SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.—The County of Santa Clara held a prayer service July 7 to remember and honor those buried at the Potter’s Field on the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) campus. The service was also held to comfort family members who believe their loved ones were buried at the site. The ceremony was held on the second floor of the two-story parking garage, located at the corner of Ginger Lane and Middle Drive in San Jose, overlooking the Potter’s Field.
Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who was in attendance at the ceremony remarked, “Our hope is that the remembrance service will provide some comfort for the relatives of the individuals who were buried in the Potter’s Field approximately 100 years ago.”
The service included introductions by SCVMC Chaplain Barbara Zahner, a welcome from Supervisor Mike Wasserman, and prayers from Val Lopez, Tribal Chair, Amah Mutsan Band; Rev. Larry Wildemuth, Chaplain SCVMC; Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, Diocese of San Jose; Venerable Thich Phap Chon, Abbot, Lieuquan Buddhist Cultural Center; Ouahiba Ahriz, SCVMC Muslim Spiritual Care; and Pandit Ram Murti Sharra, Sunnyvale Hindu Temple & Community Center. Mrs. Gloria Jabuat spoke on behalf of the families who believe they have loved ones buried at the Potter’s Field. Music included bagpipes and a Celtic harp.
“The remembrance prayer service is an opportunity to gather together, take time to reflect on life, and respectfully prepare the ground spiritually and physically so their remains may be moved with honor and care,” said Rev. Wildemuth, Chaplain of Spiritual Care Services at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
The service was held prior to the start of initial work to remove approximately 100 pine coffins and remains. The 100 coffins that are directly in the path of construction will be removed in a dignified and respectful manner, and dealt with in accordance with the law and current County practices for handling the indigent deceased. The estimated 1,345 remaining coffins will be left in their current resting place.
Upon completion of construction, a second service will be held at an outdoor memorial area on the site where family members may go to give prayer or remember their loved ones.
A potter’s field, a cemetery reserved for burial of persons that were indigent, unknown or unclaimed, was discovered on the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Campus in San Jose. The graveyard dates from between 1875 and 1935. The pine boxes were discovered in February when construction crews were doing grading work for the site. In a map dated 1932, the cemetery is marked; but on a later map dated 1958 there was no cemetery identified. By 1966, there was an employee parking lot on top of the cemetery. Initially, 15 pine boxes were unearthed, but there may be as many as 1,445 pine boxes on the site. This estimate is based on the area designated on the 1932 map and the spacing of the 15 boxes.
While the County has some records of County hospital deaths from 1925 to 1940, the records do not indicate who may be buried in the SCVMC cemetery or in the particular coffins that need to be moved for the current construction. There does not appear to be any markers on the pine coffins, and because the coffins have not been disturbed, it is unknown whether there will be any identifying information buried within.
If information is found that identifies any of the 100 individuals buried in the coffins, the County will attempt to locate family so that they can claim the remains. In such cases, relatives may arrange for a proper private burial.
The lack of information limits the County’s options under the law to move the remains. The County will address the disposition of unclaimed remains through the Coroner’s procedures that include cremation and holding of the ashes for a period of 30 days so that any relatives/heirs who desire to do so can claim the ashes.
Until August 1, 2012, residents who believe their loved ones may be buried at the potter’s field, may contact the County by e-mail at Remains@ceo.sccgov.org or a phone message center at (408) 299-5192 to provide the following information:
· full name/address/phone number/e-mail address
· the deceased’s name
· relationship to deceased
· the approximate age at death (if known)
· date of birth
· date of death (if known)
· any supporting documents you may have about the deceased that might help with identification
The information provided will be retained and matched with any identifying information found within the coffins. Should the County need more information or identify a family member, the individual will be contacted.
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Posted: July 9, 2012