Colma, a quiet Californian town of roughly two square miles is home to 1,700 living residents and over 1.5 million dead ones. Most of the town’s forever-silent population are people who lived and died in San Francisco, but, just like most of today’s living residents, couldn’t afford to spend their afterlives in the expensive metropolis.
In the year 1900, San Francisco was a city crowded by the dead. During the gold rush, gold miners, merchants and immigrants from all around the world flocked here in search of a better life, bringing with them disease, and as the death toll rose, the 27 cemeteries filled to the brink of overflowing. They were considered a health hazard, but most importantly, they were taking up a large chunk of prime real-estate, so in 1902, the City and the County Board of Supervisors banned further burials in the city and forced larger cemeteries like Laurel Hill and Calvary Cemetry to move their residents outside the city. The fight to keep the dead in their original resting places lasted a few decades, but by 1942, only two cemeteries remained in San Francisco – The San Francisco National Cemetery and the Mission Dolores Cemetery. They are still around today, but neither is accepting new burials.
Over 150,000 dead bodies were moved from San Francisco to the small town of Colma, a small community established in 1892, when Archbishop Patrick Riordan decided to create a new necropolis in a valley five miles south of The City. The small field of potatoes that he blessed as the site of the new Catholic Cemetery would go on to become the world’s only incorporated town where the dead outnumber the living.
Throughout its entire history, Colma has never had more living residents than dead. Today, it is home to around 1,800 living people and over 1.5 million dead sleeping the eternal slumber in one of its 17 massive cemeteries, fondly referred to by the locals as parks. Colma still serves as the burial ground of San Francisco so the number of “subterranean residents” is still growing at a rapid pace. It is estimated that around 75 dead bodies arrive in Colma every single day.
The extreme living-to-dead ratio has earned Colma a number of morbid nicknames, like “the City of the Silent”, “the City of Souls”, or “the City of the Dead”, but the vastly outnumbered living population never let that bother them. They know that it’s the dead that make their home unique, and even used a bit of graveyard humor when creating their official town slogan – “It’s good to be alive in Colma”.
Photo: Colma Historical Association
Colma is an eternal home to many historical figures, from the legendary Wild West gambler and lawman Wyat Earp, to denim pioneer Levi Strauss or baseball icon Joe DiMaggio.