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99% Invisible

The Modern Necropolis

In the town of Colma, California, the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. Located just ten miles south of San Francisco, Colma is filled with rolling green hills, manicured hedges, and 17 full size cemeteries (18 if you include the pet cemetery). 73% of Colma is taken up by graveyards. The motto of the town? “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”
Mount Auburn Cemetery, outside of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the first place to be specifically called a “cemetery,” taken from a Greek word for sleeping chamber. Its carefully landscaped design, modeled on English garden traditions, signified a pivot in how people viewed and interacted with places for the dead. Cemeteries used to be humble plots right in the middle of the city, but Mount Auburn was designed to look like a garden paradise- lightyears apart from everyday life.
Mount Auburn was significant at time when many cities lacked public parks and would go on to influence the design of public spaces more broadly. Colma also grew out of this precedent, and was designed in the Mount Auburn style. Avery Trufelman reports.

The Modern Necropolis

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