Workers Excavate 631 Coffins at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Campus

The discovery of the graveyard, which dates back to between 1875 and 1935 at the county hospital on Bascom Avenue in San Jose, was first reported in May 2012

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A Potter's Field is yielding hundreds of graves in San Jose. (Published Thursday, Jun 13, 2013)

    Workers at San Jose's Santa Clara Valley Medical Center have unearthed the remains of 631 people on the grounds of the hospital in the past several months.

    The coffins, buried in a so-called Potter's Field, were discovered more than a year ago by construction crews working on the new building site off Ginger Lane in the back of the facility. At first there were only a handful of coffins, but as the excavation expanded, the numbers increased into the hundreds. 

    Raw Video: SJ Rabbi Mourns Souls at Valley Med Graveyard

    [BAY] Raw Video: SJ Rabbi Mourns Souls at Valley Med Graveyard
    In a quiet, ceremony Thursday, Rabbi Leslie Alexander chanted a mourner's prayer for the souls found by accident at a construction site at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center earlier this year. (Published Thursday, Jul 5, 2012)

    The bodies are believed to be people who died at the hospital in the late 1800s or early 1900s but could not afford burial or did not have family. 

    The main excavation effort is expected to be completed in August, with a final area to be excavated by the end of the year.

    The redwood coffins that have been unearthed are described as being made of simple construction. The hospital says they have been trying to identify the remains, but so far have come up empty.

    The excavation has been conducted by the Archaeology Division of URS and D&D Osteological Services. Forensic teams reported that a number of 631 people who have been evaluated so far died of syphilis and other infections.Some had amputations and may have died from complications of diabetes.

    Their skeletal remains were sent to San Francisco State University’s Bio-Anthropology Laboratory for tests and further analysis.

    History:

    • a map dated 1932, the cemetery is marked
    • a map dated 1958 there was no cemetery identified on map
    • in 1966 an employee parking lot was placed on top of most of the cemetery
    • initially, 15 coffins were unearthed
    • the County has some records of County hospital deaths from 1925 to 1940, but they do not indicate who may be buried in the SCVMC potter’s field