It’s hard to know what kind of life Delia Presby led in late 1800s San Francisco, but we do know she was married and died far too young.
That snapshot of her life emerged recently along San Francisco’s Ocean Beach as wave erosion has uncovered tombstones leftover when the city shut down several cemeteries and moved the bodies to Colma.
David Gallagher, director of the Western Neighborhood s Project, said Presby – who died in 1890 at the age of 26 -- was likely buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, which was shut down by the city and the bodies removed in the 1940s.
Officials attempted to contact the families of those buried in the cemetery to arrange for new gravesites elsewhere. However, unclaimed remains or those of families too poor to arrange a move were relocated to mass graves in Colma. “The headstones became unclaimed property owned by the city,” Gallagher told KTVU. “In 1942 or 1943, there were great storms in the city. The Great Highway was eroding around Rivera Street so they had all this construction debris. Among the debris were all these headstones that they dumped to stop the surging tide. “
Another surging tide has now unburied Presby’s large granite headstone nearly 70 years later along with pieces of several other markers. The eerie display has drawn the attention of beach walkers and joggers along Ocean Beach.
Susan Palleschi often jogs along Ocean Beach and was surprised when she saw the large tombstone.
“I’ve seen some really unusual things out here,” she said. “But that gravestone blew me away.”
Teresa Trego was likewise fascinated with the headstone.
"It's right there out in the open,” she said. “It's kind of poignant. It's also what San Francisco is about. We're a small town. We reuse everything."
U.S. Park Service Ranger George Durgerian said there were no plans to recover and relocate the headstones.
So for now the markers will remain exposed until the tides, sand, wind and surf once again buries them from view.
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