One might never have guessed that the grounds upon which we devoutly study and pursue our developing futures were once catacombs of tombstones and a myriad of skeletons. During the visit with USF’S archivist Father Kotlanger, the haunted past of the University slowly began to unravel, revealing the somewhat startling truth that our University is built on top of very old and large burial grounds dating back to the 1800's.
In the 1800’s four massive cemeteries spanned over the entire distance of what is now the campus of USF. They were called Calvary, Masonic, Lauryl Hill, and Odd Fellows cemeteries. Nearing the 1900’s all four fell into tremendous disrepair, creeping ivy and shrubbery slowly consumed grave plots and homeless inhabitants haunted the tombs, looking for a warm place to sleep. The Jesuits bought these cemeteries in the mid 1800’s and in 1855 St. Ignatius Academy became the first building to be established for the University. However, the cemeteries continued to lie near by and the founding fathers of USF began to evaluate the grounds during a time where the University and city itself needed expansion.
In 1900 the Board of Supervisors prohibited further burials in any of the four cemeteries and just twelve years later, the board ordered a mandate to have them vacated.
But according to Father Kotlinger, “these bodies stayed on and on and finally the fathers ordered that they be removed by the state.”
The final resting grounds of the adventurous souls and skeletons of Lauryl, Masonic, Calvary, and Odd Fellows cemeteries came to be Colma (a small city located just miles out of San Francisco). Colma, also referred to as “The City of The Dead” does the ancient bodies justice with its beautiful white marble and 18th century setting. The tombstones were broken up and reused as founding stones for some of San Francisco’s sea walls. Today one can still go down to Sloat on Ocean Beach and when the tide is sucked out, grave stone debris become visible, allowing a brief glimpse of our past.
Roughly forty years later, the growth of USF became imminent and in 1940, excavations for further buildings began to occur. In that time, just a young ROTC student, Kotlanger can recall the day a memorabilia was dug up from the past by construction workers who were forging Gillson Hall. “They suddenly threw down their shovels and picks,” reminisced Kotlanger, “they walked straight up to the foreman and said, “we’ll work for you anywhere and anytime but we don’t do cemeteries.”
You see, the workers had stumbled across an old corpse, one that had perhaps rotted through its wooden casket, swallowed by the earth until recently.
Supposedly, all the bodies from the four cemeteries were successfully extracted from USF’s land years ago. But there is still a chance that to this day, we walk on the final resting grounds of many dead who were left behind. Who knows, perhaps in the digging for Kalmanovitz hall there remains a corpse or two to be turned over and maybe, just maybe we will be lucky enough to find yet another departed.