The official slogan of this quaint and curious town proclaims, “It’s great to be alive in Colma!” In no other city in the United States would such a slogan have the meaning that it does here. Colma, only 2.25 square miles, has 1,500 living residents but more than a thousand times that in its deceased population. Seventeen cemeteries cover 75 percent of Colma’s land. There is, however, more to Colma—formerly named Lawndale—than its cemeteries and monuments. A vibrant community, it boasts a rich history, including agricultural and business history, sports teams, schools, a theatre, and drayage businesses. Together, these components comprise a unique and important town and a critical part of San Mateo County’s heritage.
Author Bio: Michael Smookler, a docent at the Colma History Museum and author of San Mateo County Coast, shows here in vintage images how a farming community founded by gold prospectors in the 1850s gradually became a necropolis as the dead were “evicted” from San Francisco cemeteries at the turn of the 20th century. Working with the extensive photograph collections of the museum, along with those of longtime area families, Smookler depicts Colma’s surprising evolution over time.
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