Potter's Field

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Does anyone know where this was located? It was used as an unauthorized cemetery during the early years of San Francisco. Thanks.

-- Ron Filion (rfilion@geocities.com), May 19, 1998


San Francisco's "Potters Field" during the late 19th century was at the present location of Lincoln Park in the Richmond District. As recently as 1994, dozens of undocumented grave sites were unearthed there during the seismic retrofit of the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Other burial sites were located at Mission Dolores, the Presidio, and in a slew of cemeteries between Presidio Avenue (then known as Cemetery Avenue) and Arguello Street: Laurel Hill, Lone Mountain, Oddfellows, etc. However, none of these latter sites really qualify as "potters fields" since those interred there weren't generally paupers.

-- (John_Martini@nps.gov), May 30, 1998.


-- Ron Filion (rfilion@geocities.com), July 11, 1998.

The Golden Gate Cemetery was closed 1901 by the city, and supposedly evacuated to make what was then known as St. Francis Park.

The removal ordonance served notices on:

Improved Order of Red Men Slavonic Mutual Benevolent Society Greek-Russian-Slavonian Benevolent Society German Benevolent Society Scandinavian Society French Benevolent Society Congregation Sherith Israel Congregation Beth Israel Congregation Schaari Zedek Italian Benevolent Society Societa Cosmopolita Italiana de Mutua Beneficenze Master Mariners Benevolent Society Ladies Seamen's Friend Society St. Andrew's Society and Caledonian Club Grand Army of the Republic Society of Old Friends Sons and Daughters of Old Friends Knights of Pythias, Golden Gate Lodge No. 2007 G.U.O. of S.F.A. Japanese Colony of San Francisco Qui Son Tong Co. Hop Wo Association Ning Yung Association Christian Chinese Society Chuo Sen Tong Co. (Source: S. F. News, February 1, 1938, page 10, column 1)

During the time of Adolph Sutro, these were Societies with burial permission at Golden Gate Cemetery, other than the Chinese Benevolent Societies:

Grand Army of the Republic Knights of Pythias Congregation Beth Israel Congregation Shari Zedic Russian Greek Benevolent Society St. Andrew’s Society Italian Mutual Benevolent Society French Mutual Benevolent Society German Mutual Benevolent Society Slavonic Illiric Benevolent Society Scandinavian Benevolent Society Independent Order Red Men Caledonic Society Master Mariners’ Benevolent Society Ladies Seamen’s Society

-- Wolfgang Schubert (chouby@aol.com), December 05, 2000.

Gee, I have only heard of Potter's Field in NY- on Hart Island

-- Kira Pangburn (luvsjanechild2@yahoo.com), November 28, 2001.

my father is dead somewhere in potters field

-- karen burshaw (Aprincess4u2nv@aol.com), March 28, 2002.

really,no kidding,you don't say

-- chuck (chuck@aol.com), April 10, 2002.

Potter's Field is featured in the movie Don't Say a Word

-- Jenny (rllewi@aol.com), April 23, 2002.

I've just seen Don't Say A Word. I was So intreged to find out if Potter's Field really existed, and I have.Quite erry.

-- Jode (blackcell@yahoo.com), May 05, 2002.

Just to avoid misinterpretation, the Potter's Field in Don't Say A Word is not located in San Francisco, but in NY (Hart Island).


-- Bob Verbrugge (bob.verbrugge@xs4all.nl), May 05, 2002.

"Potters Field" is a generic name for any graveyard where the impoverished and/or anonymous are buried. Many cities had them -- and still do, although the term is rarely used today. The name is a biblical reference to the story of Judas Iscariot receiving thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus, which he threw back into the temple in remorse. The temple priests supposedly used the silver to buy a nearby potter's field to bury the dead of Jerusalem.

-- John Martini (jamartini@slip.net), May 05, 2002.

My sister alienated herself from the family and lived homeless in the subway system for 10 years. She confessed to me not too long ago about how her biggest fear was that something would happen to her and nobody in the family would know and that she'd be buried on Wards Island/Potters Field (Ironically her last name is Ward). Here is an interesting website on the subject: http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/hart/html/hartbook2.ht ml

-- Cathey (cmh2000@tir.com), May 18, 2002.

I too have just watched "Don't Say a Word". My curiosity got the best of me and I went looking for information. Growing up I always heard the expression "Potters Field" and thought it was fictional. Have looked at the sites with the History of Hart Island and Potters Field, very interesting.

-- Kathy (stchaskate@aol.com), July 22, 2002.

Potter's Field is located off of New York on Hart Island, access to the cemetary is restricted. They use inmates to bury the dead.

-- Lorraine Villareal (sincere_love1@yahoo.com), August 10, 2002.

My great grandfather is buried there. He died when I was young and I wasn't really sure that the place existed until I saw the movie Don't say a word, and then came to this site.

-- TJ (tmj212@stern.nyu.edu), August 17, 2002.

People have said the same case that I have. I think the movie Don't Say A Word brought an interest back to it. I saw the movie and wondered whether it existed or not, people I knew said it didn't, even after they've lived in New York for several years. But after looking it up on the internet I was surprised to find an almost exact reference to it in the movie. I also learned where the Potter's Field term came from, the history, and that there's also other ones in other parts of the country. I think a lot of it you can't go into, such as the buildings left in the town and you can take tours over there, I think they just reccently started doing that, probally after the public's interest after Don't Say A Word. It's the Salem of New York. They're both made up of small towns, lots people have died or been buried there, and a lot of the buildings are boarded up. Also they have been reported to have "supernatural" accurances.

-- kelly smith (SESbooks500@cs.com), August 17, 2002.

I too, just watched the movie Don't say a word and it peaked my interest in Potter's Field. Do all cities have a place of burial like this? I am curious? Does Baltimore, Maryland?? I'd like to know,to do some research.

-- lisa gilden (bubbly1957@aol.com), August 18, 2002.

Go tp GOOGLE folks you'll get more info than you ever needed about Potter's Field.

-- Harrison Cotham (ehcotham@comcast.net), August 18, 2002.

Very interesting to find that so many people, like myself, are seeking out info after watching the movie. Ironically, I'm taping it as we speak. I live about 50 miles south of Hart Island in New Jersey and would someday like to visit there. It sounds like quite a place with alot of interesting history. The one thing I'm interested in seeing/knowing is if those "Maltese-like" cross grave markers shown in the movie (When Douglas & Murphy first enter there under the "Potter's Field" sign) are actually real. They are eerie looking!

-- Larry Abels (dnl123@email.com), September 10, 2002.

me and my mother just got done watching don't say a word and she was so interested in potters field that she made me look it up and here is the site i was looking for p.s. mommy says hi

-- jessie curtis (eternalshenron@hotmail.com), September 14, 2002.

Yep...the movie got me intrigued enough to look it up too...wow!

-- Valerie (valerielundberg@hotmail.com), September 21, 2002.

Movies, New York... You people make me sick! We can rely on neither of these things. Especially New York! Potters field was, or is underneath the Legion of Honor Museum. In 1921 (or some odd year in the early 20th century) the city just knocked down the headstones, dumped them at ocean beach, and put in a golf course. The Museum was added in 1924. We San Franciscans don't have respect for the dead. 11,000 are estimated to STILL LIE UNDERNEATH THE GOLF COURSE... BEWARE...

-- Sean M. Hall (seanmhall@hotmail.com), October 02, 2002.

Well, that must explain how all the divots get replaced so fast. Ghost labor is a much underrated resource; perhaps we ought to set up a benefit fund for them so that they will be happier where they are. And leave the damn divots for the clumsy golfers.

-- Rosa (rosadebon@yahoo.com), October 03, 2002.

Did you all know that Washington Square Park in NYC is an old potter's field. NYU bought the land, CHEAP, in the late 1800's and built the school around the park. Just an interesting side note.

-- ryan (rcn200@yahoo.com), November 12, 2002.

Most of the replies have already answered the question, but it was my understanding that *the* original Potter's Field was in New York City, though it has come to be a generic term for any cemetary in which those who are too poor to afford a normal burial are interned.

I remember my mother telling me about the former cemetary at Lincoln Park where the Palace of the Legion of Honor is located. When I was a young boy, I recall walking south along Baker Beach below and seeing scores of old gravestones lying in the sand. I haven't been there in years and have no idea what happened to them..

My father told me a similar story about the old Spanish fort in the Presidio under the Golden Gate Bridge. As a young boy he recalled the military shoving the old scissors cannon over the sea wall onto the beach, which the tide eventually sunk into the sand. There are only about two left on display today, and how many people today have any idea where the others went?

Unfortunately, things like this weren't viewed as being of any historical value worth keeping at the time..

-- Dave Zeidler Sr (zeidler@rarebird.net), April 07, 2003.

Explain the term "old scissor cannon". Do you mean disappearing guns? If so, these weapons were supposed to have been cut up by the Army for scrap, not thrown onto the beach. If the latter, I'd like to learn more.

-- P.S. Perris (psperris@slip.net), April 07, 2003.

Does anybody know anything about the Potters field on North Brother Island in New York?

-- Abrahm Lustgarten (abrahm@abrahm.com), April 11, 2003.

Well i'm concerned how we treat out dead. nad nto very well i might add. When we need a new road, its just a matter of moving people and shooting them in another hole in the ground.

I too got interested again after seeing Hart's Island in Don't Say A Word.

I got concerned when i saw that they do up to 100 disinterments(dig them up and shuffle them around) a year.

Even in my home town of Iroquois Falls, Ontario, Canada. About 50-70 years ago they decided to build a new road. They moved some but not all bodies. When they build a sports complex they found quite a few. Even when they did a major rad repair about 6 years they found another.

Even when moving caskets(not just pine boxes) they just strap it on a tractor and away they go.

So should't we have more respect for the dead?

-- David Groulx (treknorth@sympatico.ca), May 29, 2003.

For crying out loud this is SAN FRANCISCO history not NEW YORK!!!!!!!

-- Sean M. Hall (chunkylover53@sfhe.cjb.net), May 30, 2003.

There is a Potters Field here in Central London, right next to Tower Bridge... is the name derived from it having been an actual Potter's Field that was bought with the 30 pieces of silver, or is it metaphorical? Can anyone tell me anything about the travels of this concept/name? It must have journied across many continents... Thanks!

-- laura williams (lautie23@hotmail.com), June 10, 2003.

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-- Your Full Name (Your Email Address@greenspun.com), June 13, 2003.

For general information..Potters Field, N.y. was used not only for early correctional facilities, but for the burial of immigrants who died on the passenger ships coming to the new world.I believe this was during the Castle Garden processing center days, before the opening of Ellis Island. I'm searching hard to find any possible existance of a list of names of those buried there. Imcomplete as it will be, some office(s)must have records of the prisoners and immigrants and just plain poor folk that were interred there.That's what I'm looking for!

-- Wendy Bishop (HeyMon328@aol.com), October 08, 2003.

Read From Potter's Field by Patricia Cornwell. Damn good book. The whole series is amazing. But, yeah, that book is good, and I'm bored so I'm posting this.

-- k8 (dirtbagxcore@yahoo.com), October 09, 2003.

I've been to Potter's field, Hart Island, NYC. It certainly has a lonely and uneasy feel. I've heard that it was, at various times, a yellow fever quarantine facility, a tuberculosis hospital, a sanitarium, and a NIKE missile base (and of course, to date a prison annex/burial ground).

-- Dick Rewd (barbequepope@hotmail.com), November 18, 2003.

Are you people aware of the fact that potter's field is no laughing matter? Instead, it is supposed to be a field of blood? and it stems from the bible Mathew chapter 27 verses 1-26 speak about potter's field and how it came to be. You see, the 20 pieces of silver which Judas returned to the priests the night before Christ was crucified, were used by the priests to create a "potter's field". There is more. I recall my mother saying to us, "never ever burry me in potter's field" I never understood what she meant until now.......

-- j.b (jannell.buckley@verizon.net), April 09, 2004.

i am writitng a paper on potters field in secaucus new jeresy.... they recently cleared it out and transfered the bodies/remains to other cemeteries in order to expand the new jeresy turpike if u have any info please e-mail me asap.....NUMBER1DEE@AOL.COM

-- Danielle Goldberger (Number1dee@aol.com), May 15, 2004.

It saddens me to think that someone could die in such a lonely way that they have nowhere else to go but to a nameless, faceless burial ground, devoid of dignity and respect, simply because they had the misfortune to die penniless. Death is just as private an event in a person's life as is their birth. Shouldn't it be honoured with just as much respect?

-- N. Grayson (alice54623@aol.com), September 22, 2004.

Has anyone see The Saint of Fort Washington?

-- bmajure (bmajure@gmail.com), December 30, 2004.

Another finding....

The original Potters Field is thought to have been located in Hinnom valley in Jerusalem. The burial ground was also called the "Field of Blood" or "Aceldama" in the Aramaic language.

-- bmajure (bmajure@gmail.com), December 30, 2004.

nice nope for sa

-- maga (mugu@maga.com), January 19, 2005.

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