Bay Area history is replete with famous figures whose contributions have echoed throughout the decades. A great deal of those individuals came to rest in local cemeteries, where you can still go pay your respects to this day.
Most locals are aware that San Francisco itself is not home to many graveyards. When SF’s cemeteries began to fill to capacity in the early 1900s, the city looked at relocating the bodies so as to free up real estate. It became illegal to bury bodies in the city in 1902, even before the 1906 earthquake that killed thousands.
From 1914 through the 1940s, San Francisco removed almost all 26 cemeteries in the city except for the SF National Cemetery and Mission Dolores Cemetery. The city relocated most headstones and bodies to mass graves in Colma, and their accompanying remains didn’t always make the journey with them. However the most famous grave sites remain clearly marked to this day.
1. Hearst Family
William Randolph Hearst (1907-1993) is buried alongside his parents, George Hearst (1820-1891) and Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919), in a large unmarked mausoleum in Colma. William Randolph Hearst’s extensive wealth came largely from his parents’ vast fortune, which helped establish his successful newspaper chain and media company, Hearst Communications. He’s also known for designing the enormous Hearst Castle in San Simeon in collaboration with architect Julia Morgan.
Location: Corner of sections E and H, Cypress Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Colma
2. Charles de Young
Charles de Young (1846-1880) is famous for co-founding the Daily Dramatic Chronicle (now the San Francisco Chronicle) with his brother M.H. de Young. Charles dug up and published a lot of dirt on famous names of the time, including an illicit affair of preacher and mayoral candidate Isaac Smith Kalloch. When Kalloch retaliated by calling Charles a “hyena of society” and his mother a prostitute, Charles shot Kalloch twice in front of his church.
Kalloch ended up surviving the attack and went on to serve as mayor from 1879-1881… but Kalloch’s son, Isaac Milton Kalloch, shot Charles de Young dead in the Chronicle building in 1880. San Francisco’s de Young Museum is not named for Charles but rather for his brother Michael Henry. As for Charles’ grave, you’ll easily spot it in Colma, as it bears a statue of his likeness holding a piece of paper and a quill.
Location: Section G, Cypress Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Colma
3. Betty Ann Ong
Betty Ann “Bee” Ong (1956-2001) was a San Francisco native and flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11, one of the planes hijacked during the September 11 attacks. She is remembered as a hero for calling in to report the hijacking, calmly relaying in real time what was happening on the plane for 25 terrifying minutes. Her ability to communicate this vital information led to the Federal Aviation Administration closing airspace for the first time in U.S. history.
Ong perished alongside 91 other people on board when terrorists flew the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She was honored as a hero by the 9/11 Commission. Part of Ong’s remains were recovered and identified a year after the attacks, and were subsequently cremated and laid to rest at a grave bearing her photograph in Colma.
Location: Unit 5, NW Panel, Tier 6, Niche 6, Cypress Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Colma
4. Lillie Hitchcock Coit
You likely know Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929) as the namesake of Coit Tower. She left a bequest for the iconic landmark upon her death “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” One third of her fortune went towards city beautification, including a monument in Washington Square featuring 3 firefighters.
Coit was an enthusiastic patron of San Francisco’s volunteer fire department, even becoming an honorary member of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5. She rests in the prominent Hitchcock Mausoleum in Colma.
Location: Hitchcock Mausoleum between sections M and F, Cypress Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Colma
5. Lefty O’Doul
Francis “Lefty” O’Doul (1897-1969) was a professional baseball player from San Francisco who is credited with spreading the sport’s popularity in Japan. He’s a legend in Bay Area baseball, having started with the San Francisco Seals and then served as pitcher and outfielder for numerous Major League teams across the country including the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and New York Giants.
His headstone in Colma features a baseball and bat, a list of some of his accomplishments in the sport, and the inscription “‘The man in the green suit’… he was here at a good time and had a good time while he was here.”
Location: Section I, Lot 108, Cypress Lawn Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Colma
6. Joe DiMaggio
Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999) is another iconic name in baseball, serving his entire Major League career with the New York Yankees and earning a reputation as one of the greatest players of all time. DiMaggio was a Sicilian immigrant raised in San Francisco, and got his start playing sandlot baseball in North Beach before joining the San Francisco Seals as a teenager. During his time with the Yankees, DiMaggio maintained a whopping 56-game winning streak and played in nine World Series championships.
DiMaggio died in 1999 of complications from lung cancer surgery, and his funeral was held at SF’s Saints Peter and Paul Church before he was buried in Colma. He rests in a black granite mausoleum with an elaborate cross and the inscription “Dignity, grace, and elegance personified.”
Location: Section I, Row 11, Area 6/7, Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma
7. George Moscone
George Moscone (1929-1978) served as the 37th mayor of San Francisco beginning in 1976 until he was assassinated alongside Harvey Milk at San Francisco City Hall. He is remembered as “the people’s mayor,” having worked to diversify City Hall by appointing women, minorities, and queer community members to advisory boards and commissions. This set the precedent for Harvey Milk’s election to the board of supervisors, making history as the nation’s first openly gay man elected to public office.
When conservative former police officer Dan White resigned from his role on the city’s board of supervisors and then subsequently changed his mind, Moscone refused to reinstate him at the bequest of Milk. White then went to SF City Hall and assassinated both Moscone and Milk in their offices using his old police revolver. Massive, fervent protests erupted in San Francisco when White received just a 7-year prison sentence, having claimed diminished mental capacity due to depression (the infamous “Twinkie” defense) – he was paroled after serving 5 years and died by suicide shortly after.
Moscone’s modest flat grave marker in Colma bears the inscription “We love you Dad.”
Location: St. Michael, Row 22, Grave 42, Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Colma
8. Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) was one of the most well-known icons of the American Wild West, bearing many titles including gambler, stagecoach driver, lawman and buffalo hunter. Despite decades of gun fights and a dangerous career as a police officer in Wichita, Earp never took a single bullet. In his later age he settled down in Los Angeles with his wife Josie, working mining claims in the Mojave Desert.
Earp died peacefully at 81 and his ashes were buried in his wife’s family plot, in a Jewish section of the cemetery. When Josie passed 15 years later, her ashes were interred alongside his and a gravestone bears both of their names in an archetypal western typeface. According to the Hills of Eternity website, Wyatt Earp’s grave is the most-visited gravesite in Colma.
Location: Plot D, Section 2, Lot 12, Grave 2, Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, Colma
9. Emperor Norton
Joshua Abraham Norton (1818-1880), famously known as “Emperor Norton,” was a San Francisco resident who proclaimed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States,” and later “Protector of Mexico” via ads in local newspapers. His eccentricity earned him an affectionate following in the city, and despite his lack of political power he sported an elaborate uniform and ate for free just about anywhere. When a police officer arrested him on the basis of insanity, the resulting public outcry led to his release with a public apology from the Chief of Police (for which Emperor Norton issued an Imperial Pardon). The SF Board of Supervisors once even paid to replace his uniform when it started to get worse for wear.
Emperor Norton died suddenly after collapsing at the corner of California and DuPont (now Grant) street. Over 10,000 people turned out for his funeral, and he now rests in Colma where his grave officially memorializes him as “Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.”
Decades after Emperor Norton’s death, San Francisco political activist and drag queen José Sarria proclaimed himself “Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton.” This led to Sarria founding the Imperial Court System nonprofit network, which is one of the world’s largest and longest-running LGBTQ+ organizations in the world. Sarria is known for being the first openly gay candidate to run for public office back in 1961, and is featured in the Castro’s Rainbow Honor Walk. Sarria died in 2013 at the age of 90 and is buried near Emperor Norton himself (Section 8, lot 248, Woodlawn Memorial Park).
Location: Southwest corner, Woodlawn Memorial Park, Colma
10. Levi Strauss
Levi Strauss (1829–1902) is of course the founder of Levi Strauss & Co., world-famous for manufacturing blue jeans. He was a German immigrant who moved with his family to New York city in 1847, later arriving in San Francisco and starting Levi Strauss & Co. as an extension of his family’s dry goods business in 1853. Two decades later Strauss went into business with Latvian immigrant and tailor Jacob Davis to create blue jeans, famous for using copper rivets to reinforce points of strain. The company’s corporate headquarters are still located at Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco.
Strauss used his wealth to support scholarships at the University of California, and helped establish Congregation Emanu-El, the first Jewish synagogue in San Francisco. He is buried in a large domed mausoleum in Colma.
Location: Plot C, Section 2, Lot 1-6, Home of Peace Cemetery, Colma
Featured image: Ed Bierman via Flickr