams in San Francisco. His brother Vince was signed to the San Francisco Seals, and when their shortstop was injured near the end of the season, Vince suggested DiMaggio be the replacement. He played the last few games of the 1932 season and got a full place on the Seal’s roster in 1933. He was then sold to the New York Yankees for $25,000 and 5 players.

He debuted as a Yankee on May 3, 1936, where they proceeded to win four World Series Championships in a row. This made him the only athlete in the history of North American professional sports to win championships every one of his first four seasons.

DiMaggio played a total of 1,736 games in his career and holds the Major League Baseball record for longest hit streak: 56 consecutive games, from May 15, 1941 to July 17, 1941. He played thirteen seasons in Major League Baseball, won nine world series championships, and three American League MVP awards, eventually retiring in 1951. Four years later, in 1955, DiMaggio was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

DiMaggio married Dorothy Arnold in 1939, and the couple had a son, Joe III. After five years of marriage, they got divorced in 1944. Eight years later in 1952, he met Marilyn Monroe, beginning one of the most high-profile romances in American history. He married her on January 14th, 1954, the press calling it the “marriage of the century.” They divorced after only a year but remained close friends. He never remarried, and after Monroe’s death, he had roses delivered to her crypt three times a week for 20 years.

DiMaggio died on March 8th, 1999, in Hollywood, Florida from lung cancer complications. He was 84. His funeral was held at Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco three days after his death. Three months later, he was interred at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma. 

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst was born April 29, 1863 in San Francisco, the only child of George and Phoebe Hearst, Missourians who had moved to California during the Gold Rush. At the age of 16, he was enrolled in New Hampshire’s St. Paul’s Preparatory School, then went on to attend Harvard. There, he became the business manager of the magazine, Harvard Lampoon

While Hearst was still at Harvard, his father acquired the San Francisco Examiner as payment for a gambling debt. A few years late 1887, his father gave him control of the paper, and he soon after purchased the New York Journal.

Hearst became known as the father of yellow journalism: journalism not based on facts, but instead on sensationalism and exaggeration. During the Cuban revolution of 1895, Hearst realized reporting on the war in a sensationalist way would bring in more readers and thus make him more money. He began disregarding objective journalism for stories that would pull at heartstrings and sell more papers.

After the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in 1898, Hearst’s papers, with little to no evidence, blamed the Spanish. This caused outcry from the U.S. population, and eventually the public opinion demanded a war start. This is what led historians to call the Spanish American War the first press driven war, because while Hearst didn’t start the war, he and other yellow journalists influenced American popular opinion towards war. 

On April 28, 1903, Hearst married Millicent Willson in New York City. They had five sons, George, William Randolf Jr., John, and twins Randolph and David. He served a short political career in the House of Representatives as a congressman for New York, and was later elected New York Governor in 1906.

In the 1920’s he started one of the first print companies to enter radio broadcasting. His company, the Hearst Metrotone News produced newsreels for the American public. He produced over a 100 films, serving as an early pioneer of television.

Beginning in 1919, Hearst started construction on his famous Hearst Castle. He and architect Julia Morgan worked together for 28 years to build the complex in San Simeon, California, about four hours south of Menlo Park. The castle was used as his primary residence where he hosted the elites of Hollywood, American politics, and professional sports. The castle was never fully finished but is now open for tours to the public.

Hearst died in Beverly Hills on August 14, 1951 at the age of 88. He had been sick for several years before falling into a coma he didn’t wake up from. His five sons were by his side, but his wife was spending the summer in Southampton, New York at the time of his death. She returned to California for his funeral, which was held at San Fransico’s Grace Cathedral. He rests in the Hearst Family Mausoleum, in Colma’s Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.

Lilie Hitchcock Coit

Lilie Hitchcock Coit

Lilie Hitchcock Coit was born in West Point, New York on August 23, 1843, to Charles and Martha Hitchcock. In 1851, when she was eight years old, her family came to San Francisco from West Point where her father was stationed there as an army doctor. As a young woman, she often wore trousers and smoked cigars before it was socially acceptable for women to do so. She was known to gamble by dressing as a man to get into the male-only establishments in San Francisco’s North Beach. She married Howard Coit, though they separated in 1880, and he died in 1855 at the age of 47. Her father died shortly after in 1885 as well. 

Hitchcock Coit was known in her life as the patron of San Francisco’s volunteer fire department. When she was fifteen, she saw the Knickerbocker Engine Co. Number 5 responding to a fire on Telegraph Hill while on her way home from school. The firemen were short handed that day, and she saw them struggling to get up the hill. Hitchcock Coit ran over to an empty spot on the rope to help them pull, reportedly yelling, “Come on, you men! Everybody pull, and we’ll beat them!” Once other people started to help, the engine got up the hill and successfully extinguished the fire. 

Her love of volunteering for the fire department continued throughout her life. She was often seen helping at fires, parades, and annual banquets. She visited the firefighters when they were ill and attended their funerals throughout her life.

Towards the end of her life, Hitchcock Coit spent some time living in Europe but returned to San Francisco before she died. She died on July 22, 1929 at the age of 85. When she died, she left a third of her estate to the City of San Francisco “to be expended in an appropriate manner for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city.” The money was used to build Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill and a Volunteer Firemen Memorial in the northwest corner of Washington Square Park. She is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, in the Hitchcock Mausoleum.

Laurel Hill Memorial Obelisk

Mass Grave: Laurel Hill Memorial

In Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, up a hill behind the main building, sits a large memorial. The memorial is the Laurel Hill Pioneer Mound. Laurel Hill Cemetery was originally in San Francisco, but in 1937 the Board of Supervisors ordered all the burials out of the Cemetery. Cypress Lawn Cemetery was petitioned to take the remains, and they did. Families of people buried in the cemetery were given three years to retrieve their loved ones and monuments at their own cost, but due to a lack of living family members or funds, the vast majority of bodies were not moved. 35,000 people needed to be moved to Colma by the time they started the removal process. 

Originally, the bodies were going to be moved into a public mausoleum, but the funds were not available after World War II. Instead, underground concrete vaults were built to hold the remains of the people from Laurel Hill. While there’s no individual memorization, re-interment records have been meticulously kept. 

On top of the memorial is an obelisk built by Vladimir Oslou in 1992 for the centennial of Cypress Lawn and a bronze sculpture built by Francis Minturn Sedgewick pays tribute to the original people buried in Laurel Hill, California’s pioneers.

While you can’t see the individual memorialization at the Laurel Hill Mound, there’s quite a few famous people buried in the mass grave. David C. Broderick, who was killed in the last major duel of the nation in 1859 is buried there as well as Phineas Gage (sans head; his head is in Warren Anatomical Museum), who survived a railroad spike driven through his head. Kate Kennedy, a San Francisco educator who fought for equal pay for women, is also buried there among countless others.

Final Thoughts

Visiting graveyards, especially during the day, isn’t as spooky as you might think. They’re very peaceful, especially when you are amongst the older graves. It’s interesting to imagine what the older graves themselves have gone through, thinking about whether or not they had been moved from San Francisco, or if they had been originally from Colma. Or even thinking about who had made the grave–why they had specific inscriptions on them, or what the person whose memory it marked was like.

“I thought it was fascinating to imagine all the lives and stories of the people buried there,” said junior Will Knox, who came along with me to the graveyards. “They were once people not so different from us, most not so famous, but all human.”

If you do visit the graveyards, keep in mind  basic etiquette and respect. Don’t step on or deface headstones, and don’t be noisy or disrespectful to people there in mourning. Never interrupt a funeral procession. It is a nice gesture to bring along some flowers when visiting graves. To find graves, Find A Grave is a great resource, and to find other famous people buried in the expansive Colma cemeteries, you can check out any of these articles, or do your own research. 

Holy Cross Cemetery list of notable people

KQED’s Some of the Most Famous People Buried in Colma (With Map) 

SF Gate’s Bay Area famous graves


Logan is a senior at M-A. This is their first year in journalism, and he hopes to write about art and music, as well as a variety of other topics, in the school and surrounding community. In his free time, they enjoy playing drums, art, and reading.

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