I visited Old Town San Diego on May 5. Cinco de Mayo was in full force and the loud cheers of scantly clad, button nosed, bleach blonde coed party goers accentuated the increasing buzz in my head of one too many margaritas.
Ahhh, but a little celebration is never going to keep me from exploring a nearby cemetery. In fact, the juxtaposition of a solemn place of remembrance with an active Cinco de Mayo street festival brought the need for a celebration of life in a cemetery to the forefront of my mind. As an occasional sun drenched, alcohol affected reveler stumbled into the cemetery an instant aire of dignity replaced the “woo-hoo” mindset. Drunk or not, we all know how to act in a cemetery.
El Campo Santo Cemetery was founded in 1849 and has a violent past. The hoards outside the gates enjoying their Jose Cuervo would never realize that executions were held in this cemetery. In fact, in 1852 Antonio Garra, a native tribal leader, stood at the foot of his grave as a firing squad laid sights on him and forced him to meet his maker. This is just one of many stories documented within the cemetery.
The graves in El Campo Santo are quaint and decorated. They are haphazard in their arrangement and the structures of their markers and enclosures follow no discernable pattern when taken as a single snapshot in time. This is a tiny cemetery but the markers likely only represent a fraction of the actual bodies that are buried here. Within the last several years, ground penetrating radar has been used to survey the cemetery. Many unmarked gravesites have been found within the cemetery and many more gravesites have been found buried beneath San Diego Avenue which was paved in 1942.
Next time you visit Old Towne San Diego, skip that second (or third, fourth, …) margarita and stroll a half block from the bars and clubs. You will find a beautiful 19th century cemetery that is much more part of this town’s history than the vapid, bleary-eyed beauties drinking themselves to an early grave.
– The Cemetery Detective