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Tombstones wash up on Ocean Beach

When you’re strolling — shivering, perhaps — along Ocean Beach, there are plenty of things you expect to see washed up on the shore: Sea shells, starfish, crabs, maybe even an old shoe or part of someone’s surfboard.

What you might not expect to find is a century-old tombstone.

Earlier last month, two beachcombers found 20-year-old Emma Bosworth’s gravestone from 1876.

This would surely will go down in history as one of the most bizarre things to wash up on Ocean beach’s sandy shores, except for the fact that one month later another tombstone rolled up on the same beach.

This gravestone belonged to 26-year-old Delia Presby Oliver from 1890. Delia was married to Frank B. Oliver in October 1885 and when after she died five years later, her sister gave birth to a girl, naming her Delia.

The story becomes increasingly interesting once we find out that Delia’s father, D.D. Shattuck, had a short stint as a San Francisco supervisor from 1868 – 1869. His brother-in-law is Phineas Gage, the famous railroad construction foreman known for surviving an accident in which a large iron rod was driven through his head.

Now the question is how did these tombstones end up at Ocean Beach?

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, San Francisco shut down cemeteries within the city limits and moved the bodies to Colma, leaving behind a plethora of tombstones. Leftover stones were used as construction material for various things, including a makeshift sea wall.

While this sounds weird and perhaps unconventional, at the time it wasn’t unheard of to reuse the old stones for other projects.

Bill McLaughlin along with the SF Surfrider Foundation published a recent paper about the history of erosion at Ocean Beach. It explained:

“In the 1940s, The Great Highway was threatened once again. This time the problem was at Rivera Street. Instead of constructing another seawall, a makeshift revetment made of tombstones was dumped on the beach. The gravestones came from the Laurel Hill cemetery after it had recently closed due to pressure from developers.”

So it’s likely that dear Emma Bosworth’s gravestone came from the now-closed Laurel Hill cemetery.

If you’re interested in learning more about this peculiar process, check out the film“A Second Final Rest.” The film focuses on the removal of graves from The City’s main cemeteries, Odd Fellows’, Masonic, Laurel Hill, and Calvary to Colma.

So next time you take a trip to the beach, be careful not to stub your toe on any tombstones.

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