June 2005


Does Columbarium Have Mysterious Connections to Past?

File Photo

The Columbarium is located on Lorraine Court.

By Jonathan Farrell

Almost hidden away between busy Geary Boulevard and Anza Street is a cul de sac, Loraine Court, which is the address for a neo-classical building called the Columbarium, whose charm and mystery beckon to another place and time.

One historical researcher, Richard Slezak, believes the Columbarium could have a hidden link to Stonehenge. But how could a mausoleum that was once part of a 167-acre cemetery have some mysterious connection to a famous, ancient site in England?

Slezak made a presentation, featuring his hypothesis, to members of the San Francisco History Association at their May 24 meeting at the Mission Dolores School's auditorium. The auditorium quickly filled with more than 50 curious people, who wanted to know more about a possible connection to Stonehenge.

According to Slezak, the two-story circular building completed in 1898 "has held tight secret meanings behind the names of the 16 rooms" inside. The rooms point to the astronomical, mythological and storytelling elements of Slezak's presentation.

"When you compare the floor plan of the building to the star chart, the alignment is dramatic. The room (alignment) appears in the floor plan as it does in the sky-constellation," Slezak said.

"The architect Bernard J. Cahill and the builders were trying to define a circle in the sky," he said.

Slezak wonders if the circle was based upon something galactic or ecliptic? Most of Slezak's pondering centers upon the mythological and storytelling elements found in the names of the 16 rooms - eight on each of two floors.

Names such as Auster, Notus and Zephyrus are part of Greek and Roman mythology.

"Why did the architect and builder choose these names?" Slezak asked.

The researcher admitted that his research of Cahill's writings and logs at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley was unable to find any reference to secret meanings or significance behind the names and positions of the rooms.

Slezak, who specializes in the history of cemeteries, speculates that some hidden meaning lies within the Columbarium, mostly because it was built by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

"The Odd Fellows were very similar to the fraternal order of Masons and they have been known as a secretive society," Slezak said.

Based on this reasoning, "it must have some other meaning to it," Slezak told the audience. Yet, to the audience's disappointment, Slezak offered few facts to back his hypotenuse.

According to Bill Boyd, who serves as membership manager for one of the largest branches of the Odd Fellows in the United Kingdom, the Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, there is no known connection between the Odd Fellows order and Stonehenge.

"I have never heard of any connection between Stonehenge in Whiltshire, England and the Odd Fellows," he said.

"Stonehenge is more of an ancient monument associated with Druid activities and rituals. I appreciate the pillars which (upon looking at photos of the Columbarium) could be influenced by the standing stones, but that is as far as my architecturally-untrained eye will take me," said Boyd.

Boyd also mentioned that the Odd Fellows in the U.K. has had "no jurisdiction in North America since 1834."

Apparently the Odd Fellows trace their roots back to the 18th century, but, according to legend, can be linked even farther back to the 11th and 12th centuries. That is when a fraternal band of soldiers and knights established a lodge of honor in London by Knight Jean de Neuville from France.

Similar to the Masons, the order of Odd Fellows also holds legends that can link their heritage even farther back to the days of chivalrous knights.

They claim that such orders or fraternal bands existed in Biblical times - from 500 years B.C. The fraternity was brought into Europe via the Roman army, which conquered Europe and moved into Britain.

Slezak was a little thin with his evidence linking the Richmond District burial chamber, which has some of the city's most famous residents interned there, with Stonehenge - other than the fact that both structures are related to the reading of the stars.

Rooms in the Columbarium with names like Argo and Perseus refer to the myths and stories that speak of a hero. The hero could have been on a quest to find a treasure (such as Jason and his crew on the ship Argo, which was sent to obtain the Golden Fleece) or to rescue the maiden of a kingdom (as in the story of Perseus and his adventure to save Andromeda).

Emmitt Watson, a groundskeeper who has been giving tours while maintaining and restoring the Columbarium for more than 25 years, said, "I too think it is a bit of a stretch to say the Columbarium is linked to Stonehenge. But there are hidden meanings, which I find difficult to calculate.

"People in ancient times used the stars for direction, maybe that is why Richard thinks there is a connection to Stonehenge?"

Watson believes the Odd Fellows were simply trying to say something universal about all people to all people with the design of the building.

"We all have a direction in life," he said. "This is the reason for the north, south, east and west alignments."

Watson also noted the columns in each of the eight rooms on each floor contain some reference to God.

"No evil must enter," Watson said. "Only safe passage for the souls that are remembered within this space."