Stay up to Date
Subscribe to our daily roundup of San Diego’s most important stories (Monday-Friday)
Statement: There are bodies buried underneath a park that used to be a cemetery in Mission Hills, according to San Diego urban legend.
Analysis: Last week, we asked readers to share the urban legends that they’ve heard over the years about San Diego. They responded with a bunch of tales, including this seeming whopper: There’s a graveyard-turned-park in Mission Hills where kids unknowingly play over the bodies of long-dead people just about every day.
As it turns out, this urban legend checks out. The park’s story is a tale of neglect and bungling and a tombstone graveyard.
Here is the story behind Mission Hills Park (also known as Pioneer Park), a pleasant grassy plot of land adjacent to Grant Elementary School, as I explained in our pages last year:
The land where Pioneer Park now sits served as a Catholic cemetery from the 1870s through the 20th century, becoming the resting place for prominent families with names like Bandini and Couts.
But the cemetery became a neglected eyesore, and the city decided to use powers granted by the state and turn it into a community park.
All the 800-odd memorial markers were taken away in the 1970s except for a line of tombstones left on the park’s edge. Left as a memorial, they’re still there.
The dead remained too, and they haven’t gone anywhere either, resting quietly [as far as we know — RD] as children play above.
And that was that. Well, at least until riders on a newly built line of the San Diego Trolley discovered something unusual in a remote part of Mt. Hope Cemetery in the 1980s.
Patty Fares, a tour guide who takes visitors on annual walking tours of the cemetery, picks up the story. “It was a christening run and city officials were on board,” Fares said. They rode through the cemetery, “and there was this big pile of tombstones that had been dumped in a ravine.”
This discovery didn’t go over well.
As the story goes, the tombstones were later buried, except for a handful that were encased in concrete above ground in the ravine as a memorial.
In 1983, according to a newspaper story, city leaders demanded that the underground tombstones be returned to Pioneer Park. It’s not clear whether the buried tombstones are still at Mt. Hope Cemetery, although the memorial remains.
Whatever the case, the tombstone graveyard remain a topic of conversation during Fares’ walking tours.
One year, a woman was shocked to hear the history of the broken tombstones. “She grew up in that area, and her jaw drops,” Fares recalled. “She said, ‘So that’s what they were!’
“She said she and her brother used to climb on those as kids. They thought they were just piles of concrete-type blocks. They had no idea what they were scrambling on,” Fares said.
People who take Fares’ walking tours are a bit cynical about the story of the tombstone graveyard, especially if they live here.
“Most people are shocked, but it’s more like an ‘Oh gawd, it figures’ kind of reaction,” she said. “It’s sad, but it’s true that people have gotten a little cynical about government. Maybe especially San Diego’s.”
Since there are indeed people buried in Mission Hills Park, we’ve call this urban legend true.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
You can also email new Fact Check suggestions to email@example.com. What urban legend should we explore next?