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We Leave the Dead

"No fragments littered about

Of a dead and buried race

In the margins of histories.

No fragments: these splintered bones

Construct no human face,

These stones are simply stones."

-Anthony Thwaite, from

"The Owl in the Tree"

Tombstones have always been a strange fascination for me. More specifically, the objects that loved ones leave behind. Cemeteries are fine, but it's the stones that draw me in. Where some feel fright others feel comfort. It's this fascination that led me to explore some local Bay Area cemeteries early last year.

I began my journey at the Holy Cross cemetery in Colma, California. The necropolis known as the "City of Souls" due to its 1.5 million interred residents. There are 17 cemeteries in this small town including some that are religiously specific. Holy Cross is a Catholic Cemetery and houses notable figures like Joe Dimaggio, whose gravesite I was able to visit. There were baseballs, shirt pins, bats, flowers, plastic easter eggs, and more surrounding the site.

The majority of gravesites in Christian and Catholic cemeteries held statuary and various religious relic figures. These ranged from the small and simple to the large and ornate.

Holy Cross also held little alcoves, showing long lines of prominant graves under the shades of trees. In some areas I got the feeling of being in a giant chessboard and that the tombs would come to life and start playing a live game of Wizard's Chess.

From Holy Cross I made my way over to the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, the largest Jewish Cemetery in the area. In addition to the traditional stones being placed upon the graves there were also tags on several of the markers. These showed that the buried was a survivor of the Holocaust. There was a large memorial at the center of the landscape that held all of the names of those who didn't survive.

I continued my search for unique items at the Lafayette Cemetery in Lafayette, California a few days later. This was a little bit different from Holy Cross in that this was a local historical cemetery with no religious affilliations. There is an entire family plot where relatives to the Donner Party are laid to rest. It was here that I was able to see some objects that were a little less traditional. For example this small mailbox. The post itself rose about 8 inches out of the ground, while the box was no bigger than 2" at it's longest. There was still a small written letter inside, but it was left alone out of respect.

For such a small cemetery, several small angel statues littered the ground. Seemingly not belonging to any particular cemetery resident, they had a strong presence throughout the location.

This project is an ever-growing one, and I will update this blog as I continue to explore other Bay Area cemeteries. If you know of any specific locations I should check out, feel free to contact me at or send a direct message through my Contact page. Blessed Be and thanks for reading!

All images are low-res scans of silver gelatin prints. ©Hop the Twig 2018

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