Tag Archives: Missouri cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #174: Union Cemetery
Address: 227 East 28th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri 64108
Phone: (816) 472-4990
Founded: 1857
Size: 27 acres
Number interred: 55,000
Open: 7 am to 5 pm daily.

Atop a hill overlooking the city lie the founders of Kansas City, Missouri. Union Cemetery is Kansas city’s oldest public cemetery, the final resting place of politicians, artists, war heroes, business leaders, and everyday people. Today it is advertised as Kansas City’s “most serene and historic public park.”

John Calvin McCoy came to this area as a surveyor working for the US government in 1830. In February 1835, he filed the plat for the town of Kansas. He owned a store which outfitted settlers moving west on the Santa Fe Trail.

The cholera epidemic of 1849 filled the existing family plots and the first city cemetery in Kansas City. City leaders spent years searching for a suitable replacement until James W. Hunter  deeded 49 acres of his hilltop farmland to the Union Cemetery Association. The land lay halfway between the town of Kansas on the Missouri River and the town of Westport, which was a supply stop for wagon trains as they moved west. The cemetery, which opened in 1857, was envisioned as a “union” between the two towns.

James Hunter’s monument, like many in the cemetery, is marked with a post corresponding to the walking tour map.

A fire in August 1889 damaged the sexton’s cottage and destroyed the burial records. The loss was total, as many of the graves had only been marked by wooden or limestone markers, which have eroded over time. The cottage was burned again in 1985, but by then, the cemetery records were kept off-site. The Women in Construction in Kansas City rebult the cottage for the third time. It was rededicated in October 1990. Now it serves as a visitor center and gift shop. It’s only open Thursday and Friday from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Missouri’s most famous 19th century artist, George Caleb Bingham, was a landscape painter concerned with the effects of light. His best-remembered work was the 1845 “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri,” now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Bingham chose to be buried facing south in the cemetery, although the tradition was to bury everyone facing east, toward Jerusalem and the resurrection. Bingham apparently claimed that the Lord would find him, no matter which way he faced.

A bronze medallion adorns Majors’s grave.

Alexander Majors was a partner in a freighting firm that led settlers across the prairie. His company founded the Pony Express during the Civil War. Although it only lasted 18 months, it cost Majors his fortune. He died penniless in 1900.

A small monument in the Kearney family plot remembers Hattie Drisdom Kearney. On Christmas Day 1855, she was sold as a slave. She was 11 years old. She begged a “kindly looking” man to buy her. After Charles Esmonde Kearney placed the winning bid, he freed her. When she told him she had nowhere to go, he hired her as a housekeeper and nurse. She worked for the Kearney family for 80 years, raising several generations. Now she lies amongst them.

By 1910, the cemetery was sadly deteriorated. The Cemetery Association sold 18 acres to fund upkeep. In 1937, the remaining 27 acres were deeded to Kansas City. The Native Sons of Greater Kansas City began a major restoration as its first community service project. The present gated entry was funded by the Native Sons in the 1950s. The iron fence enclosing the cemetery was added by the city in the 1990s.

The Union Cemetery is now maintained by the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation. It’s a beautiful place, full of history and beautiful monuments, well worth a visit.

Useful links:
The Union Cemetery Historical Society: https://www.uchskc.org/

Walking tour map: https://kcparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Walking-Tour-Map-of-Union-Cemetery.pdf

African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City: https://aahtkc.org/union-cemetery

Findagrave listing: https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/32037/union-cemetery

Death’s Garden: The Sacred Heart

Photos of Sacred Heart Cemetery by Robert Holt.

Photos of Sacred Heart Cemetery by Robert Holt.

by Robert Holt

Born with great gusto and dying in the early hours, the life of a party ends when the host announces she is going to bed but that everyone is welcome to stay. Nobody ever stays, except the closest friends, and usually they have the party taken out of them and are only staying to help clean up. This was the case of the party in 1999, the year of the Y2K scare, the year I turned twenty-one.

The party was a close friend’s. It wasn’t my birthday party, although it was held just two days after my birthday. Most of the people there I did not know or knew only as passing faces from earlier parties.

When the host drifted toward her bed, I was left with only one other straggler: our host’s childhood friend who had rekindled the friendship recently. I knew Jessica as the long-legged brunette that regularly did yoga. The numerous stories I had heard about her had conglomerated into a mishmash of our host’s other friends, all of whose names also began with J. What I did know about her was that she was beautiful and way out of my dating league.

I walked from the living room to the kitchen, carrying the remainder of beer bottles and dumped them into the trash can. Jessica was there hand-washing a serving tray. “I guess we should go,” she said. I wondered if she was waiting for me to leave out of a lack of trust for me.

“Yeah.” I pulled out my keys. “I guess I’ll see you later.”

“It seems a waste to end the night so early.”

I looked at the clock. It was nearly one in the morning. “Want to try and make last call somewhere?”

She shook her head. “We would never make it. Besides, we have beer here.”

“Do you want to stay here for another beer?”

“Not really. I’m just not ready to end the night.”

I thought for a moment. “Do you want to grab a few beers and take a walk?”

She smiled and her face shone with an amber glow. “Where to?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I thought just a walk. Or maybe down to the cemetery to tell ghost stories.”

“Sure,” she said to my surprise. “That sounds like fun.”

Several beers were opened. We set off on a mile walk to the Sacred Heart Cemetery, nestled back in the woods off the Meramec River just south of Saint Louis. We got less than a quarter-mile from the house before an officer pulled up beside us and asked us to pour out our beers. We did and continued our journey under the bright summer sky.

The sidewalk ended and we walked side by side in the narrow street, talking about college and work and dreams. She knew my birthday had just happened and insisted on walking on the outside. “The eldest always walks on the outside,” she said. “You have more life ahead of you. This way a car would hit me and not you.” She was ten months older.

IMG_8651I laughed and put my hands on her hips and moved her to the inside. The moment my hands touched her, I felt a shocking thrill pulse through my body. I was thankful for the darkness so she couldn’t see me blushing.

As we reached the heavy raw-iron gate with Sacred Heart spelled out over it, I turned to her. I felt my pulse quickening in my neck. “Do you still want to do this?” I half-hoped she would chicken out so that I could comfort her fears and not go through the open gate.

“I’m game.” She grabbed my hand, sending another wave of excitement through me. “But only if you promise to stay with me.” With that said, she led the way into the cemetery. As we stepped into the soft grass, a cold breeze blew in from the river. I stepped ahead of her and took the lead. In the center of the cemetery was a bench and a monument. I pulled her gently to the bench. We sat down and continued our conversation from the road. The temperature continued to drop. A low, snaking fog rose up from the grass, sending clouds puffing up with each movement of our feet. After we sat for a few minutes, talking in hushed shaking voices, a cricket chirped near us.

“What was that?” She squirmed closer to me.

“It was just a cricket.” I put my hand on her knee. “Just a cricket.”

IMG_1903She shifted her weight and I brought my hand back nervously. A tree frog chirped. She jerked and shuddered.

“Just a frog,” I told her quickly.

“Are you sure?”

I laughed. “Yes, I’m sure.”

After another few minutes, a screech owl joined the conversation with its piercing cry.

Jessica jumped to her feet. “What the hell was that? What the hell!?”

I grabbed her hand. “It was an owl.”


“An owl, it was a screech owl, and it is really close, but it won’t hurt us. If you want to leave, though, we can.”

Jessica sat back down. “No, not until you’re ready.” She flinched as the tree frog chirped. Her whole body tensed. I slid my arm around her. She jumped at the touch and laughed and fell into my chest for a second. “Aren’t you scared?”

I smiled at her. “I told you, I want to be a horror writer. I like being scared. So, yeah, I’m scared out of my mind right now, and I’ve never been happier.”

She looked at me. In the cold summer night’s light, I thought for a second that she might let me kiss her. This beautiful woman might actually let me kiss her.

IMG_8654The moment was shattered as quickly as it came by the angry barks of dogs. “Now it’s time to go,” I said. We ran toward the gate, laughing with fear.

Our walk back was spent laughing at our foolishness and playfully fighting over who had to walk on the inside. As we got back to our cars, I got a pen and wrote her my phone number. “I had fun,” I said, “I would like to hang out again sometime.”

She smiled and said a noncommittal “Sure,” and I left.

I slept until noon the next day. She called a half-hour later.

We were married in 2003 and our daughter was born in 2009, our sacred heart.


DSC00247Robert Holt is an author who ranges from splatterpunk horror to children’s literature. He currently has two books available on Amazon: Death’s Disciples and The Vegetarian Werewolf and Other Stories.

Follow him on Twitter @HoltHorror or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/holthorror.


About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation. The submissions guidelines are here.

Cemetery of the Week #129: the Graves of Jesse James

Zerelda Samuels, Jesse James's mother, stands by his original grave

Zerelda Samuel, Jesse James’s mother, stands by his original grave

The James Farm
21216 James Farm Road
Kearney, Missouri 64060
Telephone: (816) 736-8500
Grave in use: 1882-1902
The farm and museum is open: October until April: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m.
May-September: Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $8 Adults, $7 Seniors (62 and over), $4.50 Children (8-15), Children under 8: Free

Mount Olivet Cemetery
101 Missouri 92 (West 6th Street)
Kearney, Missouri 64060
GPS coordinates to James’s second grave: Lat: 39° 22′ 03″N, Lon: 94° 21′ 53″W
Founded: 1868

Jesse James was 16 when he followed his brother Frank into fighting the Civil War.  After their side lost, Jesse, Frank, and several other veterans spent 20 years robbing banks and trains and getting famous through dime novels.

On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot dead by Robert Ford in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri (now a museum).  The surviving members of the gang, including his brother Frank, packed his body in ice and brought it back to his childhood home in Excelsior Springs (now called Kearney).  His mother Zerelda had Jesse buried near the house, where she could keep an eye on his body.  She feared grave robbers would dig him up and put his remains on display in a traveling show, as was common in those days.

Zerelda wasn’t above making a little money off her son’s notoriety.  She  sold rocks from his grave for 25 cents.  The postcard above shows a picture of her standing beside his obelisk.  The right sleeve of her dress covers the stump of her amputated hand, which she lost after Pinkerton detectives threw a turpentine flare into her home.

The Kansas City Star dates this card to 1907.  Apparently, there was a whole set of postcards featuring James’s homestead.  It also is a museum now.

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

After 20 years in the grave outside his mother’s farmhouse, Jesse James’s body was exhumed in 1902 and reburied in the family plot in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  His wife Zee (short for Zerelda: she was a first cousin who had been named for his mother) had died in November 1900 and was already buried in the plot.  Jesse’s half brother Archie Payton Samuel is also buried there.  He was killed by the Pinkerton bomb that took Mother Zerelda’s hand. 

Zerelda herself died in 1911 and was buried in the plot with her boys.

That tall marble tombstone has since been replaced by a government-issued military headstone.  It details the outfits with which Jesse fought in the Civil War.  A large granite marker, flush with the ground, names Jesse and Zerelda.

In 1995, forensic experts apparently proved that Jesse’s remains were in fact in his grave, so that all the men who claimed that Jesse had escaped and grown old peacefully were proved to be imposters.  Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses gives a pretty good rundown of the exhumation and analysis.

Useful links:

Photos of Jesse James and Zerelda Samuel’s gravestones at Mount Olivet

Map to Jesse’s grave

A biography of Jesse James’ wife Zee

A history of Kearney, Missouri

Things to do in Kearney, Missouri

A 1995 story about the exhumation of Jesse James, from the Chicago Tribune

A round-up of the Jesse James impostors

Cemetery of the Week #107: Bellefontaine Cemetery

aa Bellefontaine Cemetery
4947 West Florissant Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri 63115
Telephone: (314) 381-0750
Founded: 1849
Date of earliest gravestone: 1817
Size: 314 acres
Number of interments: 87,000
Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, including weekends and holidays. The cemetery office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30.

THIS WEEKEND: Saturday, September 14, 2013 from 10 a.m. to noon. Bellefontaine Cemetery offers a guided bus tour of notable burials, scenic views, beautiful monuments, sculptures, and architecture. Because seats are limited, RSVP by calling 314-381-0750.

Once on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri, Bellefontaine Cemetery began as a little family plot. Its earliest monuments include Stephen Hempstead, a Revolutionary War veteran (died in 1817) who was buried in his family plot on his own farmstead. Near him lies Manuel Lisa (died 1820), one of the founders of the Missouri Fur Company. He had been buried in the Catholic Cemetery closer to town, but was moved to the Hempstead farm in 1830.

abNearly two decades later, a rural cemetery committee — headed by a prominent banker and a lawyer who had been mayor several times — predicted the growth of St. Louis, perched as it was on the edge of the west and alongside the Mississippi River. They foresaw that the old pioneer cemeteries stood in the way of expansion. They purchased 138 acres of the Hempstead farm for a new Rural Cemetery in 1849.

The lovely name Bellefontaine comes from the fort of the same name that had lain up the road from the Rural Cemetery.

According to Famous and Curious Cemeteries, burials began even before the cemetery could be properly planned. In June 1849, a cholera epidemic swept upriver from New Orleans. By mid-August, the population of St. Louis had been literally decimated — and the new cemetery was in common use.

acPerhaps the most famous person buried in Bellefontaine is General William Clark, half of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He also served as governor of the Missouri territory. He lies with his family beside a granite obelisk unveiled during the 1904 World’s Fair, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase.

Also buried here is Adolphus Busch, the beer baron, and his son-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser. Other notables include James Buchanan Eads, the engineer who constructed the ironclad gunboats used in the Civil War; Henry Taylor Blow, the abolitionist who set Dred Scott free; his daughter Susan, who founded the first kindergarten in the US; and poet Sara Teasdale, who won the first Pulitzer Prize given to a woman for her book of poetry called Love Songs.

More recently, William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation poet and author of Naked Lunch and so many more books, was buried in Bellefontaine on his family’s plot. Burroughs’ namesake father was the founder of the Burroughs Corporation and pioneer of the adding machine.

adIn addition to being an arboretum with over 180 species of trees and shrubs, Bellefontaine holds 100 acres of undeveloped land, some of which has been re-converted to prairie. The cemetery provides habitat for foxes, waterfowl, wild turkeys, and many migratory birds. Watch their website for events related to the arboretum.

image001In October, Bellefontaine will host the second annual Beer Barons Tour. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 day of the event, and benefit the Friends of Bellefontaine Cemetery, a nonprofit organization which supports the cemetery’s rich heritage, important architecture, and beautiful landscape. The ticket admits you to a guided tour, live music by Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers, St. Louis food favorites, a free commemorative gift, and samplings of local craft beers.

Full disclosure: these lovely photographs were provided by Bellefontaine Cemetery.  I haven’t been yet, but man oh man, do I want to go now.

Some Useful Links:

Bellefontaine Cemetery’s homepage

Schedule of events coming up at Bellefontaine, including details of the Beer Barons tour

Visitors’ Guide to Bellefontaine

Interiors of the Wainwright tomb

Map to Bellefontaine

GPS coordinates, care of CemeteryRegistry.us

Lovely news story on Bellefontaine

Books Reviewed on Cemetery Travel that reference Bellefontaine:

Famous and Curious Cemeteries

The Last Great Necessity