I. Cemeteries Located Within Municipalities
Each Boonslick town has a public cemetery, a burial ground within an
incorporated town open to the public without religious connection. Some
towns also contain private cemeteries. There are seven municipal
cemeteries in Boone County, five municipal cemeteries in Cooper County,
and seven municipal cemeteries in Howard County for a total of nineteen in
the Boonslick region. Whether public or private, the cemeteries feature a
east and west orientation with burials in straight rows. The Otterville
Cemetery contains a small frame building with roofed veranda. Here the
local cemetery association collects donations during Memorial Day weekend
and the roofed veranda is utilized by people when it rains during the
graveside portion of a funeral. Walnut Grove Cemetery has public restrooms
and the superintendent house within the grounds. The Columbia Cemetery
likewise has some sort of maintenance shed in the middle of the cemetery
and the caretaker lives in a house located to the east of the entrance
gate. Otherwise, the municipal cemeteries lack buildings.
These municipal cemeteries were segregated during the end of the
nineteenth century and many remain segregated in 1989. Burials in the
Boonslick follow the Upland South custom of being grouped by family. This
means racial separation is still a reality as people desire burial near
previously deceased family members. Otherwise, these municipal cemeteries
follow the characteristics found in both private family and community
cemeteries and in church cemeteries. The majority of burials in the late
1980's are in municipal cemeteries because all have Perpetual Funds and
the public ones are tax supported.
II. Introduction to the Cemeteries of Boonville
The outstanding cemetery located within a municipality is Walnut Grove
Cemetery in Boonville in Cooper County. Developed as a private, park like
cemetery, in the late 1980's, this cemetery remains the major place of
interment in the Boonville area and contains over 8,000 burials.1 The population of the cemetery exceeds the
population of the town showing how the Boonslick has retained its rural
character. Here too are stones removed from other and earlier cemeteries
as families in the late nineteenth century played out the theme of status
and familial groupings by having ancestors removed from country plots or
the earlier Sunset Hills cemetery and reinterred in Walnut Grove.
Boonville has changed in 179 years, but once inside the gates of Walnut
Grove, time stops. The hitching posts and horse watering tanks remain in
place awaiting the next funeral hearse. The peonies and wild flowers bloom
each spring. The attachment of the community to this cemetery is shown by
the request of many patrons to be buried in the earliest portion of the
grounds and their willingness to pay for that privilege.2 Although vandalism and pollution have
defaced some monuments, the majority remain in excellent condition and
nothing broken is allowed to remain. It is either immediately repaired or
taken to the cemetery headquarters until funds can be procured for repair
or replacement. Modern paved roads follow the winding course of the
original, macadam roads. The grounds provide a sanctuary for wildlife not
found elsewhere in the community, including the community parks which
feature athletic competition rather than the quiet, contemplative nature
of this cemetery.
Boonville was founded in 1810 by Hannah Cole, a widow with nine
children.3 She settled on the south bluff
of the Missouri River and constructed a fort in what is now the
northeastern part of Boonville opposite the Boonville Correctional Center.
The Boonslick region flooded with new settlers and soon Boonville was a
thriving river community with a Southern orientation.4 The town of Boonville was named for the
famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone, whose family operated a salt lick
across the Missouri River.5 The citizens
incorporated under the county government until 1839, 29 years after the
town was settled. Finally, on February 8, 1839, the town was officially
People prided themselves upon their cultural outlook and education.7 The Boonville Thespian Society and Reading
Room was started in 1838, one year before the town's incorporation. On
July 4, 1857, the citizens of the town dedicated Thespian Hall which built
by the organization and now is listed on the National Register of Historic
Places as a nationally significant building. This large, two story
building was constructed as a theater, library, and cultural center.8 The early date of this building reflects
the desire of the citizens of Boonville to be more than a frontier
settlement. The construction date coincides with the establishment of
Walnut Grove Cemetery and the First Missouri State Fair which was held in
During the 1820's, the young artist, George Caleb Bingham was
apprenticed to the local Methodist minister who doubled as a cabinetmaker,
Justinian Williams.9 In Boonville, Bingham
painted his first painting and observed a lifestyle which he employed in
his later paintings, the first to accurately depict genre scenes of the
Wild West, his Boonslick.10
III. Sunset Hills
Walnut Grove was not the first cemetery in Boonville. Some type of
burial ground was on Seventh Street, just east of Saints Peter and Paul
Parochial School in Boonville and excavation for a house basement in the
late nineteenth century immediately north of the school disclosed other
burials.11 In 1954, the house was
demolished and an educational building constructed for the local United
Church of Christ. In excavating for the foundation for this building, more
burials were also uncovered. However, no records remain that mention this
as a cemetery from the time of settlement.12 Harley Park near the western edge of the
town contains several Indian burial mounds which are listed on the
National Register of Historic Places as archaeological sites.13 Speculation abounds that perhaps the
graves discovered at the United Church of Christ are either graves of
Native Americans who were not chieftains or the graves of slaves for whom
it was not felt necessary to record the burial site.14
In any event, the first officially established cemetery is now called
Sunset Hills, although the original name was the Methodist Burying
Grounds.15 In February 1841, Jacob Wyan,
local merchant and devout Methodist, deeded to the City of Boonville one
acre of land for the sum of $5.00 for the use as a cemetery under the
control of the Methodist Episcopal Church.16 Evidently, burials had begun on the land
as early as 1818 so Wyan was merely making official something which had
already transpired. Problems arose when it was pointed out that religious
institutions, such as the Methodist church, could not own property in
their own names.17 Thus, the county court
assumed responsibility for the deed for the actual church building and the
city acquired the cemetery.18
Sunset Hills became the secondary burial place for Boonville upon the
establishment of Walnut Grove Cemetery. Sunset Hills was used primarily by
freed slaves and their descendants who could not afford the higher prices
of the Walnut Grove lots. The cemetery has been now closed as the City
cannot determine just where burials have and have not taken place so no
new lots will be sold, but burials may continue on lots already owned.19
To walk through Sunset Hills is to walk through the earliest history of
the Boonslick with names of very early settlers and names of transients on
their way West whose West became Boonville. Sentimental stories abound
such as those of Willie, a youth who died in Boonville from the strains of
pioneering and left a mother too poor to purchase a gravestone. In the
case of Willie, Boonville citizens donated enough money to erect a
suitable marker that says "Willie, the Littlest
Stranger". Boonville monument carver Elias J. Bedwell provided the
IV. Founding of Walnut Grove
In 1852, William S. Myers sold the land that was to become Walnut Grove
Cemetery for $500.00.21 Three couples, Charles and Eliza Aehle, Dr.
Augustus William and Margaret E. Mills Kueckelhan, and Mr. and Mrs. Robert
D. Perry, purchased the four acre tract because of a grove of walnut trees
on the property.22
The immediate acceptance of Walnut Grove by the surrounding property
owners who moved deceased family members to this newly established
cemetery shows that the three families obviously had more in mind from the
beginning than a mere cemetery when establishing Walnut Grove. The site
itself is beautiful and could be favorably compared to Bellefontaine
Cemetery in St. Louis and other rural, park-like cemeteries of the East,
but there were other groves of trees on the Boonville bluff and Sunset
Hills was already established and contained hilly land which could have
been landscaped to fit all the requirements of a rural park-like cemetery.
V. The First Missouri State Fair David Barton
The grove of walnut trees that formed the nucleus of Walnut Grove
Cemetery proves the key to the mystery. The grove was located immediately
south of the site of the first State Fair in Missouri which was held in
the fall of 1853; plans were already underway when the three families
purchased the ground. The fairgrounds were on the site of Hannah Cole's
fort, the original area of settlement in 1810. Rural, park-like cemeteries
were the biggest tourist attraction on the East coast and the three
families hoped to have a similar attraction in Boonville. Crowds to the
first State Fair exceeded expectations and newspaper accounts tell of
hastily constructed wooden bleachers for the thoroughbred horse races,
collapsing with the weight of all the people.23
The State Fair met in Boonville for only four years before regional
fairs undercut attendance. The local organization, the Missouri State
Agricultural Society, eventually went bankrupt.24 By this time, however,
Walnut Grove Cemetery was firmly established, although the anticipated
tourist trade to the cemetery never materialized, either from the State
Fair or the local population bringing friends to the cemetery grounds.
The cultural milieu of this era and the effect of Romanticism combined
with boosterism can best be shown by what happened to the grave of David
Barton. David Barton was chairman of the State
Constitutional Convention which wrote the Constitution for Missouri to be
admitted to the Union; the resulting document was called
the "Barton Constitution." He was well educated (an elementary school in
Boonville in Cooper County is named for him) and a Circuit Judge for the
Northern District of the Missouri Territory. He also served as Attorney
General for the Missouri Territory. Following statehood, he served as the
one of the first two U.S. Senator from Missouri, along with Thomas Hart
Disagreements between the two Senators helped cause Barton's defeat in
1831 and he returned to the Boonslick. By 1836 he was deathly ill (from
the effects of too much "wine, women, and song" according to local
tradition) and found himself under the protection of Dr. William and Mary
Gibson. The nature of his illness, however, was not allowed to obscure his
accomplishments. When he finally died in 1837, penniless and without
family, the Gibsons' led a drive to have a suitable gravestone erected
over his grave in Sunset Hills. This was accomplished and all of Barton's
credentials were embellished on the four sides of this obelisk 25.
In 1853, Barton had been dead for 15 years, but was still considered an
important figure in the region whose grave would be a tourist attraction.
With tourism expected to be generated by the adjacent State Fair, the
remains of David Barton were moved in March 1853 from Sunset Hills to the
circular lot at the center of the newly established Walnut Grove. The
Columbia Statesman observed that the reinterment would "point the stranger
and future generations to the place where reposes the remains of one of
the great men of our own State and Country...one who might have under
other and more favorable circumstances, filled the world with his fame,
and brought around his tomb in all time to come myriads of his countrymen
to do reverence to the memory of departed worth."26
The group undertaking this project decided that a fifteen-year-old
obelisk contributed by community generosity was not worthy of such a
potentially important tourist site. Political strings were pulled. On
December 8, 1855, the Missouri legislature authorized $400 to carve a new
marble gravestone and build an iron fence around the circular lot where
Barton was buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery.27 The inscription on the new
stone repeated exactly the inscription on the earlier gravestone, but the
new obelisk was about twenty feet tall, of the purest marble, ornamented
by an intricately carved torch shown being extinguished by being turned
upside down. It was intended to symbolize how the death of Barton caused
knowledge to be extinguished.
This theme had already been extensively used in the St. Louis Cemetery
II in New Orleans and originated with tombs from the Parisan cemetery of
Pere La Chaise. The tomb of Jean Alex. Gervais Hennecart in Pere La Chaise
also used this motif and dates to before 1833.28 Since there was constant steamboat
traffic with New Orleans, the use of this motif is not surprising. R. D.
Perry, Benjamin Tompkins, and A. W. Simpson were appointed commissioners
to "superintend the said work and to cause said iron railing to be put
up."29 Benjamin Tompkins was a lawyer and
the local State Representative. A. W. Simpson was an ardent member of the
local pro-slavery faction. R. D. Perry was one of the three founders of
Walnut Grove Cemetery.30 Thus the
political maneuvering behind the second gravestone can be inferred from
The first gravestone remained in Sunset Hills until 1899, after the
University of Missouri acquired the original gravestone of Thomas
Jefferson. The 1837 Barton stone was donated to the University as a
visible reminder of another person interested in Missouri education. Today
it is placed alone on the north side of Jesse Hall on the Francis
Quadrangle at the University of Missouri. The Thomas Jefferson gravestone
has been moved to a more prominent spot along the eastern walkway of the
The original lots on what is now the northeastern part of Walnut Grove
radiated out from the central, round Barton lot to form a square. The
lots were sold either for four, eight or sixteen burials and were laid in
the more traditional east and west row formation of the other local,
private burial grounds of the Boonslick. Variation was allowed within an
individual lot which satisfied the customer bent on tradition as well as
the patron who desired the Romantic touch. Cedars, peonies, violets, iris
and hardwood trees from the area provided the landscaping materials. As a
result, Walnut Grove does not visually appear to be lined up in rows.
During the War Between the States, the first battle west of the
Mississippi occurred at Boonville and several times throughout the course
of the war years, forces from both side tramped through Boonville. Some
gravestones were tall and from their tops the entire community could be
surveyed. Private memoirs mention Walnut Grove as both a hiding place
where troops could crouch behind stones and as a place where lookouts
could watch for approaching soldiers.31
VI. The Incorporation and 1881 Addition to Walnut Grove
The three families who began the cemetery were either headed by doctors
or involved in drugstores. In either case, death was a prominent part of
their business life. By 1881 only Charles and Eliza Aehle lived in
Boonville. The Aehles sold some lots from $10 to $15 and gave away others
to ministers and people who were deemed morally worthy of a Christian
burial, but lacked the necessary funds.32
During the 29 years from 1852 to 1881, $4746.50 was generated in income
for Walnut Grove and $4725.43 was expended so that by 1881 only $21.07
remained in the account.33
In 1880, Charles C. Bell returned to Boonville. Bell
was the son of German immigrants and had been a Unionist during the war.
At the close of hostilities, he moved to Texas. Returning to his hometown
in 1880, he established Bell Fruit Farms and had a crew of men available
for manual labor.34 Bell's parents were
buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery and one of his first deeds was to travel
to the cemetery and pay his respects. Bell was appalled to find livestock
running through the cemetery and clear evidence that a hog had been
rooting on his mother's grave. Spurred by this desecration, he contacted
Charles and Eliza Aehle and found the elderly couple getting along with
only the above cited funds to operate the entire cemetery. Realizing any
type of hard, physical work was beyond their capabilities, Bell agreed to
bring the cemetery into proper physical shape on the condition that the
Aehles sell the cemetery to a not-for-profit corporation formed to oversee
and maintain the grounds.35
The elderly Aehles readily agreed, apparently delighted that someone
younger was expressing an interest in the cemetery. Realizing that nothing
could be undertaken without the necessary funds, C. C. Bell then contacted
the bankrupt and defunct Missouri State Agricultural Society, the
organization which still owned by land used by the State Fair, about the
purchase of four acres of land immediately adjacent to the west of the
cemetery. The plan was to sell lots in these four acres and the proceeds
would be used for cemetery repair. After much maneuvering and legalities,
the transactions were completed. C. C. Bell obtained 3.39 acres for Walnut
Grove Cemetery, the widowed Mary Gay Wyan Nelson, whose farm joined the
cemetery, added 88/100 acres to her property, and the rest of the State
Fairground property was sold at auction at the Cooper County Courthouse
door. The defunct Agricultural society made enough money to pay off all
their debts.36 Everybody came out a winner.
Bell thus obtained the acreage necessary to restore Walnut Grove to
financial health with the intent to have the new cemetery board reimburse
him for his expenses at the appropriate time when there was enough cash.
The only obstacle was that the land purchased by Bell had been the
southern end of a mile long thoroughbred horse racing track for the State
Fair and the ground contained a steep slope. Bell spent 47 days filling in
the track and pulling out diseased walnut trees. His memoirs, now in the
Walnut Grove Cemetery Archives, do not state if he did all the work by
himself or if (more likely) he used some of the workmen from his fruit
farm. He never asked for nor received any compensation for this effort,
but eventually was repaid only the amount of the purchase price of the
land, a little over one thousand dollars.
After the leveling was completed, the new addition was surveyed for
lots. Samuel Wooldridge, an interested Boonville citizen, obtained and
planted cypress trees on both sides of the new main roadway to form two
imposing arched passageways into the newly landscaped grounds.37 Cypress trees were the symbol of
mourning to the Ancient Greeks so the association of this symbolism is too
coincidental to be an accident. Evidently Bell and Wooldridge designed
this 1881 addition as well as physically doing the work on the grounds.
Once all was finished, Bell called a public meeting at the office of
John Cosgrove, a Boonville lawyer who later became a U.S. Representative. There the men of Boonville formed a board to
incorporate. Election of officers immediately followed and to no one's
surprise, C. C. Bell was included among the chosen as was Charles Aehle.
Others selected were: John Cosgrove, A. H. Sauter, G. B. Harper, Speed
Stephens, J. F. Gmelich, John E. Thro and S. W. Ravenel.38 S. W. Ravenel was the editor of the local
newspaper and his article on the new incorporation and its goals summed up
the community sentiment: "Let all our citizens lend the aid and
encouragement that will make Walnut Grove be to Boonville what Belle
Fontaine is to St. Louis, Bonaventure to Savannah and Greenwood to New
York."39 The choice of cemeteries for
comparison shows that Ravenel was familiar with other great rural,
park-like cemeteries of the day.
The newly elected Board immediately applied for a charter of
incorporation, which was granted on July 13, 1881, by the Secretary of
State, Michael McGrath.40 It was May
1882, however, before all the technicalities and legalities had been
worked out and control of the land passed to the Board of Directors.
Charles and Eliza Aehle then gave all the money left in the old account to
the new Board.41
Realizing that the grounds needed someone there at all hours for
security purposes, the next project undertaken was to construct an
appropriate "neat cottage" for the sexton and his family who were required
to live on the premises but were not charged any rent.42 The design and construction of this
cottage is not mentioned in the Board minutes except for the reference
that it was to be built. This Gothic Revival cottage fit into the overall
cemetery landscape, with pointed windows, upright clapboarding, Gothic
mouldings, and an arched front entrance. Victorian jigsaw bargeboards help
to confirm the later date.
Even though the cemetery had just doubled in size, the Board decided to
embark upon more expansion and purchased one acre of land adjoining the
south side of the cemetery from A. A. Howard and Charles Stretz in 1884.
This addition was platted in the 1902 Kessler plan.
By 1900, more land was needed as the cemetery became the major burial
ground of the community, with an associated high status. Sunset Hills
gradually became the burial place of African Americans and impoverished
whites. A white person with pretensions to gentility bought a lot in
Walnut Grove, which was viewed as the ideal, being ablaze with riotous
foliage in the fall and lovely flowers in the spring. Officially, Walnut
Grove was not segregated, but the prices for lots were beyond the reach of
African Americans of Victorian times.
In 1892, an endowment fund was established for the upkeep of the
cemetery and its monuments.43 With the
establishment of such a system, the cemetery immediately underwent a rapid
increase in the number of burials as families exhumed relatives buried
earlier in other cemeteries that were without this protection, and had
them reintered in Walnut Grove. Magazine articles written predominantly to
a female audience stressed romantic ideas about death and details of what
was proper to continue respect for the deceased.44 Just as families would be together
spiritually in Heaven, so they ought to be together physically in the
cemetery. The rapid increase in burials poured enough money into the
endowment fund so that in 1905, a separate Perpetual Care Fund was
established and continues to the present.45
VII. George Kessler and the 1902 Plan
The Board of Directors purchased four more acres on the south side of
the cemetery from Charles Stretz on April 15, 1901, and set about to form
a master landscape plan. On September 11, 1901, T. A. Johnson, President
of the Walnut Grove Cemetery Board and also the President of Kemper
Military School in Boonville, was authorized to employ George Kessler, a
landscape architect, to coordinate the three distinct and different
sections of the cemetery into one master plan.46
George Kessler was the foremost landscape architect of the period in
the Missouri area. A native of Germany, in 1865 Kessler was brought to
Dallas, Texas, by his parents as a child. His father, Edward Kessler, who
had gone bankrupt in Germany, died soon after the family arrived in
Dallas. Left a widow, Antoine Kessler determined to educate George in a
profession that combined a practical element with his artistic
temperament. She returned with him to Germany, determined that landscape
architecture was the perfect profession for George. He was sent to school
in Germany and then spent a year traveling and studying civic design from
Paris to Moscow with a tutor. By 1882 when he was twenty, he had returned
to the United States and went to work for Frederick Law Olmstead in New
York City. Olmstead liked Kessler's work and wanted to keep him, but
friends found Kessler a job as Superintendent of Parks for a little
railroad called the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf.47
His first job for the railroad was modeling a railroad excursion park
from nondescript land near Merriam, Kansas. Evidently, Kessler worked
equally well over a flower bed or a drafting table, confirming his
mother's observations about his temperament. Because he had the advantage
of European education as well as his years spent in the United States and
his work in New York City with Olmstead, he blended all elements of design
together to form his own style. By 1887, Kessler was designing houses in
Kansas City for some of the most important and influential families of the
city. His work in the exclusive residential sections brought him to the
attention of W. R. Nelson, editor of the Kansas City Star. Nelson helped
launch him to fame developing the imposing boulevard system of Kansas City
beginning in 1893, the same year as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago
which dramatized the urban planning. Landscape architects such as Kessler
seized the moment to make the case for parks and boulevards to improve the
appearance of cities.
In 1900 George Kessler married Ida Grant Field of Kansas City and
formed the firm George E. Kessler and Company.48 In 1904, Kessler became
landscape architect to the St. Louis Worlds Fair and after the fair he was
the director of the exposition site.49 In 1921, the University of Missouri
conferred an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Laws, upon him. He died in April
He was just coming into prominence in 1901 with the Chicago Exposition
in the past and the St. Louis Worlds' Fair in the future. That critical
year the Board of Walnut Grove contacted him about working in the
cemetery. No record has come to light of how his name was obtained or who
recommended him. Perhaps his reputation alone brought him to Board
attention. In 1891 Kessler had planned Missouri Valley College at Marshall
in adjoining Saline County.51 Perhaps
Johnson (who also was involved in higher education) heard about him from
However he came to the attention of the Walnut Grove Cemetery Board,
George Kessler set to work in Walnut Grove and on January 17, 1902, the
Board was presented a master plan. Meeting at Sombart Mill on the south
bank of the Missouri River (the local M.F. A. Elevator in 1989), the Board
reviewed the proposed plan. C. A. Sombart was long time secretary of the
Board and since there was no office at the cemetery, it is probable that
all the records were kept at Sombart Mill at that time.52 After discussing the plan, W. M.
Williams moved for acceptance with two alterations, an entrance on the
east side (which was done) and walks through some of the lots. Even though
no master plan still exists on paper from Kessler, the Board minutes
reveal that Walnut Grove Cemetery followed the master plan exactly as
presented with the two additions.
The Board then unaminously approved the plan and within a week bids
were let for moving 6,000 yards of earth for the landscaping project. The
lowest bid was 13 cents/cubic yard with a total bill of $1,365.00. By the
May 7, 1902, meeting of the Board, the work was done except for sowing
grass and graveling the walks.53 The lots
Kessler designed are preceded by the Letter A before their numbers, making
it easy to find his work. Lots 1 through 245 are the original 1852 portion
of the cemetery designed by the three founding families. Lots 246 through
469 are the 1880 addition designed by C. C. Bell and Samuel Wooldridge.
Lots 474 through 557 and lots 606 and 610 represent the land purchased in
1901. Looking at the Kessler plan, it is easy to see that no burials had
occurred in the very southern portion of the cemetery since Kessler
re-arranged some of these lots and there are gaps in the numbering system.
Working within the concept already established in the romantic, rural
park-like section, Kessler kept most of the lots square with east and west
burial orientation. He then utilized the sweeping boulevard concept which
had worked so well in Kansas City. Upon entering the
main gate at the north, the road divides at a T intersection and makes a
90 degree turn toward the south in both directions. The western road then
made a circle near the south terminus before sweeping back east and to the
gate. Side roads project from the eastern road forming a triangular and a
circular area. As changed by the Board, the road then exits out the east
side from the circular area which contained a fountain. Walks
interspersed throughout the cemetery connected the old and new section
into one visually compact whole.
The entire plan was so successful that in 1989 it is impossible to tell
from purely visual examination where the older section joins the Kessler
addition. At the March 24, 1905, Board meeting, authorization was given
for the expenditure of $218.25 for 212 feet 6 inches of iron fence from
the E. T. Barnum Iron Works of Detroit, Michigan.
The Board also authorized $15 to print 200 booklets explaining the
cemetery.54 Extant penny postcards show
views of the statuary area inside the front gate.55
Ever in a mood for expansion, in 1907 the Board purchased another 1.52
acres from Charles Stretz. Additional acreage has been purchased since, so
that the cemetery presently contains 21.2 acres.56
Before World War I, Walnut Grove Cemetery underwent the construction of
three subterranean family mausolea similar in design and scale to those in
other great Victorian cemeteries of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth century. The three are: the Willard vault, the Leonard vault,
and the Crow vault. The Leonard family built Ravenswood, a huge eclectic
mansion twelve miles south of Boonville, and there was a family cemetery
on the property. The Willard daughter married the Leonard son. The search
for status and the Victorian necessity of material security made burial in
town more desirable than on the farm.
The third vault was built by Judge Ed Crow of St. Louis, a former
attorney general of Missouri. Not a Boonville native, he did descend from
some of the old Boonville families and evidently felt great affection for
the area and Walnut Grove Cemetery. The vault was 16 feet square with an 8
foot ceiling and had 20 crypts. A stairway led from the door of the vault
to ground level and large bronze doors closed the structure at the end of
the stairway. Lined with foot thick Carthage stone, and with concrete
walls also a foot thick, this vault was constructed to last.57 Soon after
its completion, Judge Crow died and was buried inside. The other two
vaults did not contain stairways, but had openings where the caskets were
lowered into the interior.
As the years passed, the stairs in the Crow vault became in need of
repair, above and beyond normal maintenance. About World War II, the
Cemetery Board finally obtained permission from the family to fill the
vault with sand because no other family member expressed a desire to be
buried in Boonville and maintenance costs were draining the Perpetual
Fund. On the day the vault was to be filled, a family member arrived in
the cemetery with the corpse of an infant in her car. Dead over 20 years,
this baby had been kept in cold storage in a funeral home. On this last
day possible for a burial, the baby was placed in the Crow vault as well
and the entire vault was filled and the ground leveled so that no trace is
These grisly details are mentioned here because mausoleums were
obviously social symbols which only the very richest people invested in;
none of the three families who constructed the mausoleums actually lived
within the incorporated limits of Boonville. Two of the three vaults were
not built by town natives, but by family members who lived elsewhere and
wanted to be buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery. A mausoleum in Walnut Grove
cost less to construct than a mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St.
Louis and by returning back to the town of the family and/or their own
nativity, people could display their sense of noblesse oblige. No doubt
another reason for their limited number was that water proved to be an
almost immediate problem and vaults were soon discovered to be
unsatisfactory.59 Nobody else wanted to
invest such money in vaults which could not be kept dry.
The lovely, landscaped grounds of Walnut Grove Cemetery attracted
people to desire to return to Boonville for burial. One of the main
reasons for the remarkable continuity of the cemetery were the sextons
(now called superintendents). Charles and Eliza Aehle cared for the
grounds for over 29 years and they were followed by S. W. Ravenel and then
William Mittelbach as secretaries who were also responsible for the
grounds. Mittelbach served in that capacity for over twenty years. Both
men took great personal interest in the plantings and landscaping of the
cemetery. Of course, sextons were hired for the physical labor. When
Mittelbach died and was buried in the western corner of the cemetery in
what was then a quiet nook, the Board paid for his gravestone. It doubles
as a bird bath, an appropriate memorial to a person interested in the
grounds and the animals living there. The paved road constructed in 1946
now runs alongside the bird bath so it is not in as quiet an area as
formerly although the bowl still contains water.
The cemetery Board was fortunate to find the Goodman family to fill the
role of sexton in the late nineteenth century. Beginning on April 1, 1910,
the sexton was paid a salary. Prior to this date the sexton obtained his
pay through the various fees for the services he provided. All fees for
digging graves, cutting grass, and building the monument foundations went
directly to him. In addition, a small stipend was paid by the Board for
incidentals.60 The end result was that
potential areas of conflict of interest existed. Supervising the work on
the grounds obviously was a full time job and in 1914, Lawrence Geiger was
hired in that capacity.
The house constructed in 1883 was rapidly outgrown and the land needed
in the cemetery for lots. In 1918 a new bungalow was constructed at the
cost of $4,500 to the west of the original house, which was then
demolished61. In 1940, the elder Geiger
was succeeded by his son, Bob, who remained as superintendent until his
retirement in 1979. He was paid $100 a month and supplemented his income
by selling monuments.62 The tradition of
one family being responsible for such a long period of time is identical
to the Hotchkiss family at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. This
continuity accounted for much of the success of both places.
Mr. and Mrs. Bob Geiger were instrumental in maintaining the superb
landscaping of the grounds and they scoured the surrounding countryside
for flowering trees and shrubbery. A likely candidate was marked and
sometimes watched for up to a year before being moved to Walnut Grove to
insure that it had lovely foliage or large flowers. The Geigers also
planted large canna beds on the north slope of the cemetery outside the
iron fence. Their intent was to make the cemetery a place of beauty and
peace, a park where fear was banished and love remained.63
VIII. Post-World War II
By 1946 the cypress trees planted by Samuel Wooldridge had grown to
such a large size that mechanized hearses could not make the 90 degree
turn at the entrance. The Board of Directors decided that a new paved road
along the western side would solve the problem without disturbing the
grounds. This area was where the first house stood and was still empty of
graves. Hurst John, architect from Columbia, Missouri, designed the
roadway renovation and upon his suggestion the fountain along the east
fence was removed and the lot sold for burials.
The Board insisted upon the use of vaults beginning in 1956 to help
keep the grounds smooth, without depressions, to facilitate mowing and
foot traffic. Before this time, vaulting had been optional. Sometimes
wooden posts were used to line the grave.64 A size limit was also placed on monuments
when it became obvious that older stones would need conservation work in
the future and that the cemetery board would have to keep the promise of
perpetual care. Pollution, acid rain, and large trucks on the adjacent
street, were not envisioned when the Perpetual Fund was established. Money
left in the will of George Sombart (son of the Sombart Mill family who
were so active in the cemetery) provided modern, new restrooms on the
grounds as his way of saying thanks for being sheltered during a deluge in
the superintendent's house while awaiting a funeral cortege. John Jay Bell
II, an architect and grandson of C. C. Bell who worked so hard for
incorporation back in 1881, designed the facility.65 Since 1985, golf
carts have been available to transport visitors around the grounds,
especially on Memorial Day Weekend when hundreds return to their ancestral
Walnut Grove stands as the high point of cemetery development in the
Boonslick. Other cemeteries in Missouri and the Midwest were no doubt
patterned and modeled after the great Eastern romantic rural, park-like
cemeteries. Old photographs and interviews reveal that Walnut Grove
Cemetery was able to keep the intent and spirit while other cemeteries
were forced to take, or sought, different paths. Much credit for the
beautiful grounds must go to a determined Board of Directors. For example,
J. F. Gmelich, a local jeweler, was on the original board. He was
succeeded by his son-in-law, A. Schmidt, who was succeeded by his son, who
was succeeded by his son-in-law, Charles Malone, a present Board member.67 The relationship has descended through
the female side of the family, but only men have been on the Board. The
Geiger family for forty years watched over the grounds with such loving
care and supervision that the cemetery acquired the local nickname of
Like the Hotchkiss family at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, they
were the ones who left supper on the stove to take a visitor through the
grounds. They lived on one income plus what they could make selling
gravestones because the Board did not want Mrs. Geiger to work elsewhere,
but would not pay her a salary from the cemetery.69 The flowers and other labor intensive
plantings were gradually discontinued as the Geigers aged and the youth
left the area for employment elsewhere, making it impossible to find
help.70 The present superintendent, John
Hulbert, supervises a crew of five men who constantly work to maintain the
cemetery which averages approximately three burials per week. Hence, there
is more and more work required in the upkeep of the grounds.
Still, over 200 trees grace the grounds and the fall foliage contains
every color possible. Flowering shrubbery remains in place as do
perennials and wildflowers. The grounds are a haven for wildlife such as
birds, rabbits, and squirrels. Walnut Grove still serves its Romantic
function 138 years after its founding. Few other places in the Boonslick
remain so intact.
- Records in the office of Walnut Grove Cemetery, Boonville,
- Interview with Frank Thacher, whose father, Berry Thacher, was buried
in the oldest section in 1986. A mortician, Berry Thacher loved the wooded
section of the cemetery.
- Dyer, Robert L., Boonville, An Illustrated
History, (Boonville, Missouri: Pekitanoui Publications, 1987), p.
- Lutz, Paul and Utermoehlen, Ralph, Mid-Missouri Regional Profile,
(Columbia, Missouri: Missouri Extension Division, 1973), p.
- Information from brochure given out at Boone's (Salt) Lick State
Park, near Boonsboro, Howard County, Missouri.
- Minutes from the
Missouri Legislature for February 8, 1839, now on file in the Missouri
State Archives in Jefferson City, Missouri.
- Dyer, p. 61.
Missouri State Highway Map, unveiled at Sesquicentennial ceremony on
February 8, 1989, in Boonville City Hall.
- Bloch, E, Maurice, George
Caleb Bingham, The Evolution of an Artist, (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1967), p. 15.
- Ibid, p. 18.
- Interview in June 1986
with Wade Davis, Boonville realtor, whose grandparents built the house and
who was involved in selling the land to the United Church of
- Typewritten manuscript prepared by Judge Roy Williams of
Boonville in the Western Manuscript Historical Collection at the
University of Missouri in Columbia.
- National Register of Historic
Places Nomination Form for the Harley Park Burial Mounds.
- Judge Roy
Williams, typed manuscript.
City Council Minute Book for Boonville from
1841 to 1858 now in the Archives of the Friends of Historic Boonville in
- Recorded in Cooper County Courthouse, Boonville,
Missouri in Recorder Office.
- Dyer, p. 36.
- Records at the
Nelson Memorial United Methodist Church in Boonville, Missouri. Named for
Margaret Jane Wyan Russell Nelson, the honored woman was the daughter of Jacob
and Nancy Shanks Wyan.
- Interview with John Webster, Boonville Parks
Director who has charge of Sunset Hills Cemetery, on November 12,
- Dyer, p. 100.
- Abstract to Walnut Grove Cemetery in bank
lock box at United Missouri Bank in Boonville, Missouri.
Sketch of Walnut Grove Cemetery, (no publisher or town given, 1910), p.
- Columbia Statesman, September 1853, Columbia, Missouri. Now on file
in State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
to Walnut Grove Cemetery.
- Melton, E. J., History of Cooper County,
Missouri (Columbia, Missouri: E. W. Stephens Publishing Company, 1937), p.
- Columbia Statesman, March 10, 1853, Columbia, Missouri. Now on
file in State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
Laws and Private Acts of the State of Missouri, 18th General Assembly, 1856, p.
- Meyer, Richard, editor, Cemeteries and Gravemarkers, Voices of
American Culture, (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989), p. 147.
Laws and Private Acts, p. 365.
- Records in the Walnut Grove Cemetery
office in Walnut Grove Cemetery in Boonville, Missouri.
- McDaniel, Lyn,
editor, Bicentennial Boonslick History, Boonville: Boonslick Historical Society,
1976), p. 93.
- Records of Walnut Grove Cemetery now in the lock box at
United Missouri Bank in Boonville, Missouri.
Receipts from Charles and
Eliza Aehle now in lock box for Walnut Grove Cemetery at United Missouri Bank in
- Records of Walnut Grove
- Abstract of Walnut Grove
- Records of Walnut Grove
- Ravenel, S. W., Boonville Weekly Advertiser,
(Boonville, Mo.: March 18, 1881), p. 1.
- Records of Walnut Grove
- Interview with Helen Goodman, daughter-in-law
of the Goodman family who lived in the house. The interview was conducted on
March 20, 1989.
- Historical Sketch of Walnut Grove Cemetery, p.
- Stannard, David E., editor, Death in America (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975) p. 55.
- Historical Sketch of
Walnut Grove, p. 6.
- Minutes of Walnut Grove Cemetery for September 11,
- Wilson, William Henry, The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas
City, 1872-1914, (Columbia, Missouri: Doctoral Dissertation, 1962), p.
- Centennial History of Missouri, (St. Louis: S. J. Clarks Publishing
Co., 1921), p. 612.
- The Book of St. Louisans, (St. Louis: The St. Louis
Republic, 1912), p. 332.
- Bryan, John A., editor and compiler,
Missouri's Contribution to American Architecture, (St. Louis: St. Louis
Architectural Club, 1928), p. 183.
- Hamilton, Jean Tyree, Baity Hall,
Missouri Valley College Nomination Form to the National Register of Historic
Places. Original on file at State Office of Historic Preservation in Jefferson
- Records at Walnut Grove Cemetery.
Walnut Grove Cemetery Board for May 7, 1902, on file at Walnut Grove
- Ibid, March 24, 1905.
- Archives of the Friends of
- Abstract of Walnut Grove Cemetery.
- Blackwater News, quoted from Boonville Republican, February
19, 1915, p. 2, col. 4.
- Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Geiger, retired
superintendent of Walnut Grove Cemetery and spouse in Boonville, Missouri, on
February 13, 1989.
- Historical Sketch of Walnut Grove
Cemetery, p. 7.
- Records at Walnut Grove Cemetery.
with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Geiger.
Interview with Harry Walton on August 12, 1987. He is the source
of information about the wooden posts lining the graves. Harry Walton was
the son of the Boonville Episcopalian minister. When Harry was six (1913)
his father died and was buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery. Harry's parents
were natives of England and were in Boonville as a missionary assignment
so Harry returned overseas with his mother and had never been back to
Boonville. Being in poor health and leaving a bedfast wife in England, he
returned to Boonville accompanied by a nurse to see his father's grave one
more time. Maryellen McVicker interviewed him about his memories from his
perspective. Considering he was in his eighties and left at age six, what
he remembered was remarkable. He described in detail his father's funeral
since it made such an impression on him. The actual grave was not marked
and he purchased a gravestone from Bob Geiger. Returning home to England,
he died six months later. His nurse wrote that he felt free to die after
he had marked his father's grave; he considered it the last item that
needed his attention.
- Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Geiger.
- Interview with Hampton
Tisdale, president of Walnut Grove Cemetery Association, on February 2,
- Interview with Gertrude Schmidt Malone in December
- Interview with Bob Herfurth, 1989 President of Walnut Grove
Cemetery Association, in August 1986.
- Interview with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Geiger.