I've been putting off submitting this proof, hoping against hope that my collaborator would return to share her terrifying side of the story, but a year has passed and I think it's time to face the truth. What Bex found on Laurel Hill was her doom.
The story of the treasure is told here. I buried it in the most fitting place imaginable: Laurel Hill Playground, which is at more or less the center of what used to be Laurel Hill Cemetery.
The ashes of the dead repose here in hundreds of tiny nooks in a magnificent building.
Magicians and prominent members of society are among the inhabitants.
This fellow was a Master like me.
Though this was an intriguing bit of tourism we never would have found otherwise (one of the great joys of SFØ), our search was befuddlingly fruitless.
Spitting distance from this grave dormitory are throngs of joyous children cavorting at RossiPlayground.
The park was named after the first 100% Italian decent U.S. mayor, Angelo J. Rossi, a reported fascist who served as the 31st mayor of San Francisco from 1931-1944, died shortly after and now lies at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.
The park contains a playground and recreation center. This seemed to perfectly match our clue of "The living frolic now where the dead once rested.” Also we noticed that there was a school on one side of the park and thought this might have something to do with our clue “a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” So we searched it.
We cross referenced the neighborhood with our maps of former cemeteries and did a thorough inspection of every nook and cranny of the southernmost cemetaries north of the panhandle.
The Grecco-Russian cemetery.
The Masonic cemetery.
The Calvary Catholic cemetery.
So we sent a message to our burier:
We got a fast reply:
So we knew our playground couldn’t be it because the name had changed from the Oddfellows Cemetery it had originally been.
We discovered that the original clue “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” was a line from William Blake'sThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but still didn’t figure out for another hour’s searching why Sam offered this clue. We sent this message:
Just 7 minutes after sending it, we discovered for ourselves the connection.
Duh, how had we missed Blake St. It connects to another, more northerly, former-cemetery-turned-playground (who knew one city could support so many of these?). We sent this.
And got this reply:
By the time we reached the park, it was getting quite late and quite cold and we were grouchy from the hours of frustrating, fruitless searching. See:
At last, we saw our “if you can see this, you’re very warm” view:
As we arrived, the maintenance people were locking up the park and trying to usher us out. I tried to pull up our X marks the spot clue picture and ask them about it to distract them while ka-PLOW climbed and shimmied over a fence to the fool’s tree.
ka-PLOW has a superior posterior.
ka-PLOW unearthed the accursed box, still excited about the adventure, unaware of the grave danger that awaited us.
The maintenance gentleman appeared amused and took our picture, so we swapped pictures.
Buried under the tree was a box, labled “DO NOT OPEN.”
We were certain that this admonishment was not meant for us, but for any hapless playground children who might accidentally discover it. We opened it.
As we did so the fog came up heavy and dark and an unkindness of ravens nearby seemed to scold us, flocking away in a burst. It did not occur to me to try to snap a picture of this heavy omen, but in the days upcoming, these dreary phenomena would become commonplace.
Inside the box we found a mesmerizing jade amulet and a disc inscribed with the words “The Hound.”
We managed to navigate home through the thick fog and collapsed in exhaustion as the c.d. played, hearing only the first few words before sleep took us.
In which Bex and ka-PLOW come to rue opening the box.
The legend describes how the narrator and best friend seek greater and greater adventure (SFØ style) to overcome a growing ennui until they discover grave robbing and begin a gruesome museum in their basement. They travel to Holland to seek out the ancient grave of a noted grave robber who was mauled to death by a dog. When they unearth the body, they steal from it a jade amulet. In the ensuing weeks, the pair are haunted by ghostly figures, rustlings and bangings in the dark, and most persistently, the baying of a hound. Eventually, the best friend is mauled to death by a dog and his dying words are, “The amulet, that damned thing.” The narrator is clearly next. In a fright, the protagonist leaves to return the jade object from whence it came, but the amulet is stolen from him. As the narrator continues toward the grave, he hears news of entire thieves’ dens mauled to death as by a great dog. As he at last arrives at the grave, he finds the amulet inside. The skeleton has become fleshed out and begins laughing hideously. The story ends as the narrator reveals that the tale has been a suicide note with plans to commit suicide right then over the grave.
ka-PLOW and I haplessly enjoyed the ghost story and then quickly forgot about it. I innocently placed the amulet around my neck as an emblem of our adventures.
From the first, we began having trouble sleeping. We were disturbed by evil dreams, distressed by strange rustlings in the dark. I tried to capture pictures of some of what I tried to laugh about as “monsters in the closet:”
ka-PLOW, who was highly allergic to dogs, was staying in my dogless home during her visit. Yet the next day, she began to develop severe respiratory allergic reaction.
We began to feel a growing concern and that dampened our adventurous spirit.
The face of concern.
Though we laughed over our “silly paranoia,” we betrayed the seriousness of our fears by determining to flee.
In our haste, we ignored this message from our burier:
The fog chased us down the coast.
As darkness drew in, we thought we saw things. In the night, we heard rustling and saw sinister eyes reflected in our flashlights. I managed to catch a photo:
We saw inexplicable phenomena and ghostly forms.
A distant deep sound of a great dog, wolf, or coyote grew closer.
In a terror of being surrounded by a pack of wild beasts we packed up camp in the middle of the night and took off.
In the distance we saw a weather event unlike any we’d ever seen.
We finally began to consider what our skeptic hearts had avoided admitting: that these terrifying past few nights bore all too close a similarity to our burier’s story and were parhaps related to our unearthed box. We began to realize:
We were cursed. Cursed.
But we did not know what to do. We kept running.
I sent our burier a message:
When we were at last a good distance away, we finally stopped and grabbed some precious sleep in the car.
In the wee hours of the morning, ka-PLOW left the car to attend to nature’s call. As she left, I heard barking and howling that grew closer and closer. By the time I took this picture I’d heard screams and a great raucous from outside. ka-PLOW never emerged. A vicious dog started barking wildly at the window and in a fit of adrenaline I took off, knowing ka-PLOW was gone and that I must return to San Francisco.
I heard in my head the words from our wicked tale: The amulet – that damned thing.
Our depraved burier sent me this malicious message. He had planned all this. He had hoodwinked us into disinterring the accursed amulet and incurring its canine curse.
I befoed him and vowed not to let him be victorious.
I knew I had to get that amulet back to its rightful owner somehow. But how?
INTERLUDE: The History of the Dead This is the section to skip past if you don’t care about San Francisco cemetery history.
More mood music.
I began intensive research to piece together a history of the grounds from which we had unearthed the box, Laurel Hill Playground, once Laurel Hill Cemetery.
Moving bodies has been a constant part of San Francisco history at least since Westerners first arrived.
The first missionary pioneers reported digging up human bones, likely those of the native population whom they colonized.
They established the Mission Dolores Cemetery (one of two remaining cemeteries in the city).
The pioneers of the 1849 gold rush buried their dead hastily and haphazardly, in random and scattered locations, often with little fanfare or documentation.
Cemeteries developed spontaneously: once one body had been buried, another arrived and another.
As the urban center began to expand and cover the area we now think of as between down town and North Beach, bodies were moved from sites such as Russian Hill (so named for the Russian sailors once buried there) and Hayes Valley
to the totally undeveloped seemingly distant dunes of what is now the bustling InnerRichmond.
Laurel Hill was one of the first official cemeteries in San Francisco, opening as Lone Mountain Cemetery in June 1854 and consolidating many of the random burial spots into one.
After the cemetery changed hands from its founders to the Laurel Hill Association, it was poorly looked after. Violent racism led to desecration of the Chinese section. Most of the Chinese were moved by 1875.
A vault in the cemetery was devoted to the Chinese, but when "the Chinese must go!" movement gathered steam in 1870's, it was "bespattered with mud and filth, battered with stones and sometimes defaced in a most irreverent manner. The animosity that people bear towards the living, seems to extend even beyond the grave.
This was not the last time Laurel Hill would experience desecration, conflict between the living and the dead, and haunting.
Then, around the 1880s, another movement began to shut down San Francisco’s cemeteries due to diminishing land as the city rapidly developed and to fear of ghouls and nefarious goings on.
Many opposed this movement to close the cemeteries, especially for Laurel Hill because it contained many of the already-twice-disturbed early pioneers of the city.
In 1901 the first ordinance prohibited any new burials in the city.
The revenue for burial charges and lot sales now disappeared for the cemeteries. Only perpetual-care lots had the funds to be maintained. Quickly, the Big Four's [the major SF cemeteries] land of the dead, which was also the gateway to the growing Richmond district, began to deteriorate.
Over the next decades, litigations against increasingly potent government acts slowly faltered one by one until, in 1923, most cemeteries were cleared for forcible removal.
Many were not removed, but simply paved over and forgotten,
Laurel Hill was also one of the last San Francisco cemeteries to be removed, remaining (at the opposition of the Catholic Archdiocese and the Laurel Hill Association) long after most cemeteries had left.
Most San Francisco Cemeteries established alternate cemetery properties in Colma (Lawndale)… but the Laurel Hill Association did not establish a new Colma cemetery. A new Colma organization, Cypress Lawn Cemetery, a non-profit association, succeeded to most of the family plots formerly held by Laurel Hill.
However, it continued to fall into disrepair and became host to varied nefarious happenings, including grave-robbing, “malicious mischief”, vandalism, and delinquency.
Here, during the cemetery's abandoned years ghouls held vandalish orgies, on moonless, foggy nights, shadowy forms have slunk into vaults. Clanking sounds, the muffled crash of a sledge-hammer, have echoed forth as vandals looted the vaults of bronze flower urns, of silver coffin handles.
Tramps piled up their pots and pans, set up their cooking utensils for a macabre type of housekeeping. Some even say these dank vaults were hide-outs for bootleggers, during the prohibition years. A police guard was posted several years ago, after ghouls, apparently with a knowledge of early San Francisco history, had desecrated the musty vaults of the Donahues… Other ghouls have wreaked havoc. Bronze and iron grilled doors of other ornate marble and granite above-ground vaults have been pried open. Inside all is shambles. Flower urns have been ripped from wall braces, coffins hacked open, bones strewn about . . In the years that followed, time, weather and vandals assumed control, weeds choked the gravel paths, over-ran the graves. Tombstones fell. Ornaments, such as brooding angels became bedraggled -- wings, arms, and legs.
Property values nearby were decreasing due to this haunting. In 1937, the Catholic Archdiocese finally relinquished their opposition and in conjunction with the new non-profit Cypress Lawn Cemetery, began slow removal of the more than 35,000 bodies.
The corpses stayed in a holding area as plans had been made to build a grand mausoleum shrine. However, economic concerns led to scrapping this plan and building simple concrete vaults beneath a mound in a mass grave with no individual monuments or markings.
The headstones -
- which were in most cases the last documentation of the identity of many of these souls, as most papers that did exist had burned during the San Francisco Fire -
- were dumped unceremoniously into the bay or used in construction as paving stones (such as for gutters at Buena Vista Park
and to build the breakwater that now houses the Wave Organ).
A lack of public support led to abandonment of plans to create a five-acre memorial park on Laurel Hill, and in short order the land was purchased off and put through a series of developments, which now include shopping centers, doctor/dentist/vet offices, muni barn, a couple of preschools, a theater, a small portion of UCSF, the SFFD Museum, and Laurel Hill Playground, where we unearthed the amulet.
ACT III The Return In which Bex vanquishes evil spirits.
More mood music.
It was clear: somewhere in all of the grave robbing, desecration, and repeated moving, this jade object had been cursed. How and whether by living or dead I’ll never know. And then, for reasons unknown, that vile wicked scoundrel, Sam Archer, saw fit to trap me into incurring that hex.
He did not know who he was messing with.
I am a Hero and a Master. And I am well versed in magicks. I will not succumb to any demonic haunting. I would return the jade object to the ground that held its owner and perform some magicks to calm, or at least bind, the spirit.
Fortunately, Laurel Hill Cemetery is one of the easiest former SF cemeteries to trace:
it became a small section of one of the most culturally mixed (e.g. thoroughly feng shuied for the Chinese) and one of the most highfalutin cemeteries in the area.
Blank gravestones awaiting someone’s death are even creepier than regular gravestones.
I knew I needed to go there and return the amulet to the earth of my San Franciscan predecessors.
Like all cemeteries, Cypress Lawn is a place full of mysterious melancholy beauty.
Mini Sutro sprouts cover the hill overlooking the San Francisco’s displaced former residents.
As I entered, an unkindness of ravens settled on one of the children’s cemeteries.
I got a chill reading disturbing birth and death dates reading things like “sunrise-sunset.”
I went into the main building to get information on where to go. I made up a story (about my great grandmother and an old photograph of a mausoleum with no names) in order to keep from alarming the nice ladies at the front desk with stories of demon ghosts and curses.
They showed me they way past the sphynxes
to a section called Laurel Hill Garden.
On a single acre, a great mound covers thousands of bodies,
topped with an obelisk, reaching toward heaven.
A grand plaque extols the contributions of the pioneers interred there.
The other side of the wall contains a relief carving of the angel of death:
A metal sculpture depicts the archetypal (read: white) man, woman, and child who built San Francisco from empty dunes.
I placed a white flower on each of these important monuments.
I paid very sincere respects.
I thanked them for setting up this city that I love so much.
It wasn’t easy for them.
I left the story of the accursed object on one of these monuments as a warning to any who might make the same mistake of disinterring the amulet.
I got out my magical instruments and prepared to ritually banish the curse of the amulet. First, my compass, to orient to cardinal directions.
Then my dagger, given to me by a witch years ago for just such purposes.
Once the space was safe in this way, I began scrying to see if there was any unfinished business that I needed to take care of or if this curse could really rest.
I faced east and lay down on the grass before the crystal ball. Before me, a plaque declared:
I put myself into a trance, shaking free periodically to record my visions.
Here is roughly what I saw: 1.) An image of a free spirit on horseback with glowing aura who turned into a mountain ringed in a lenticular cloud.
2.) Scary hound face/figure getting younger and younger, melding from adulthood, through youth, childhood, and infancy until it became a fetus. Then it continued melding back into the mountain.
3.) Mausoleum with animal figures out front spinning to all cardinal directions.
4.) Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Laurel Hill section, first one grave glows, then more and more until all is glowing brightly and then there is a great exodus of large, white birds.
5.) View of a train, empty at first, then filling to rush hour levels.
A dark figure, who I immediately recognized as Death, enters and stands with the others. I notice that the figure carries a heavy burden - a large box. As the rush hour crowd begins to thin, Death rests the box on a seat, opening it and pulling out some of its contents: A man holding a baby. Beside them, I notice a headstone, and I know it is the wife/mother.
The baby becomes a headstone and then the man begins to fall, held in Death’s arms.
I wonder if this man, who outlived his family, perhaps left with a lot of bitterness and free time after their deaths, was the spirit cursing the amulet. Either way, the initial visions indicate burgeoning freedom of the spirit.
I closed with another banishing ritual for good measure.
As I was leaving, I saw a pack of cats. They ran away as I approached.
A lady nearby said that they were feral and that many people dump unwanted cats at the cemetery. She said that she cared for them and fed them.
I took this as a good omen and left feeling light of spirit.
Rest in peace, my San Franciscan predecessors.
Since then, the baying of the hound has grown fainter and fainter. But I have been haunted and rattled, never able to forget the day we found the amulet and stumbled into Sam Archer's trap. I still hear the howling in my dreams, Sam Archer. But watch your step, sir. You have angered a powerful gypsy with a few curses of her own.