Colma, The Town of The Dead

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South of San Francisco, near Daly City, lies the small town of Colma where the dead outnumbers the living by a thousand to one. It’s less than 2 square miles in size, but crammed within it are as many as 17 centuries where rest the bodies of more than 1.5 million souls.

Nearly all of the dead were once proud residents of San Francisco, both during their lifetime and after. But at the turn of the last century, the city passed an ordinance that banished all dead from within city limits. The government argued that cemeteries spread disease, but the true motive for the eviction was the rising value of real estate —land in San Francisco was too precious to waste on dead people.
Hundreds of thousands of dead bodies were dug up and transported to vacant lands south of the city and the town of Colma began to take shape. For the better part of the century, Colma’s residents were mainly gravediggers, flower growers and monument makers. It was only after the 1980s, that other types of people and businesses began settling next to the dead. Today, the little town has many thriving businesses, including car dealerships and shopping centers. In recent years, Colma has held many boxing events.

The history of Colma actually goes back to the middle of the 19th century, and begins with the California gold rush of 1849. The lure of quick riches brought hundred of thousands of prospectors, merchants and other immigrants from all over the world to California. Tens of thousands ended up in San Francisco. But gold seeking was not an easy business. Thousands died from accidents while others succumbed to diseases such as cholera, and San Francisco, then a small settlement of about 200 residents, found itself in need for more cemeteries. More than two dozen cemeteries were established and they were nearly filled to their capacity.

Cemetery owners than started looking towards Colma, a small community of homes and small businesses along El Camino Real and the adjacent railroad line. The first cemetery, the Holy Cross, was established in 1887.

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