The untold story of a Chinese cemetery in San Francisco

There is an untold story at a city-run golf course in San Francisco.

The Chinese community and historians say Lincoln Park Golf Course in the Richmond district is sacred ground. 

It was a cemetery where many immigrants and the indigent were buried.

There is an effort underway to landmark the mark because of its significance to San Francisco and Chinese American history.

Historians say the park's past is a hidden story in plain sight.

"You wouldn't think that this golf course with these manicured greens was formerly a city cemetery," says Woody LaBounty, interim CEO and president of San Francisco Heritage, a nonprofit. "There are no signs. There are no markers other than this structure."

 This structure is a remnant of the city cemetery's Chinese section in the 1880s. The last burial allowed here was 1898.

The Chinese inscription means a temporary resting place for travelers from Kong Chow in south China-referring to the tradition of returning bones to their homeland.

 "This is sacred ground. This should stay here," says Mary Anne Ahtye, descendent of Yee Ah Tye, an immigrant from China who spoke English.

His family says he was a translator for Chinese railroad workers and miners.

He was a businessman who used his skills to procure a piece of this land from the U.S. government to be used as a burial ground for the Chinese.

"He was an unusual guy. He was outgoing and congenial. He was able to broker a lot of deals and get things done," says Suzie Ah-Tye, great-granddaughter of Yee Ah Tye. 

 Historians say this park was also the burial ground for the poor and immigrants from countries including Japan, France, and Italy.

San Francisco Heritage is working with Supervisor Connie Chan to landmark this park.

Historians say it's an important first step. 

 "It reflects a really important part of San Francisco and California saga and it's almost unknown," says John Martini, a historian.

In 1909, the city ordered the 20,000 people who were buried here to be disinterred and moved to Colma and elsewhere. But historians estimate that at least 10,000 are still buried at Lincoln Park. Many were the Chinese.

"We're talking about tens of thousands of people who helped built San Francisco. They're a big part of San Francisco history here in this park," says LaBounty.

Historians tell me golf started being played in the park during the 1910s. But the monument remained. 

 "When they laid out the golf course, it was left behind. We don't know why," says Martini. 

 And the exhumed remains of the Chinese were reburied at "Lok San" also known as the Chinese Cemetery and Ning Yung Cemetery.  Both are in Daly City and owned by the Chinese.

 Ceremonial practices honoring ancestors with prayer, incense, food offerings, and the burning of symbolic money are still prevalent today.

The Chinese say the early immigrants originally wanted their bones shipped back to China.

But over time, America became home.

"This is where they have set their roots. This is where their family is living. This is where they're going to live and for future generations to come," says Larry Yee with the Hop Wo Benevolent Association, one of the many that had ancestors buried in the city cemetery. 

As for Yee Ah Tye, he was initially buried at the city cemetery, but his remains were later moved to

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. His dying wish was to be buried in his adopted country.  

 "He was very proud to be an American, as we all are," says Suzie Ah-Tye.  

 San Francisco Heritage says it is optimistic that the city will designate Lincoln Park Golf Course, the former city cemetery, a historical landmark by fall.