Despite the supposed onset of winter, it’s another sunny day as I pedal up to the San Francisco Columbarium, a stately domed edifice perched at the end of a discreet cul de sac off Geary and Arguello. Currently operated by the secular Neptune Society, the Columbarium is one of the last remaining repositories for the dead within San Francisco city limits, the majority of San Francisco’s deceased having been relocated to Colma from the turn of the 20th century on. A group of about 30 curiosity seekers have gathered at the gates. We’ve all come for an Obscura Society “field trip,” in this instance a tour of the iconic structure, led by the man who has been credited with almost single-handedly presiding over the Columbarium’s resurrection from decades of neglect, Emmitt Watson.
The Obscura Society is an offshoot of four year-old online encyclopedia of wonder, Atlas Obscura, and other local excursions have included ones to Suisun Bay, the Albany Bulb, the San Francisco Motorcycle Club clubhouse, an abandoned train station in Oakland, the Zymoglyphic Museum of San Mateo, and an after-dark tour of the Woodlawn cemetery in Colma. Like a darker, more relentless version of Nerd Nite with stronger drinks and more historians, its Tuesday night salons at the DNA Lounge are equally expansive, covering a whole gamut of hidden histories on topics such as vigilantes, rum-runners, the Donner Party, rail transportation, and absinthe.