My great-plus uncles William H. V. Cronise, age 25 and Albert D. W. Cronise, age 23 left their family behind in Monrovia, Frederick County, Maryland and set out for a California adventure by way of the Isthmus of Panama in 1850. Soon after boarding the steamship Panama and departing the Isthmus, Albert became ill with a fever and died off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico. His last wishes were for his body to be returned to Monrovia and buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery. William preserved Albert’s body in a barrel full of alcohol collected from his ship mates. According to William’s reports back to family upon reaching San Francisco, Albert’s body was quickly decomposing due to the poor quality of the alcohol. So he buried Albert in San Francisco promising his parents he would return with Albert’s remains after they had completely decomposed. He fulfilled his brother’s last wish and his promise to his parents. Albert’s body traveled the 2,800 miles back to Monrovia where it was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.
At the time of Albert’s death, William expressed his own wishes to be buried in Pleasant Hill with his family. He became a successful merchant and entrepreneur in San Francisco, married a beautiful widow and raised his stepdaughter and son. He died there in 1896 and was buried in his adopted home presumably in the Masonic Cemetery with his wife and in-laws. Unfortunately in the 1930’s, the graveyards of San Francisco had evolved into prime real estate. The cemeteries in San Francisco were closed to make room for the University of San Francisco and other more important endeavors. All of the graves were opened and the remains of thousands and thousands of bodies were removed to San Mateo County. The tombstones were used for filler to create the on and off ramps for the Golden Gate Bridge and for San Francisco Bay sea walls.
Albert’s body suffered the indignities of being stored in a barrel of alcohol, temporarily buried in a foreign land, dug up and shipped 2,800 miles until it finally reached his chosen and hopefully permanent destination—home surrounded by family. His older brother William was buried in his adopted home of San Francisco with his California family which turned out to be a temporary resting place. Forty years later William’s remains were removed from his favorite city and reinterred in San Mateo County. His tombstone is reportedly living amongst the fishes in San Francisco Bay. I’m horrified that William’s body was removed from his beloved San Francisco and permanently separated from his tombstone—his marker, the memorial to his life. I’m saddened by the disrespect shown to his remains and to his descendants. William made it his mission to return Albert home so he could rest in peace. Unfortunately William lacked such an advocate. I hope his soul has found peace after all this time. It certainly unsettles me.