Calvary Cemetery

Posted by blogger in San Diego Ghost Tours
Calvary Cemetery - Photo

Have you ever heard of an abandoned cemetery so beautiful that you could host a wedding there? Would you let your children play on a playground that is built on a graveyard with no gravestones? Or picnic there if you knew the graves of old city leaders are still buried beneath the grass? Most San Diego residents aren’t even aware that one of their favorite neighborhood parks is still a graveyard.

Declared abandoned in 1968, Calvary Cemetery is one of San Diego’s many historic cemeteries but with a twisted past. Most abandoned cemeteries will have the caskets moved to better locations, but that is not true for Calvary Cemetery. At Calvary Cemetery, the ghosts there still seek restitution for what happened to their graves during the Great Depression.


Not Your Typical Abandoned Cemetery


Located in the beautiful Mission Hills community, the Calvary Cemetery was originally established as a Catholic cemetery by Father Antonio Ubach in 1876. Father Antonio Ubach was the priest who likely presided over most of the funerals at Calvary Cemetery. Beginning in the late 1800s, Father Antonio Ubach was a priest for 23 years and was nicknamed “Last Padre.”

This hidden haunted gem is not as obvious as other cemeteries. Now, the cemetery is just a large grassy lawn shaded by gorgeous Peruvian pepper and eucalyptus trees. Even though there are still bodies buried underneath the grass, most of the headstones and markers had to be removed after the cemetery became so neglected and vandalized the city had no choice but to declare it abandoned. This cemetery is the perfect example of how we should not treat the dead, which is no wonder why it’s so haunted.

Calvary Cemetery was only the second official cemetery in San Diego. When this cemetery was first designed in the late 1800s, there were 10 acres total allocated for burial spots. However, five acres were given to the Protestants, and the other five were given to the Catholics. At this point in history, Protestants refused to bury their dead next to the Catholics. So, the Protestants turned their five acres into a park, while the Catholic side remained a cemetery. The tensions between the two communities, along with the everyday tensions that rose during the height of the Great Depression, meant this sacred space was somewhat set up for failure. The true downfall of the Calvary Cemetery was when it opened up as “Holy Cross,” a new Catholic Cemetery, in 1919.

Like most businesses during the Great Depression, the lack of funding made it impossible to guard the cemetery full time to keep the vandals away. At night, Calvary Cemetery would become a hotspot for grave robbing and headstone demolishing. It is believed that the last known burial at Calvary Cemetery happened in 1960, but since the cemetery was rarely looked after and constantly ridden with vandals, who knows what could still be buried under those old-growth trees?


Generations of Terror


The cemetery had been unofficially abandoned since the 1920s. There was an attempt to save it by building an adobe wall in 1939, but that didn’t do much either. An article in the San Diego Union was published in 1949 with the headline, Broken Monuments; Maimed Statues Desecrate Sleeping City of Dead. This explained the rapid deterioration of the cemetery and how ‘headstones have been broken and overturned; rusted metal railings, which once protected burial plots of distinguished citizens, have been twisted, torn away and looted.’

Images from the article published in 1949 showed’ a wooden cross torn from its grave by vandals, ‘solid granite headstones torn from their bases and flung sprawling on graves,” stone monuments which had developed a list because of the ground underneath settling,’ and an ‘old grave in a sad state of dilapidation brought about by repeated, prankish acts of desecration.’ Whoever the vandals were, they were persistent for a long time.

After the Calvary Cemetery was officially declared abandoned in 1968, Catholics were outraged when all of the headstones and markers were demolished and thrown away behind Mt. Hope Cemetery, where possibly the only grave of headstone remains has ever existed. Despite building two monuments as reparations for the forgotten names of those buried at the Calvary Cemetery, many get the feeling the spirits there are still angry and confused that it appears their existence never happened on this physical plane.

There are some black-and-white photographs from before the cemetery was completely abandoned. The pictures depict that many of the gravestones’ names consisted of early American pioneers, sailors, priests, children, criminals, and soldiers. Historic city leaders Father Antonio Ubach and Cave Johnson Couts, who was one of the wealthiest men in Southern California in its earliest days, were also buried there. Most importantly, everyone buried at the Calvary Cemetery built the city of San Diego from the ground up.


Lonely Row of Tombstones 


Around 150 of the gravestones and markers were moved to the southeast corner of Pioneer Park. The lonely row of tombstones is still there today, along with a plaque of 1,800 names of those buried there. No one truly knows the exact number of bodies still buried in the park. However, it is estimated there were up to 4,000 burials that took place at Calvary while it was opened. Some gravestones and caskets were moved to Mount Hope Cemetery. Many believe a great number of the caskets are most likely still buried in the park.

In 1970, San Diego’s city took over the cemetery and officially turned it into Pioneer Park, which is what the park is still called today. What was once a space for sacred burials is now a place for picnics and birthday parties. When first glancing at Pioneer Park, many may think it’s just like every other park in Southern California. Still, part of you may not be able to shake off the creepy feeling that children run around playing where thousands of bodies have been buried.

Today, when visitors walk through Pioneer Park, they quickly realize the energy does not feel like every other park. Ghost hunters will say there is not quite a happy, cheerful energy there. The most common reported haunting within the community is an apparition of a woman who only rises at night, appearing lost and confused. Other visitors report an intense feeling of coldness as if someone is constantly watching them. The residents of Mission Hills report all types of unexplainable flashes of light flying around, problems with their household electronics, and lights randomly flickering. 


Haunted San Diego


San Diego is a magnet for all types of otherworldly activity. However, Calvary Cemetery is at the top of the list for one of the most haunted places in San Diego. The history of the Calvary Cemetery is just another example of humans taking things a bit too far. 

For more sinister stories of San Diego, book a San Diego ghost tour with San Diego Ghosts!