It’s great to be alive in Colma, California. Seriously—that’s the city’s motto. And it’s a fitting one: with a population of 1,400 living residents and 1.5 million “souls,” there are far more people below the ground than above.
As retired town historian Pat Hatfield explains in the video above, the history of Colma’s unusually large graveyard population is due in large part to the California gold rush. The inflow of gold miners seeking their fortunes also brought an inflow of new disease, followed by death. Soon, San Francisco found themselves with 27 full cemeteries. Since the town leaders preferred their land to be filled with living residents and not with dead, they passed an eviction notice in 1914, and the bodies were transferred to Colma.
It’s not just gold miners who are buried within the town limits, though. Famous underground residents include Joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, and William Randolph Hearst.
These days, there are 17 cemeteries in the town, including one specifically for pets. According to Colma’s Wikipedia page, those 17 cemeteries make up 73 percent of the town’s land area. They’re so commonplace to Colma’s residents that they call them their parks. “We picnic in them, we walk in them…our children play in them!” Hatfield says. “They’re just a part of us.”
Is someone getting this? Tim Burton? David Lynch? There’s a movie to be made here.