A Pauper’s Cemetery At Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Pauper CemeteryConstruction workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose discovered 15 pine coffins from a pauper’s cemetery during excavation that halted work on a new medical building in February. The cemetery was established when the county hospital was built in 1875, marked on a 1932 map as a cemetery and unmarked on a 1958 map as a parking lot. An estimated 1,450 coffins might be in the way of another new medical building to be built. The county is taking legal steps to remove the cemetery. If they can’t identify the next of kin, the the remains will be cremated and scattered over the ocean.

I wasn’t surprised that an old pauper’s cemetery was paved over by progress. Paving over the old for the new is de reigueur  in the San Francisco Bay Area.

After I turned 18-years-old in the late 1980’s, I worked in masonry construction with my father in San Francisco since I had nothing better as I was a high school dropout. We had this one job in Chinatown where a backhoe operator digging a trench broke open an old sewer line made from red clay ceramic pipe. We gathered around to see this buried piece of ancient history four feet below street level, standing across from an alley that ran behind a bunch of Chinese stores that smelled worse than an open sewer. My father and the other superintendents discussed the history of using ceramic pipes in sewer construction.

After El Camino Real was re-routed around Santa Clara University, construction crews tore out the roadway that divided the campus in the half. Underneath two feet of asphalt were old railroad tracks. I mentioned this to my father. He told me that a trolley line used to run down the middle of El Camino Road from San Francisco to San Jose before World War II. Prior to the modern freeway system being built after the war, El Camino Real was the only the way to San Francisco.

Sometimes it’s not always the old that gets paved over in the name of progress. After San Carlos Street that ran through San Jose State University was torn out for a grass meridian, the county transit authority had the concrete foundation for a east-west light rail line built down the middle and buried underneath six inches of dirt. Unless money pours from the sky after the Facebook IPO, the half-dozen east-west light rail lines to connect with the existing north-south light rail lines will never be built. We’re still waiting for the BART extension to San Jose to be built a generation later.

Before my father passed away a few weeks ago, I started a new tech job at a different hospital to replace old computers. My work area is located around the corner from the morgue. Whenever the scent of vanilla hangs heavily in the hallway outside, a dead body was delivered to the morgue. These days I see dead people everywhere.

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