The Chinese community and their supporters gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Kong Chow monument in Lincoln Park’s long-lost City Cemetery, what is now officially a historic landmark and what San Francisco Heritage called “one of the most important preservation accomplishments of recent years.”
Supervisor Connie Chan initiated the landmarking process for the historic burial ground. “It’s already fulfilling its purpose by telling the story of Chinese immigrants. Everyone is together, connecting and sharing,” Chan said.
The preservation of this history has taken on increased urgency in light of the pandemic and the rise of anti-Asian hate.
“People tell us to go back home, but where is home?” said Police Commission member and Chinatown leader Larry Yee. “This is our home. Our bones are buried here.”
Not only Chinese people remain in the historic cemetery that served as a burial ground for the poor and working class in early San Francisco. An estimated 20,000 bodies lie under the putting green of Lincoln Park Golf Course, where Japanese, Italian, French and Jewish people and Civil War veterans are buried alongside Chinese immigrants.
A memorial plaque with information about City Cemetery was unveiled after the ceremony, a much needed addition in an area that for too long has not recognized the many dead buried there.
The plaque’s location along Lincoln Highway was selected due to the discovery of 19 bodies from the French portion of the cemetery when road improvements were completed in 2020, according to Kari Lentz, senior planner with the San Francisco Planning Department.
The Kong Chow monument is the only structure that hints to the past of the park as a burial ground. San Francisco Recreation and Parks arranged with Lincoln Park Golf Course to pause the teeing of games for a few hours during the ceremony in honor of Chung Yeung, a traditional Chinese festival when people pay respect to their ancestors on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar.
With incense perfuming the air and participants dressed in blue silk robes stretching to the ground, the formal ceremony included poetry, alcohol and food offerings—like fruit and roast suckling pig—as well as the burning of paper money, all traditions of the more than 3,000-year-old festival. The organizers passed around bright yellow scarves printed with poetry in Chinese acknowledging the importance of remembering one’s ancestors as twangs of recorded Chinese music alternated with birdsong.
“This is a tremendous step for the city to recognize City Cemetery. Not just for the Chinese but for many working class groups,” said Chinese-American Supervisor Gordon Mar.
Woody LaBounty, a San Francisco historian who assisted with the historic landmarking process, hopes the landmark designation for City Cemetery will bring increased attention to the site and the many people still buried there.
“I hope other immigrant groups take this as an example. Scandinavians, Italians, Jews. People aren’t aware of all the people here under this golf course,” LaBounty said.