A cemetery or a graveyard is not always a place of sadness and reverence.
Cemeteries and graveyards (yes, there is a difference) can be a place to discover history and study the past; you can trace your ancestry, learn about great people who have gone before you, follow the history of your community and gain insight into life itself.
A graveyard is almost always owned by a church and is found on that church’s property; usually it is reserved for members of that congregation. The use of church graveyards was largely discontinued in the mid 1800s because of the rapid increase in population, outbreaks of highly infectious diseases, and lack of space on church property. Also, a graveyard could be located in a secluded, restful spot on private property; plots were used family. Out of concerns for health, this practice was eventually outlawed. As a result of the demise of graveyards, cemeteries, especially in their modern landscaped and garden-like form, became the principal place of burial of the deceased.
A cemetery can be a privately owned business, or it may be publicly owned, or it might be operated by the city, state or nation. Cemeteries are a respected, protected area; the vandalism of grave sites, markers or buildings is considered a serious crime.
A National Cemetery – there are 180 of various types throughout the United States – usually contains the graves of military veterans and their spouses, but not exclusively so. A few National Cemeteries, especially Arlington (in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.), contain the graves of important political and civilian leaders. Also, there are State Veteran Cemeteries for the internment of local veterans. Some State and National Cemeteries contain Civil War sections which hold Union and Confederate soldiers.
Historically Significant Cemeteries in Missouri
In north St. Louis, two adjacent cemeteries (Bellefontaine and Calvary) offer tremendous Civil War history. There is no place on earth where more Union and Confederate generals lie at rest is such close proximity. More generals who commanded armies during the Civil War lie there than are buried at Arlington and West Point combined.
- Bellefontaine Cemetery, founded in St. Louis in 1849, holds many noteworthy individuals, including: William Clark; Adolphus Busch; Thomas Hart Benton; and William Burroughs. There are several architecturally significant monuments among the 314 acres, and more than 86,000 burial sites. The grounds are spectacular in every season.
- Calvary Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It contains the graves of Dred Scott; General William Tecumseh Sherman; playwright Tennessee Williams; and many noted persons identified with the beginning of St. Louis.
Originally located between Westport and Kansas City, Union Cemetery (now in Kansas City) was established in 1857. It was used by both towns, thus becoming a "union" between the two (hence the name). When Union Cemetery was dedicated, it was thought the 49 acres would never be full and would accommodate everyone from Westport and Kansas City who died from that day fourth.
Mount Mora Cemetery, in St. Joseph, established in 1851, is the oldest operating cemetery in St. Joseph. The boom years of the post Civil War period gave rise to the building of some of the finest tomb-architecture in the Midwest. Mausoleum Row, near the main gate, reads like a who's who of 19th century St. Joseph’s aristocracy, vying against one another to build the most magnificent mausoleums. Three Missouri governors are buried at Mount Mora: Robert M. Stewart; Willard P. Hall; Silas Woodson. The Swamp Fox of the Confederacy, M. Jeff Thompson, is buried there.
Lexington’s Machpelah Cemetery was created by the Missouri General Assembly in 1849. It remains one of Missouri’s oldest corporations in continuous existence. Among those buried there are victims of the 1852 Saluda steamboat explosion; one of the founders of the Pony Express; and Civil War soldiers killed in the 1861 Battle of Lexington.
The year 1808 marked the beginning of Old Lorimier Cemetery, in Cape Girardeau. It is believed to hold more than 6,500 burial sites, most of which are unmarked. A sidewalk serves as a north-south dividing line. It is said that Catholics are buried on the south, Protestants on the north; the east slope is believed to be the burial grounds of blacks. More than 1,200 Civil War soldiers are buried there.
Ste. Genevieve's Memorial Cemetery, in the St. Louis archdiocese, is possibly the oldest existing cemetery in Missouri. Established in 1787, it holds the area’s earliest French pioneers, as well as emigrants of other heritages, slaves and American Indians. The Foundation for Restoration of Ste. Genevieve has undertaken a restoration of this cemetery and annually holds the Déjà vu Spirit Reunion, where visitors walk the cemetery on a lantern-lit tour and hear the stories of persons buried there. Proceeds from this event benefit the ongoing restoration efforts.
Bloomfield Civil War Cemetery, in Bloomfield, holds markers of 150 soldiers who died during the Civil War. Each marker includes a brief account of where, when and how that soldier died.
National Cemeteries in Missouri
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is an American military cemetery located in Saint Louis, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Originally Jefferson Barracks Military Post Cemetery in 1826, it became a United States National Cemetery in 1866. Still an active cemetery, it is the resting place for veterans from the War of Independence to the present.
In 1861, Jefferson City National Cemetery, in the capital city, accepted its first interments of Civil War soldiers who died in local skirmishes. The cemetery was officially designated a National Cemetery in 1867. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, October 1, 1998.
The Springfield National Cemetery, in Springfield, is small, encompassing only 18 acres. It was established in 1867 as a resting place for Civil War Confederate soldiers, many of whom died at the Battle of Wilson's Creek. It has been expanded to all veterans and holds the remains of soldiers dating back to the Revolutionary War.
State Veterans Cemeteries in Missouri
There is no residency requirement for interment in any Missouri Veterans Cemetery, but there are strict eligibility requirements.
The Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Higginsville sits on 55 acres. The first burial ceremony took place in January 2000.
The Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Springfield occupies 60 acres. The first interment was conducted on 10 January, 2000.
The Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Jacksonville covers 117 acres, with a 10-acre lake. The first interment was held 3 November, 2003.
The Missouri Veterans Cemetery at Bloomfield is situated on 65 acres, with a small lake. The first burial was held 29 September, 2003.
The Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Leonard Wood was dedicated on 229 acres, 13 September, 2010. The first burial was held shortly thereafter.
Only a few of Missouri’s numerous cemeteries are listed here. These and others hold a wealth of information about the state and the nation. A visit to a cemetery can guide you through your family tree, teach you the story of the great Civil War and offer insights into how Missouri and the United States were founded and have progressed. And, you might find some interesting names on the stones, such as Alaska Jones, D. D. Dwiddle and Stagecoach Henry.