Friday, March 12, 2010

National Cemetery Walk

Pauline Fryer tombstoneThis morning I went on a guided tour of the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio. Because of the break in the rain, it was a perfect day to spend 2 hours outside. But it was our park guide, Galen, who really made it special. He has a genuine fascination with the cemetery's population, & the tour is largely the result of his own interests & personal research, which can extend to contacting descendants of those buried here. For over 2 hours he led an informative & endearing tour, tracing history through stories of specific individuals interred in the cemetery.

A number of colorful characters show up. There's the 300-pound General William Shafter, involved in a beef scandal while directing troops in Cuba. Then there's Sarah Bowman, a camp follower in the Mexican-American War, whose nickname, "The Great Western", derives from the largest sailing ship of the time. We were all intrigued by the headstone of the whimsically named Two Bits, who may have been an Indian scout. Stunningly, when we got to the grave of Archie Williams, African American gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympics, someone in the group told us she knew him, having worked with him as a teacher. She had not expected to come across someone she knew!

Edmund Biow tombstoneIt is notable that the cemetery was originally segregated by military rank, but it appears at no time to have been segregated by race, sex or religion. Indeed, I was amazed to discover that a government issued headstone may include a standard "emblem of belief" denoting an atheist. It looks like a picture of an atom.

Galen's walking tour is offered twice a month in the coming months. He was very sad when telling us that sometimes no one shows up.

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