Cookies   I display ads to cover the expenses. See the privacy policy for more information. You can keep or reject the ads.

Video thumbnail
There aren't many graveyards in San Francisco.
Two, actually:
a small one at Mission Dolores Church,
and a military one at the Presidio.
San Francisco land is too expensive to be given to the dead,
and it has been for a long time:
in the first decades of the 20th century,
all the 150,000 bodies buried in San Francisco were moved.
To one town.
Welcome to Colma, just a few miles south of San Francisco:
a town known as the City of Souls.
Colma is only a small place,
but about three-quarters of it is made up of cemeteries.
About one and a half thousand people live here...
along with about one and a half million who don't so much live here as just... rest.
That means the dead outnumber the living by around a thousand to one.
And many of those bodies were moved here from their first resting place,
or their second, or their third.
The trouble was that San Francisco ran out of room,
and banned new burials.
the dead don't pay rent,
and their living relatives don't really want to either.
With no new, er, customers arriving in San Francisco,
the old graveyards there had no money for upkeep, and fell into ruin.
There were reports of grave robbery,
of valuables or -- occasionally -- of skeletons.
So fourteen cemetery associations founded this town as a place for the dead.
Many of those moved here were placed in mass graves,
their tombstones sold to be used for construction material
or dumped in the Bay as breakwaters.
With no-one to pay for new funeral plots
and more than a hundred thousand bodies to move,
the folks doing the job took shortcuts.
Sometimes, modern construction work in San Francisco
will exhume dozens of bodies that the movers missed.
So why go to the trouble of moving them at all, then?
Well, it was either move the bodies immediately,
or deal with them while you're digging foundations for new buildings anyway.
What else were they going to do?
Almost everyone has a fear and disgust response to death, for good reasons:
and religion and tradition in America, then,
dictated that the dead must be buried.
The Catholic Church wouldn't allow cremation until decades later,
and, well, there wasn't another option.
And sure, the comments on this video
will make all sorts of horror movie or zombie apocalypse jokes --
and if you've already done that,
congratulations, you're not original --
but here's a different question:
most people figure that cemetery plots are forever.
If you choose to be buried,
the spot where you're laid to rest is permanently yours,
at least in some sense of yours.
That's not true: already, some areas of Europe are re-using graves,
and eventually every headstone's going to be weathered away.
So here's my question:
when does moving a body stop being disrespect for the dead
and start being archaeology?