PALO ALTO, California: Simple gravestones dot Alta Mesa Memorial Park, a century-old cemetery in the heart of Silicon Valley. On them are names dating back to Civil War veterans and the area’s early inhabitants, sharing space with technology pioneers.
Steve Jobs is here, too, but his name is not.
Even as the technology pioneer’s life is splashed across the big screen this week amid the opening of Aaron Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs” biopic, key aspects of the privacy Jobs fought to protect while alive endure four years after his death.
At his family’s request, his grave is unmarked and the cemetery has not revealed its location. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to find it.
Fans from all over the world have made pilgrimages to the Palo Alto cemetery and shared their experiences online. A video posted to YouTube by an Italian blog in the days after Jobs’ death purports to show the path and grave site, focusing on a patch of fresh lawn not far from David and Lucile Packard’s graves. A man in the video speaking Italian takes a bite out of an apple, places it on the grass, and kneels to touch the ground.
The apple, flowers and notes meant for Jobs, it turned out, were left for someone else. A visit to the cemetery this week revealed that the plot in the video is the resting place of a “beloved mother and grandmother” who died at age 92 on Oct. 11, 2011, six days after Jobs passed.
“We had people wandering a lot around the cemetery with the claim they are going to find him. Good luck,” said cemetery general manager Marilyn Talbot. But cemetery staff wanted to offer something to mourners. “So we put a book out.”
The book resides in the office’s lobby, with dozens of messages written to Jobs and this warning on the first page: “We appreciate your kind thoughts and wishes for Mr. Jobs, but with consideration for the privacy requested by his family, we do not divulge his burial location here at Alta Mesa.”
Jobs and his family are not alone in making such a request. There are an untold number of unmarked burial sites within the 111-year-old cemetery where celebrities like Shirley Temple and tech royalty like Packard and transistor co-inventor William Shockley are also laid to rest. The unmarked graves range from everyday working class people to Jobs.
In her 35 years at Alta Mesa, Talbot has never requested a reason for the anonymity.
“It’s not a requirement to mark your grave,” she said this week. “Sometimes people don’t mark it for a certain length of time due to religious beliefs. Sometimes people want to think about it for a while. We tell people if they want to put an epitaph to give it some time. Sometimes it grows to years before they put it on, but it’s hard to think about what to put on there.”
In “Steve Jobs,” a biography by Walter Isaacson, the author writes that Jobs’ family assumed throughout most of his long illness that he wanted to be cremated.
“Over the years they had discussed, in an offhand manner, where they might like their ashes to be scattered,” according to the book. “But on that Monday (two days before his death) he declared that he did not like the idea of his body being cremated. He wanted to be buried in the cemetery near his parents.”
Paul and Clara Jobs are interred at Alta Mesa, which lies in south Palo Alto about six miles from the Los Altos home where they raised their adopted son.
Isaacson offers hints of their adopted son’s final resting place, writing that Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell, and sister Mona Simpson convinced the cemetery to bury him in an area where there were then no plans for plots, near an apricot orchard. There is a sloping hill near two apricot orchards that fits that description. On a recent visit, flowers could be seen on one unmarked grave, while a dozen plastic roses also appeared out of place.
There are no current plans to add a grave marker, according to the cemetery.
For now, the closest many come to paying respects in person is the book in the cemetery’s lobby. A second volume — the first was filled and is kept by staff — is nearly filled with remembrances from strangers thanking “Steve” for his worldwide impact, a few taunts, and many entries repeating a line Jobs gave to Stanford students at a 2005 commencement ceremony, “stay hungry, stay foolish.”
His visitors have come from as far away as Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, Paris, London, and Korea. A woman who lives behind Terman Middle School near the cemetery wrote that as his new neighbor, she hopes he does “something splendid in heaven. I know you will.”
A seventh-grader from Fairfax, Virginia, thanked him for a few favorite Pixar movies, and a local asked why he “OK’d to have the trees cut along Homestead Road” in Cupertino.
Last year, a woman from Indonesia wrote that she had promised herself she would meet Steve Jobs.
“Now, here I am at the closest possible way to say something to my greatest idol,” she wrote. “May you rest in peace, sir. My prayers will always be with you.”
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