Because they rejected the image of heaven as a garden, leaders of the early Christian Church had forbidden the planting of trees and flowers within cemetery boundaries. By the eighteenth century, this thinking had been greatly modified. In fact, trees and flowers and even the cultivation of birds became the cornerstone of the American nineteenth century “garden cemetery” movement. On the West Coast, Cypress Lawn was one of the earliest and most grand examples of this motif .
In the 1930s, Cypress Lawn went to far as to purchase advertising placards on San Francisco streetcars advising commuters when tress and flowers were in bloom, reminding them that it was the time to visit the cemeteries in Colma.
Our founder, Hamden Holmes Noble, became enthralled with the cooing brown-winged turbit pigeons very much present at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts, often regarded as the pioneer of the garden cemetery initiative in the United States and which served as an inspiration for Cypress Lawn.
Noble wrote the director of Mt. Auburn, beseeching him to send a small flock of the creatures to Cypress Lawn to give added life to the grounds. Pigeon cotes were constructed behind the administration building and a dozen of the birds soon arrived. At noon and 4 p.m. daily, Noble personally appeared with a basket of seed in hand to feed his cherished pigeons. When Noble died in 1929, there were about 1400 birds participating in the daily meals.
Thousands of local adults fondly remember feeding the birds of Cypress Lawn during their childhoods. That tradition lives on.
Terry Hamburg, Cypress Lawn Heritage Foundation