In a small, unassuming plot of land in San Francisco’s Presidio, the Presidio Pet Cemetery is home to pets owned by military families since WWII (Gradwohl 2000, 22). The cemetery’s unkempt nature contrasts the pristine and orderly appearance of the nearby military veteran cemetery where the owners of these pets lie. Animals like dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, rats, hamsters, birds, and an iguana reside in the cemetery located under a highway overpass, portraying a conflicting message of what this obscure cemetery provides for the archaeological record (Gradwohl 2000, 22). As a San Francisco resident, the Presidio Pet Cemetery has always been an inconspicuous area made unappealing due to its inconvenient location under a highway overpass and its untidy appearance (Figure 1). However, beyond the aesthetics, the history of the cemetery is one of community perseverance and the recognition of animals and their effect on human history.
The Presidio Pet Cemetery demonstrates animals’ sociocultural significance in human history and provides a glimpse into the world of multispecies and post-humanist archaeology. Multispecies archaeology is the study of non-human species’ intricate lives and their impacts on human lives, politics, and culture; post-humanist archaeology is of a similar belief where non-human species are analyzed to study the past. By examining the cemetery through a multispecies and post-humanist view, the decorations and emotional epitaphs on the gravestones suggest these animals were loved and provided military families comfort in a tumultuous life. The most lavish graves, belonging to basset hounds Mr. Twister and Raspberry are a prime example as they are complete with large granite gravestones decorated with plants, artificial flowers, small basset hound figurines, mylar balloons, and heartwarming epitaphs (Gradwohl 2000, 24) (Figure 2).
While the cemetery is intertwined with Presidio’s military history, it is considered a non-contributing feature in the Presidio of San Francisco Historic Landmark District (Kelly 2015). According to the Cultural Resource Management (CRM), a non-contributing site “does not add to the historic architectural qualities, historical or traditional cultural associations, or archaeological values for which a property is significant” (National Park Service 2002). While the pet cemetery lacks federal protection, the local community has overseen its preservation since its establishment in 1952. Groups like Boy Scouts of America, Swords Into Plowshares, and volunteers of the Presidio Trust have conserved the cemetery over the past 70 years even without the CRM’s protection (Kelly 2015). In 2011, the reconstruction of Doyle Drive (the highway overpass above the cemetery) threatened the cemetery’s destruction, but the construction management team labeled it as an environmentally sensitive area, and the community advocated for its protection as an emotionally sensitive area (Kelly 2015). Despite the lack of federal protection, public and community efforts work to immortalize the pet cemetery, exemplifying how present-day humans can decide what is historically significant – whether or not they are human.
Garnett, Jasmine. “Dedicated Neighbors Keep a Pet Cemetery and Presidio History, Alive.” KQED. Last modified February 29, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2022. https://www.kqed.org/arts/13875686/dedicated-neighbors-keep-a-pet-cemetery-and-presidio-history-alive.
Gradwohl, David Mayer. “Parakeet to Paradise.” Archaeology 53, no. 3 (2000): 22–24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41779312.
Kelly, Bryan. “The Nine Lives of San Francisco’s Presidio Pet Cemetery.” Inversr. Last modified October 21, 2015. Accessed October 25, 2022. https://www.inverse.com/article/7246-the-nine-lives-of-san-francisco-s-presidio-pet-cemetery.
National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. “NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline.” National Park Service. Last modified August 2002. Accessed October 25, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/nps28/28appenq.htm.
SmugMug+Flickr. “Mr. Twister and Raspberry.” Flickr. Last modified August 21, 2008. Accessed October 25, 2022. https://www.flickr.com/photos/regency9/2803743974/.
“Presidio pet cemetery protected”
“Dedicated Neighbors Keep a Pet Cemetery, and Presidio History, Alive”