122-year-old gravestone washes up on Ocean Beach

I wonder what it was like to be a married twentysomething in San Francisco in 1890.

(Photos submitted by reader Tim K. Thanks, Tim.)

UPDATE:

Delia Presby Oliver (nee Shattuck)’s death notice in the April 11 Daily Alta.

Delia and Frank were married in October 1885.

And this may have been Delia’s house at 814 Powell (looks like she and Frank lived with her parents):

More details in the comments, which SFBay.ca has summarized.

135 Responses to “122-year-old gravestone washes up on Ocean Beach”

  1. Sweet T says:

    And she didn’t change her name. Progressive.

  2. Brillo says:

    but how does a marble stone wash up on the beach? They don’t float. Was this buried in the sand all this time and just exposed? There are shipwrecks buried out there, too… spooky.

    • Allan Hough says:

      Maybe a whale swallowed it during a tsunami, carried it around for a while and recently finally managed to regurgitate it?

    • San Francisco shut down their cemeteries and moved their bodies to Colma in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They used the gravestones as construction material in all sorts of things — I’d expect that one came from a breakwater or seawall.

      • MrEricSir says:

        Definitely fits the Colma move date-wise, but it seems like the larger mystery is how it got from point A to point B.

        • anon says:

          No real mystery – the ocean is a powerful beast. Case in point: in 1912 a storm threw up a 235 ton rock onto the northern end of Bondi Beach. Even more mind boggling if you’ve been there and seen the rock!

    • Alea says:

      I always wondered the same thing about whales, probably the same reason.

    • Lewis says:

      Gravestones used to wash up on ocean beach in the Sunset when I was a kid, I assume they still do. When they moved all the graves out of the city they used the old headstones to shore up the dunes on the great highway.

      We’d find markers once in a while, but always left them alone. I’m sure there are a lot in people’s backyards in the area though.

  3. Erik says:

    That had to have been buried. We would definitely know if there had been a storm big enough to move around a piece of rock that big.

  4. Death notice in the Daily Alta.

    Looks like Frank B. Oliver and Delia lived with her parents at 814 Powell (at California).

    Her maiden name was Shattuck — I think Presby was her middle name.

  5. For the record, a couple of references to old gravestones being used for seawalls and for “erosion prevention on Ocean Beach“.

  6. Oh wow. Delia’s older sister Hannah had a baby a month after she died.

    Hannah named her daughter Delia.

    • Ivy says:

      Hannah and Delia’s grandmother (David D Shattuck’s mother) was also Delia Presby. So, Hannah Shattuck Holmes named her first son after her dad (David Shattuck Holmes), then daughter after her dead sister (Delia Oliver Holmes), and then her last son gets his dad’s name (William Frank Holmes). Then William Frank Holmes grows up and marries…a woman named Delia (Delia Maud Parrish).

      • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

        How far down were you able to track the lineage? Any surviving descendents?

        • Ivy says:

          Well, to bring it kind of full circle, Delia Oliver Holmes’s daughter Amelia (who graduated from San Francisco’s Miss Burke’s School in 1940) is buried with her husband McGlachlin Hatch in Arlington National Cemetery. I can’t find any records of them having kids, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have any, just that I stopped myself from going any farther into a research hole. It doesn’t seem like Delia P Shattuck and her husband Frank B Oliver had any kids either. And wtf happened to him?

      • Stoopidbike says:

        I don’t see what’s the big delia.

        ha.

  7. Doug Madey says:

    “How was the surf?”
    “Pretty good. Stubbed my toe on a tombstone, though.”

  8. davely says:

    Looks like her dad, D.D. Shattuck, was a one time supervisor in San Francisco from 1868 – 1869. There’s also some interesting history on him digging up his brother-in-law, Phin Gage, in 1867.

    I also found this interesting article on Phin Gage (D.D. Shattuck was interviewed), who lived after having an iron rod penetrate his head earlier in life! (What?!) You can actually read the medical investigation here (search for “Shattuck”).

  9. Sweet T says:

    This is going to be the first MissionMission coffee table book. The Life and Death of Delia. Based on 100% crowd-sourced information.

    • Ivy says:

      But first we have to go get the headstone from Ocean Beach. We can make it into a succelent garden-parklet to have the book launch party in…

  10. RS says:

    …the doggy paw-steps kinda make it look like…”sniff, sniff…peeeeee”.

  11. Ariel Dovas says:

    I found this headstone out near Hunters Point a few years ago.

  12. roger says:

    wow, have never seen comments so complementary to a story before, ever. Great work, people!

  13. L says:

    awesome story unraveling :)

  14. Obbop says:

    And every one of the herd hereabouts will depart this existence plane.

    So quickly forgotten.

    As time passes all who knew us will also depart.

    Will any of us be thought of in some manner as the once-lost headstone has for a few folks who departed awhile back?

    Ruminating (mentally, not in a cud-like way) in my humble hovel, my shanty atop the Ozark Plateau amidst the hollers.

    Y’all have yerselves’ a mighty fine day and drop by for some possum stew id in the neighborhood.

  15. peabody111 says:

    Do you think that Shattuck Ave in Berkeley is named after this family?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Kittredge_Shattuck

    • Ivy says:

      I went down that road hardcore last night (and wanted it to be true because Francis K Shattuck is a descendant of Increase Mather, of Harvard University)(where Phin Gage’s skull is!!!!). But there doesn’t seem to be a relation.

  16. Turnips says:

    This is the best comments section I have ever witnessed.

  17. turntothesky says:

    Thank you for this awesome research! It’s a lovely way to honor the lives of Delia P. Oliver and the Shattuck family…and just because a piece of “construction material” washed up on the beach yesterday. Extraordinary. Brilliant. Thanks.

  18. Tim K. says:

    Wow. I didn’t expect this to get posted. i’m the one who walked by the stone and took pics when i was walking the dog on Saturday around 9am. I was right around Taraval St.
    Thanks for all the research. i tried doing a bit myself but didnt come up with nearly the same amount of info as provided above.
    Funny.. i have friends back east that are currently on vacation in the outer banks and they’ve been sending beautiful pics of the beach via email to me. I replied to all with the pics above and also bullet holes that found my office over the weekend on 19th and Alabama. Only in SF!

  19. Noelle says:

    How did Delia die? (sorry if I missed it in the previous comments)

    • Haven’t been able to find that out yet – death records are either not online or behind paywalls. But I’m afraid it might have been in childbirth, given her age.

      • turntothesky says:

        I’m having a hard time finding death records too. Records that should be available for her family simply aren’t. Could that be because they burned during the earthquake aftermath? I haven’t encountered this before, but I haven’t researched the period so close to 1906.

        • D. Jon Moutarde says:

          Not surprising — obituaries have always been (still are) reticent about the cause of death. I recently discovered a maiden great-aunt, a school teacher, who died just shy of her 24th birthday. Found a lengthy newspaper obituary about her, with much church-related activity, but no reason was given for her demise. Childbirth seems doubtful to me.

  20. So it looks like Frank lived with Delia’s parents until 1893 or so. He moves to 524 Oak St in 1894. He’s not in the 1895 directory, but it looks like he moved back around the corner to 843 California later in the 1890s.

    There are some articles about him in the SF Call regarding legal battles with coffee growers in Guatemala. (Maybe he travelled down to Guatemala for some coffee investments?)

    In 1896 he helped solve a mail theft crime and in 1898 he was in a basketball league where Frank played center, and his team the Lawyers beat the Rushers 14-2.

    Didn’t see any specific sign of him remarrying, but there are a few references to a Mrs. F. B. Oliver in the SF Call in 1910-1912, but not sure if it’s the same F.B. But it does look like he bought property in Oakland in 1893 and moved over to there in 1900. Haven’t had a chance to track him after that.

  21. Bobsmo says:

    I just dug up a gravestone in my backyard. Anza Vista. The old Mt. Calvary Cemetery. here is a pic
    http://imgur.com/qFfda

    and video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mW_Ee7GDfE

    I tracked down William T. Murray in an 1870 census. He was a sailor.

  22. Cary Jones says:

    I saw many gravestones on Ocean Beach in the 80′s while jogging. They are buried in the shifting sands.

  23. @marycray says:

    This is by far one of the best threads I’ve read on Mission Mission.

  24. N Chippings says:

    You guys are amazing. I saw this story on the Ch 2 news tonight (6/6) and came to see what I could learn about Delia; you have done it all. Great work everybody! I thought I was a pretty good researcher, but you guys are far beyond me.

  25. john says:

    Article is wrong, this headstone did not wash up. Washing up amongst sand, rocks and gravel would have worn away the lettering on the tombsone. Additionally, the tombstone would be smooth, just like a beach rock that gets tumbled over and over. This tombstone was buried deep in the ground, then later was covered by sand either mechanically or from waves. It is now just being exposed. If left there it will eventually be unreadeable. Probably the best thing to do is to move it up onto shore away from water to preserve. Exposed like this it will only last 3-4 years before it is unreadeable.

    A bigger question I have is, how did this end up out there. People back in the day really honored their dead and other peoples dead. Was San Francisco liberal back then that they didn’t care? Probably not. This may actually be a mis-spelled tombstone/mistake. It was common to dump these where spelling mistakes, wrong names, etc were made. Look for names with similiar spellings, look for people with same names that didn’t actually die, etc.

    The people that carved headstones back in the day usually did the work at their house and then would cart them to the cemetary. Also look for cemetaries that were pulled up at the Presidio. Military may have pulled them up and dumped them. If this is not a mistake headstone then there is a coffin missing a headstone somewhere.

    Don’t look for the obvious, look for what was typical at that time.

    That headstone is in incredible shape. Highly unlikely this condition could remain if it was always or for the most part out at the beach. It is most likely that it was recently dumped by San Francisco or even neighboring cities. If you have headstones and you want to get rid of them, the best place to dump is lakes, rivers and oceans. Given the lack of moral compass in san fransisco and most of the bay area it is certainly possible if not likely that this was just dumped recently by the city, county in which case looking into areas that are doing redevelopement where a cemetary may have existed. San Jose I recall ran into some headstones in the last month or so. They were building a hospital and found them. There was some sort of cover up and this headstone might be a result of that. A headstone can stop a million dollar project in its tracks just like an indian bone can. Get rid of them before anyone finds out is usually the response.

    Interesting but very explainable.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Did you read the research above? It is well-established how the gravestone, and others, ended up there.

      Nice random non-sequitur attack against liberals you slotted in there, btw. Stay classy, there, skippy.

      And, for your reference, moving burials without moving the headstones has been a pretty common practice for, well, about as long as there have been cemeteries to be moved.

      Perhaps somewhat less common, but by no means unheard of, is moving the gravestones but NOT removing the burials, and instead just paving and/or building right over them. I worked on a Victorian graveyard where that was the case. It was not very nice.

      • Newport(RI)Craig says:

        Chiming in from the East Coast :>) Not very nice is right about moving JUST the gravestones. Great point. You may remember that was the premise/ending in the 1982 movie “Poltergeist” {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poltergeist_(film)}. I remember how horrible it was just watching what the movie’s “real estate agent” had done with the graveyard. Here’s an excerpt from the plot: “As Steven and Dana return home to the mayhem, Steven realizes that rather than relocating the cemetery for the development of Cuesta Verde (CA), Teague merely had the headstones moved and the bodies left behind, desecrating the burial grounds. The Freelings flee Cuesta Verde while the house itself implodes into another dimension, to the astonishment of onlookers.” What an amazing comment section!

        • pcal says:

          You should visit Paris sometime.

          • Newport(RI)Craig says:

            Been there a couple of times but probably not to the area you seem to be suggesting. I’m think you are referring to the below:

            “The Saints Innocents Cemetery (French: Cimetière des Saints-Innocents or Cimetière des Innocents) is a defunct cemetery in Paris that was used from the Middle Ages until the late 18th century. It was the oldest and largest cemetery in Paris and had often been used for mass graves.[1] It was closed because of overuse in 1780, and in 1786 the bodies were exhumed and transported to the unused subterranean quarries near Montparnasse known as the Catacombs. The place Joachim-du-Bellay in the Les Halles district now covers the site of the cemetery.

            The cemetery took its name (referring to the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents) from the attached church of the Saints Innocents that has now also disappeared.”

            And/or:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Paris

          • pcal says:

            Yes. The catacombs are scary.

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      To sum up: You don’t know what you’re talking about. But thanks for playing.

    • “I type before I read.”

      I’m tempted to remove all the vowels from your post, john.

  26. angeldust memories says:

    KPIX 5 news just had a segment about the story, using the top photo with a graphic credit reading MISSIONMISSION. 6:40 AM. Just sayin.

  27. Ariel Dovas says:

    Here’s the KTVU report where they talk about the work done on this post, without ever mentioning it directly.

    • tk says:

      I’ve found that local news outlets often lift stories directly from blogs without attribution. I can remember 3 or 4 times when there was a story on a blog one day and it showed up on local news a few days later.

  28. theparsley says:

    Most people are surprised to learn how many urban burial grounds throughout America have been dismantled, either with or without removal of the bodies. It’s a sad fact that gravestones usually have no intrinsic value, except for historical interest, and it’s been very common for them to turn up as building materials, fill material, ship ballast, you name it.

    Actually, being in seawater would probably have been a good method of preserving the marble – it’s acid rain that melts away marble gravestones, and seawater is not that acid. There’s also something about the minerals naturally present in seawater preventing the calcite in the marble from precipitating into seawater, but I’d be out of my depth trying to explain that more fully.

    Being buried underground is also an excellent way of preserving marble. Hence the fact that ancient Greek and Roman marble sculpture is still discovered underground, and in the sea. A couple years ago a Roman marble about 2,000 years old was found in Israel when an eroding cliff collapsed into the sea.

    In Ventura there is a city park that used to be the city cemetery, which was closed to new burials in the 1940s and stripped of all its headstones in 1968 and converted to a park (without removing the bodies). The headstones were dumped in a corporation yard and eventually made their way into a ravine. Some washed out to the beach, some were reclaimed by relatives before they got dumped, and there was a local art teacher who used to tell his students to go down to the ravine to collect marble for making sculpture. What remains in the ravine is covered in sediment probably ten feet deep at this point, and every so often more stones emerge at the beach.

    The idea that “once upon a time” people treated their dead with more respect is a nice thought but not really true. There was a widespread movement to evict cemeteries from cities, starting in the early 1800s; San Francisco is only notable because the removals happened so late, in the early 20th century. Increased real estate value tends to trump the concept that burial places should be “eternal,” a recently invented concept that is not proving sustainable in the long run. (By “recent” I mean the 1830s.)

    • Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

      Exactly. Although the birth of the Cemetery movement in the mid-1800s was a direct response to the terrible conditions of cramped and overflowing (in some cases quite literally overflowing) church graveyards. It was the norm for gravesites to be re-used over and over again over time.

      • theparsley says:

        I like to entertain people with the story of the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents. Always a hit at dinner parties, especially the part about the corpse explosion.

        Re-use of graves has been the norm in Western cities until very recently. It’s really the only solution to limited urban in-ground burial space that makes sense, though it doesn’t appeal to modern sensibilities. There is nothing else in the urban fabric that would ever be permanently locked down to only one type of use, and an economically unproductive use at that – so burial places have an uncomfortable relationship with cities at best.

  29. theparsley says:

    Trina Lopez, who directed the documentary “A Second Final Rest,” has a Q&A here about the San Francisco cemetery removals.

    http://trinalopez.com/finalrest/history.html

    • Anne Marie says:

      I saw something about that documentary. Have to get down SFPL to see if they have a copy to check out.

  30. scum says:

    This story is dead to me.

  31. Mr Black says:

    I’ve seen readable headstones as part of the drainage system on the paths at Buena Vista park above the Haight. And of course there’s the Wave Organ…

  32. I’m getting flashbacks to the movie “Poltergeist” where Craig T. Nelson is yelling at his boss:”You didn’t move the bodies did ya? You only moved the headstones.You only moved the headstones!”

    • Newport(RI)Craig says:

      Right on the MONEY! I posted my similar comment (above) before reading yours. apologies. Great line from a great movie. Always liked Craig T. Nelson’s….first name….LOL.

  33. The cemetery headstones and other debris was put there in April 1944. Laurel Hill had been closed for a few years and was in the (slow) process of demolition. Because of WWII, the city did not have access to normal construction material and got permission from Laurel Hill to take debris and dump it at rivera street to stop erosion of the Great Highway

    http://inside.outsidelands.org/2012/06/07/tombstones-revealed-at-ocean-beach/

  34. Barbara says:

    I think it is a disgrace for the city to be able to do that. The stone should be returned to where her body is interred.

    • Jorge says:

      Read the 4000 links above. The stone can’t be “returned” to where her body ended up. The body was moved.

      • Barbara says:

        Why yes I have read the “4000″ links. Did you read your reply. The stone could be returned to where is ended up not to where she WAS.

        • Newport(RI)Craig says:

          Exactly what I was thinking. Why COULDN’T they return it to where her body ended up? Unless THAT new spot is (now?…then?) unmarked as well…??

          • theparsley says:

            Because the new location is a mass grave. At the time that the bodies were removed from the San Francisco cemeteries the families (if they could be found) were offered the opportunity to purchase and move individual gravestones; if this didn’t happen, the gravestone were chucked out and the bodies were buried en masse.

            If all found gravestones “should” be moved to wherever the body is at present, who “should” pay for it? It seems that many people feel like this is something that should happen (and most people don’t feel that way out of a literal belief that ghosts will haunt someone if it doesn’t happen), but they have not thought about the costs and logistics of actually doing it or whose responsibility it is.

  35. Larry says:

    reading this reminds me of the sailors prayer prior to buring a comrade at sea, the only part of the prayer I rememb is “UNTIL THE SEA GIVES UP HER DEAD”. Now whether the sailors prayer is only for sailors or not it fits in with the washing up of this head stone.
    And I too thinks it’s a shame that not only the people of San Fransisco but other coastal cities chose to use headstones for a sea wall or whatever but it was widlely accetable in the past, it would be more harshly critized and possibly forbidden today–hopefully so.

  36. Karen says:

    Awesome reading, thank you!

  37. Kate says:

    William Holmes m. a Shattuck. This is old family. His father, I believe, was Calvin Hall Holmes. The Holmes family were California Pioneers deeply entrenched above Calistoga. Delia’s old family comes from there.

  38. Here’s a shot of tombstones being used as a retaining wall in Noe Valley

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/anythreewords/7169199755

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  41. Steven says:

    Delia’s Birthdate:

    So, with the inclusion of five leap years (1868, 1872, 1876, 1884, 1888 – respectively) Delia would have been born on Wednesday, May 8, 1867.

  42. Steven says:

    She would have been 18 years of age on her wedding day in October.

    • Steven says:

      The name “Delia” is of Greek Origin

      The name itself means: Of Delos (Delos being an actual Greek island – an integral trading port and important landmark in Greek history and mythology – the alleged birthplace of Zeus’s twins, his son Apollo and daughter Artemis.

      Interesting fact about the dead of Ancient Delos: A number of “purifications” were executed by the city-state of Athens in an attempt to render the island fit for the proper worship of the gods. The first took place in the 6th century BC, directed by the tyrant Pisistratus who ordered that all graves within sight of the temple be dug up and the bodies moved to another nearby island. In the 5th century, during the 6th year of the Peloponnesian war and under instruction from the Delphic Oracle, the entire island was purged of all dead bodies. It was then ordered that no one should be allowed to either die or give birth on the island due to its sacred importance.

      • Steven says:

        The name “Presby” is derived from the Greek word presbýteros – which simply means “Elder”

        • Steven says:

          “Shattuck” is of Scottish origin and translates to combine “prince of war” and “stablery”

          “Oliver” of French origin, more obviously translates to “merchant or processor of olives and olive oils”

          If derived from Old Norse (Celtic), Óleifr (or Oliver) translates to mean “ancestral relic”

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