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New Presidio trail honors S.F.'s maritime past

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  • Pacific Merchant Marine Council
    Entombed under the sand are the remains of more than 600 merchant mariners who were buried in a graveyard that was forgotten... This trail is commemorating
    Message 1 of 2 , Jul 19, 2011
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      Entombed under the sand are the remains of more than 600 merchant mariners who were buried in a graveyard that was forgotten...

      "This trail is commemorating the sailors that were buried there," said Amy Deck, the Presidio Trust's trails project manager.

       
       
       

       
      New Presidio trail honors S.F.'s maritime past

      Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      San Francisco -- A newly built trail and boardwalk on the southern edge of the Presidio is as much a window into San Francisco's maritime history as it is a path through restored sand dunes and coastal habitat.

      The quarter-mile combination pathway and elevated wooden walkway was finished this month, allowing visitors and bird-watchers to enjoy the dunes, meadows and woodlands between Mountain Lake and an old hospital that has been converted to luxury apartments.

      The trail, which connects Battery Caulfield Road to the Park-Anza trail, is part of an east-west corridor of paths being built by the Presidio Trust that will eventually link the Presidio's Broadway Gate to Baker Beach.

      What's unique, though, are the newly laid coastal dunes that the Presidio Trust planted with native grasses and flowers, including rare San Francisco Lessingia. Entombed under the sand are the remains of more than 600 merchant mariners who were buried in a graveyard that was forgotten and later used as a dump.

      "This trail is commemorating the sailors that were buried there," said Amy Deck, the Presidio Trust's trails project manager. "There has always been a social trail there, and it's a pretty big birding site. ... It looks a lot better. The birds seem to really like it."

      Interpretive signs on a hill ringed by trees will soon be installed honoring - or perhaps making amends to - the dead. The overlook, called Hospital Cemetery Vista, is meant to remind people of a time when San Francisco docks were full of sailing ships and steamers and the streets were filled with merchant mariners from all over the world.

      Hospital for mariners

      The San Francisco Marine Hospital opened in 1875 specifically for the rough, hard-drinking mariners who frequented the Barbary Coast. It was built away from all the hubbub at what is now 15th Avenue and Lake Street so that sick and injured sailors wouldn't be tempted by bayside bacchanalia to leave the premises.

      Many patients died nevertheless, and the ones whose relatives could not be found were buried in a graveyard behind the hospital. Between 1875 and 1915, more than 600 mariners from 43 countries and eight U.S. states and territories were buried on the wind- and fog-swept hillside. Records showed they died from everything from scurvy to leprosy. There were gunshot victims, syphilis sufferers and one person who "died of insanity," according to records.

      In 1912, the country's marine hospitals became Public Health Service Hospitals, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. A new hospital was completed at the site in 1932.

      The wooden cemetery headstones were still visible at least through the 1930s, but in 1952 the hospital expanded and money was appropriated to move the cemetery. Instead of moving it, though, workers piled 16 feet of construction debris, including toxic materials, on top of the graveyard, apparently believing nobody would ever know.

      The medical center was decommissioned in 1981 and sat vacant for years until it was recently converted into 154 luxury apartments. The old graveyard became known as Landfill 8.

      Then, in 1989, archaeologists working on the transfer of the Presidio to the National Park Service found human bones. The discovery and subsequent realization that the sailors' bodies had never been moved prompted the park service and later the Presidio Trust to begin working on a remediation plan.

      Building dunes

      Some 25,000 cubic yards of excavated sand from the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum construction project in Golden Gate Park were used to build the dunes. The toxic debris and human remains are sealed underneath.

      The redwood boardwalk was built to allow for the natural movement of the dunes. A section of it is elevated so that the roots of a giant redwood tree next to the trail would not be disturbed, Deck said.

      The project, which included removal of concrete from a long-abandoned parking area and tennis court, was part of the Trails Forever initiative, a partnership among the trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service. It was funded by grants and donations from, among others, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.

      The new trail is one of 12 in the Presidio that the trust is upgrading, including pedestrian and bike paths and scenic overlooks.

      "It's really great that we were not only able to remediate the landfill but to finally pay tribute to the sailors that were buried there," Deck said. "It looks great - like a sand dune. It's a big section of one of our major trails, but it's also really an interesting place in the Presidio because it has so many of the layers of what made San Francisco a unique place."

      This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/07/19/MNMR1K99JQ.DTL

    • Pacific Merchant Marine Council
      ... From: capt.ob@comcast.net To: PMMC-NLUS@yahoogroups.com Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 Subject: Re: [PMMC-NLUS] New Presidio trail honors S.F. s maritime
      Message 2 of 2 , Jul 19, 2011
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        ----- Original Message -----
        Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
        Subject: Re: [PMMC-NLUS] New Presidio trail honors S.F.'s maritime past

        Dear Phelps,

        I used to go to the Marine Hospital for medical and dental when i sailed in the US Merchant Marine. It also serviced US Coast Guard and American Indians...

        Several Years ago it came to my attention that there were mariners from various nations buried in unmarked graves on the old Marine Hospital property... I started a drive to have the remains disinterred and turned over to me for decent Christian Burial at sea aboard the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. My dear friend, the late Admiral Tom Patterson backed me up. (I have performed some 60 funerals in my time, including burial of 5 men and 2 women at sea)...

        The Army turned me down so I asked Carl Nolte from the Chronicle to research this and write an article... He wrote a beautiful large article with pictures which appeared in the Sunday Chronicle...The Army relented to a degree and said that I could perform a Memorial Service for these deceased mariners, and that we could place a modest monument on the site.
         
        I appealed to the American Merchant Marine Veterans, Golden Gate Chapter,of which I am a past president, for an allowance of one thousand dollars for the monument..(there was at the time some 12 thousand in the fund). I was told by the secretary "that ain't gonna happen!"....the project thus died....subsequent to this incident the Golden Gate Chapter dipped into it's "Memorial Fund" which was started by past president Byron Hall (deceased) and contributed to the Baton Rouge Victory Monument, and the restoration of the King's Point Merchant Marine Academy Monument at Coyote Point San Mateo...
         
        I was always puzzled by this... Since last year, the AMMV has changed the rules for joining so that FOREIGN seaman may join its ranks.... Why is it still called the AMERICAN Merchant Marine Veterans?

        You Faithful Servant,

        Captain K.C. O'Brien
        ______________________________________________________

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Pacific Merchant Marine Council <pmmc@...>
        To: PMMC-NLUS@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Tue, 19 Jul 2011
        Subject: [PMMC-NLUS] New Presidio trail honors S.F.'s maritime past
         
        Entombed under the sand are the remains of more than 600 merchant mariners who were buried in a graveyard that was forgotten...

        "This trail is commemorating the sailors that were buried there," said Amy Deck, the Presidio Trust's trails project manager.

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