Calvary Cemetery becomes Pioneer Park
Searching for Cliff May’s burial spot in San Diego turned out more challenging than I expected. Armed with the Washington Place address and a new GPS device, I traveled as directed by the soothing GPS voice, only to keep encountering a busy playground and elementary school. After driving around in circles and frustrated by the continual droning of “you have reached your destination”, I parked the car and decided to walk around the Mission Hills neighborhood to see if the cemetery was hidden behind a church or on a side street.
Upon walking into the Pioneer Park playground, lo and behold, the GPS device was correct after all. Calvary Cemetery had been transformed. A row of headstones was encased in a concrete trough at the edge of the park and a bronze marker listed the names of all interred, including Charles May, Cliff May’s father. My guess is that the cemetery had fallen into disuse and the community sought a way to revitalize this precious piece of real estate, so relocated or disposed of the headstones to make way for a park. In the 19th century, most cemeteries were designed as parks where families could visit, picnic, and play among the headstones. Evidently, San Diegans wanted more active use and needed to create a green open space for ball games and jungle gyms.
Although transforming what appears to be unused real estate into something more active for the community’s children may be a laudable goal, how the transformation was handled is disappointing. It’s unclear if both the headstones and graves were relocated (I suspect just the headstones) and it appears only a few were preserved, the rest being demolished. The new bronze plaques list only names—no dates, relationships, symbols, or mottoes, losing information vital to family members and historians. Finally, there’s no suggestion where to go for more information, such as the church, historical society, or government archives. Despite being renamed Pioneer Park, the irony is that all those pioneers have been forgotten.