Editor's Note: When Mark Twain wrote this piece in 1866, undertakers and cemetery owners were a far less scrupulous and a much more unprofessional lot than they are today. The toll roads are no longer in operation and Colma cemetery owners are more chivalrous and low key than their Lone Mountain (later Laurel Hill) predecessors, though still rightfully proud of the interments under their guardianship.
When I spoke the other day of some singular proceedings of a firm of undertakers here, and now I come to converse about one or two more of the undertaker tribe. I begin to think this sort of people have no bowels--as the ancients would say--no heart, as we would express it. They appear to think only of business--business first, last, all the time. They trade in the woes of men as cooly as other people trade in candles and mackerel. Ther hearts are ironclad, and they seem to have no sympathes in common wth their fellow-men.
A prominent firm of undertakers here own largely in Lone Mountain Cemetery and also in the toll-road leading to it. Now if you or I owned that toll-road we would be satisfied with the revenue from a long funeral procession and would "throw in" the corpse--we would let him pass free of toll--we would wink placidly at the gate-keeper and say, "Nevermind this gentleman in the hearse--this fellow's a dead-head." But the firm I am speaking of never do that--if a corpse starts to Paradise or perdition by their road he has got to pay his toll or else switch off and take some other route. And it is rare to see the pride this firm take in the popularity and respectability of their cemetery, and the interest and even enthusiasm which they display in their business.
A friend of mine was out at Lone Mountan the other day, and was moving sadly among the tombs thinking of departed comrades and recalling the once pleasant faces now so cold, and the once familiar voices now so still, and the once busy hands now idly crossed beneath the turf, when he came upon Mr. Smith, of the firm.
"Ah, good morning," says Smith, "come out to see us at last, have you?--glad you have! let me show you round--let me show you round. Pretty fine ain't it?--everything in apple pie order, eh? Everybody says so--everybody says mighty few graveyards go ahead of this. We are endorsed by the best people in San Francisco. We get 'em, sit, we get the pick and choice of the departed. Come, let me show you. Here's Major-General Jones--distinguished man, he was--very distinguished man--highsted him up on that mound, there, where he's prominent. And here's MacSpadon--rich?--Oh my! And we've got Brigadier-General Jollopson here--there he is, over there--keep him trimmed up and spruce as a fresh "plant," all the time. And we've got Swimley, and Stiggers, the bankers, and Johnson and Swipe, the railroad men, and m-o-r-e Admirals and them kind of people--slathers of them! And bless you we've got as much as a whole block planted in nothing but hundred thousand dollar fellows--and--"
(Here Mr. Smith's face lighted up suddenly with a blaze of enthusiasm, and he rubbed his hands together and ducked his head to get a better view through the shrubbery of the distant toll-road, and then exclaimed):
"Ah! is it another? Yes, I believe it is--yes it is! Third arrival to-day! Long procession! 'George this is gay! Well, so-long Thompson, I must go and cache this party!"
And the happy undertaker skipped lightly away to offer the dismal hospitalities of his establishment to the unconscious visitor in the hearse.
Feb. 3, 1866