Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Lost and Forgotten Cemeteries of San Diego" Program Summary

The September 30th program meeting of the Chula Vista Genealogical Society featured Dr. Setrh Mallios of San Diego State University's Anthropology Department as the speaker. Dr. Mallios's topic was "The Lost and Forgotten Cemeteries of San Diego." His curriculum vitae was posted here.

This presentation was one of the "best ever" we've had at CVGS. Seth is an accomplished professor of anthropology, and has written two books (with David Caterino) on San Diego cemeteries - The Cemeteries of San Diego and The Cemeteries of San Diego County, both published by Arcadia Press and available online and in San Diego bookstores.

Seth described the San Diego Gravestone Project, which includes a study of San Diego's dead and how San Diego treats them, restoration and preservation of grave markers (which are a non-renewable cultural resource), and anthropological analysis of mortuary culture.

The goal of the San Diego Gravestone Project is to document all cemeteries and grave markers in San Diego County erected prior to 1960, to locate them using a Geographic Information System (GIS), to document them with digital photos, using archaeological rigor and standardized methodology. The project includes collecting data about gravestone physical properties (type of marker, type of material, condition) and literal properties (inscriptions, etc.).

There are 23 known cemeteries within San Diego city limits, and about 150 known cemeteries in the County. However, some of the known cemeteries are buried under parks, roads, parking lots and buildings. The most well-known example is Calvary Cemetery in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. There were over 3,000 burials in this cemetery when it was converted to a park (called Pioneer Park) in 1968. The gravestones were removed and dumped in a ravine at Mount Hope Cemetery several miles away. When the stones were found, the 142 "best looking" stones were salvaged and returned to Pioneer Park and placed in a corner of the park. These stones were not placed on the graves of their namesakes, just put in the corner. The graves are still in Calvary Cemetery under Pioneer Park.

A 1982 article in the Journal of San Diego History listed 38 known cemeteries in San Diego County. Mallios's team found another 110 cemeteries by searching old maps, old photographs, surveys and word of mouth.

Seth provided a chronology of San Diego cemeteries - breaking the known locations down into Prehistoric, Mission and Indian (1769-1847, with Indian, Spanish and Mexican remains), Pioneer (1848-1907, with early American and Victorian graves), and Mega (1908 to the present, with gardens and landscaped grounds). He noted the trends in types of markers and symbols over the years. The shift from above ground columns, tablets and markers to flush in-ground stones took place in the 1910-1920 time period, and was heavily influenced by World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic.

There was much more in the hour-long talk, of course! This presentation was an enjoyable, amusing and informative walk through San Diego's past. Seth is an excellent presenter and an expert in San Diego burial cultural history.

There are some interesting articles available online about Seth Mallios and the San Diego Gravestone Project:

* The San Diego Gravestone Project (with a list of pre-1960 burials at the Jewish Home of Peace Cemetery in San Diego)

* City of the forgotten dead (describes the Calvary Cemetery debacle)

* Cemeteries are the repository of centuries past


Susi's Quarter said...

I wrote my comments on .

It was a great talk. It makes me glad we are doing the

research for La Vista. NOW to find that old cemetery here in south bay. I bet the county knows but doesn't
want to say.

Katherine Borges said...

I once asked my father what he remembered about the suffering of the Great Depression since he grew up in the 1930's. He replied that he remembered the desperation of people. For instance, his school principal talked to the children about the grave robbing at the cemetery behind his school in San Diego.