The Souls of Potter’s Field The forgotten lives of departed Monterey County citizens are buried along a busy intersection in Salinas


By Joe Livernois

Jesús Comache survived the black plague that swept through Mexico in the 1880s. He eventually immigrated to the United States, where he was a trusted vaquero for a South Monterey County cattleman for nearly 30 years. He died in 1923, and no one knew exactly how old he might have been.

Residents of what was then known as the “Marina section” found the body of a middle-aged man on Marina Beach in early 1929. He was dressed well, but the body was badly decomposed, and law enforcement initially thought it might have been a missing homicide suspect. After checking dental records and laundry marks, the Monterey County coroner was unable to identify the body, and he was listed as John Doe.

Julian Madini had been one of the oldest patients at the county hospital when he died in 1911. The Salinas newspaper noted that he died “friendless and alone,” at the age of 84. 


Comache, John Doe and Madini are all buried under the high grass on what is now an otherwise nondescript sloping weed patch adjacent to one of the busiest intersections in Salinas. The patch of land, surrounded by a high chain-link fence, is the old county cemetery, with a current population of about 800 souls, more or less. 

For those who know what it is, the cemetery is known as Potter’s Field, the popular name given to final resting places for indigent, unidentified or unclaimed corpses. It is literally where the bodies are buried.

For nearly 130 years, the 3.4-acre site at the corner of Natividad Road and Laurel Drive was the burial site for unfortunate citizens without the money, an identity or the family to pay for a “proper burial.” The cemetery is on a bluff with a view of the flatlands of Carr Lake.

Sometimes, county officials fashioned crude markers to note the names of people they buried on the site. But John Doe, the well-dressed gentleman discovered on the Marina Beach, was identified only by number. His death was anonymous, and he took with him memories of the loves and the laughs and the sorrows of his life. Those who knew him might have gone to their own graves wondering what happened to him. 


To learn more about the Souls of Potter’s Field, subscribe to Where the Bodies Are Buried, an adjacent publication developed to support the mission of Voices of Monterey Bay. Signing up is easy, and you can get access to our full archives here.


PHOTO: The view of Monterey County’s Potter’s Field in Salinas. PHOTO CREDIT: Carlos Rene Castro


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About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.