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R.I.P. in the Walls of San Francisco

Oct 30, 2017 | 831 videos
Video by Tyler Trumbo

More than 80,000 people currently rest in peace in San Francisco’s Victorian-era columbarium, a repository for urns and a living museum of memories. Some of San Francisco’s preeminent public figures are among those buried in the walls, including Harvey Milk (the city’s first openly gay politician), Chet Helms (founder of the “Summer of Love”), and Jerry Juhl (The Muppets).

Tyler Trumbo, director of the short documentary The Columbarium, invites us to experience the building through the eyes of its 30-year caretaker, Emmitt Watson, who “understands the power of storytelling through remembrance.” Watson has painstakingly restored the building to its former glory. He now regales visitors with stories of the people respectfully interred there.

“Death has always been a curiosity to me,” Trumbo said. “How do we remember those who have has passed? How do we distill a loved one's life? It’s an often overlooked and fascinating form of storytelling.”

While making the film, which he shot with a Bolex film camera, Trumbo was surprised to learn “how the collective history of the city could be amassed from observing individual niches. The entire place formed a mosaic that told a unique story of the city, spanning decades.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.