The City of Souls

Fire departments do not tend to put skulls on any t-shirts that they issue.  Skulls send the wrong message.

Except in Colma, California, where 1800 people live amidst 1.5 million corpses.  Colma is the cemetery city for San Francisco, which lies just to the north.  San Francisco cleared out its cemeteries in the early 20th century and sent the corpses to Colma for reburial. Death has been the town’s mission ever since.

If you live in Colma, death is part of your life and maybe even part of your livelihood.   The residents take death in stride, even with a little pride, and call Colma the City of the Silent, or the City of Souls. The Colma Fire District happily got with the program via the t-shirt shown above, a chili cook-off tee covered with fireman’s axes and skulls.

Why not? Everybody in the San Francisco Bay Area jokes about Colma.  in 1970, the BBC made a documentary about San Francisco and earthquake safety called “San Francisco, the City That Waits to Die.”  People started calling Colma “The City That Waits for ‘The City That Waits to Die,’ to Die.”

You can pretty much bet that any t-shirts out of Colma are going to mention death or cemeteries. The town has little else to offer besides a shopping center and a few car dealers.

One of the cemeteries even issued its own t-shirt: the Pet’s Rest pet cemetery and crematorium.  This tee honors the cemetery’s sixtieth anniversary and its resident (living) dogs, especially Lord Von Kalemon, the Big Dog himself.

A pet cemetery with a big black dog for a mascot? Symbolism is everywhere in Colma. The endless green lawns and tidy white memorial parks mimic a sort of Paradise for the silent souls who’ve passed on to the real thing — or hoped that they would. In Colma you’ll even find a Catholic school called Holy Angels Elementary.

Yet the town motto proclaims: “it’s great to be alive in Colma!” I’m sure that it is.  But a sense of humor helps.

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