Why There Were Once Tombstones On A California Beach

On an ordinary spring day in May of 2012, two friends were out for a stroll along the coast of San Francisco's Ocean Beach when they stumbled upon possibly one of the most out-of-place discoveries that could be made on a California beach: a tombstone from the year 1876. 

It was nowhere near Halloween, and the tombstone was not an elaborate prank, nor was it a form of guerrilla advertising or a creative movie promotion. The tombstone actually washed up of its own accord, after having once marked the gravesite of 20-year-old Emma Bosworth, as a result of century-old city planning. And just one month later, a local woman named Teresa Trego came across a second tombstone on the very same beach, this one dating back to 1890, per Huffpost. Despite their age, the stones were remarkably well-preserved, and their engravings were clearly legible, allowing curious researchers to dig deeper into the history of the gravestones.

Tombstones in the sea

According to SFBay, the second tombstone belonged to 26-year-old Delia Presby Oliver, and both she and Emma Bosworth were most likely interred at Laurel Hill cemetery in the late 1800s.

However, in the early 20th century, San Francisco officials decided they wanted to free up more land within the city limits, and many cemeteries, including Laurel Hill, were closed down. The bodies were dug up and transferred to Colma, but the workers simply left the tombstones where they were. Not wanting to waste perfectly good stones, the city later repurposed the tombstones for a variety of construction projects, including the construction of a seawall on Ocean Beach.

The heavy granite was used to construct a makeshift seawall that was intended to help prevent erosion. As time went on, the wall itself eroded and some of the stones were pulled into the sea, only to wash back up again in the 21st century, leaving surprised beachgoers wondering where else these recycled tombstones might turn up.