SAN FRANCISCO – There is an untold story about a golf course run by the city of San Francisco.
The Chinese community and historians say the Lincoln Park golf course in the Richmond District is sacred ground.
It was a cemetery where many immigrants and destitute were buried.
An effort is underway to brand the brand due to its importance to San Francisco and Sino-American history.
Historians say the park’s past is a story hidden in plain sight.
“You wouldn’t think this golf course with those manicured greens was once a city cemetery,” says Woody LaBounty, interim CEO and president of San Francisco Heritage, a nonprofit organization. “There is no sign. There is no marker other than this structure.”
This structure is a remnant of the Chinese section of the town’s cemetery in the 1880s. The last authorized burial here dates from 1898.
The Chinese inscription signifies a temporary resting place for Kong Chow travelers in southern China, referring to the tradition of returning bones to their homeland.
“It is sacred ground. It should stay here, ”says Mary Anne Ahtye, descendant of Yee Ah Tye, an English-speaking immigrant from China.
His family say he was a translator for Chinese railway workers and miners.
He was a businessman who used his skills to procure a piece of this land from the US government to be used as a cemetery for the Chinese.
“He was an unusual guy. He was outgoing and friendly. He was able to negotiate a lot of deals and get things done,” said Suzie Ah-Tye, great-granddaughter of Yee Ah Tye.
Historians say this park was also the burial place of the poor and immigrants from countries like Japan, France and Italy.
San Francisco Heritage is working with Supervisor Connie Chan to mark this park.
Historians say this is an important first step.
“It reflects a really important part of the San Francisco and California saga and it’s almost unheard of,” says John Martini, a historian.
In 1909, the city ordered the 20,000 people who were buried here to be exhumed and moved to Colma and elsewhere. But historians estimate that at least 10,000 are still buried in Lincoln Park. Many were Chinese.
“We are talking about tens of thousands of people who helped build San Francisco. They are a big part of San Francisco history here at this park, ”LaBounty says.
Historians tell me that golf began to be played in the park in the 1910s. But the monument has remained.
“When they laid out the golf course, he was left behind. We don’t know why, ”says Martini.
And the exhumed remains of the Chinese were buried again at “Lok San” also known as Chinese Cemetery and Ning Yung Cemetery. Both are in Daly City and are owned by the Chinese.
Ceremonial practices honoring ancestors with prayer, incense, food offerings, and the burning of symbolic silver are still prevalent today.
The Chinese say the early immigrants originally wanted their bones returned to China.
But over time America has become his homeland.
“This is where they established their roots. This is where their family lives. This is where they will live and for future generations, ”says Larry Yee of the Hop Wo Benevolent Association, one of the many with ancestors buried in the town cemetery.
As for Yee Ah Tye, he was first buried in the city cemetery, but his remains were later transferred to
Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. His last wish was to be buried in his adopted country.
“He was very proud to be an American, as we all are,” says Suzie Ah-Tye.
San Francisco Heritage says it’s optimistic the city will designate the Lincoln Park Golf Course, the city’s old cemetery, a historic landmark by fall.