The 157-year-old San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery is showing its age.
Tombstones are listing and have cracked or collapsed. Some of the coffins are rising due to rain and soil erosion. Weather, vandalism and poor maintenance have taken their toll.
But the San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery Friends Group is working on fixing up the cemetery and bringing it back to life -- so to speak.
As part of their effort, the group held a presentation on the history of the cemetery at the San Lorenzo Library on Saturday morning. The event drew about 40 people.
A planned tour of the cemetery was canceled because of the rain, but a cleanup and tour will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 11. The cemetery is located at Hesperian Boulevard and College Street in San Lorenzo.
Many of the headstones contain insignia from fraternal groups, including the square and compass of the Masons, according to a presentation by Gayla Peek, a member of the cemetery group. Wreaths, drapes, pyramids, the clasped hands of God, and fruit, such as a pear representing Jesus Christ's love for mankind, were also popular.
Lambs representing purity and innocence were popular markers on children's graves. Among the buried are five siblings of the Nebas family, including four children, who were hit by a train while driving a wagon over the railroad tracks in one of the worst tragedies in Hayward's early history, Peek said.
Don Markos, a former English professor at Cal State East Bay, collected and analyzed the inscriptions on some of the tombstones, noting their poetic quality.
"Budded on Earth to bloom in Heaven," read one headstone, one of several inscriptions that Marcos called "poignant and personal." "Peaceful be thy silent slumber," read another inscription from 1889, which Markos said was part of a motif equating death to sleep.
Some of the inscriptions have degraded over time, and are not fully readable. "I hope the restoration program can do something about this," he said.
The Hayward Area Historical Society, which organized the presentation Saturday morning, hopes for a successful restoration as well, but it's not going to be easy. The repair of three family plots is estimated to cost as much as $107,000.
The cemetery, which recorded its first burial in 1854, holds 2,561 graves, including those of local historical figures William Meek and John Lewelling, both of whom first owned the land. In 1864, the San Lorenzo Cemetery Association purchased the land from the two men for $500 and oversaw the cemetery until the early 1960s when ownership was transferred to Alameda County, Peek said.
The Hayward historical society set up the San Lorenzo cemetery group a year ago and it is now working on a masterplan with the intent of raising money and volunteer labor to restore, conserve and maintain the site. The goal, said Peek, is to do as much as possible with the money and volunteer labor available.
"The main purpose is to get something done," she said. "If we don't, the tombstones and plots will be so far gone, that they won't be conserved. It's a public safety hazard."
The event Saturday was also part of a new series of historical presentations, dubbed "History Around Town," by the Hayward historical society. Presentations are held the first Saturday of the month.
They are being held while the Hayward Area Historical Museum, formerly located on Main Street in Hayward, is closed. A new museum will open next year on Foothill Boulevard in Hayward between San Lorenzo Creek and Russell Way.