The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

November 5, 2012

Frankie Meyer: Grave sites attract history buffs

JOPLIN, Mo. — Because genealogists visit so many graves in search of family history, we often become connoisseurs of burial grounds. When Jim and I are on trips, he has ceased to be surprised when I gasp, “Let’s pull in there! That looks like an interesting cemetery.”

The following list of cemeteries includes ones that I’ve found especially fascinating. Some have unusual grave sites, while others are unique because of their history.

One of the most elaborate is the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. Established in 1849, it now covers 314 acres and has more than 14 miles of road. Burials include the early leaders of the West, such as explorer William Clark. His monument is impressive but pales in comparison to hundreds of stunning statues, monuments and architectural mausoleums, such as that of Adolphus Busch.

Wounded Knee Cemetery in South Dakota is unique because of its shocking history. The site has the mass burial of men, women and children who were massacred by the 7th Cavalry in December of 1890. The massacre was followed by a three-day blizzard. The frozen bodies of the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Tribe were then buried on the nearby hill.

Gettysburg National Park is the site of the battle that was the turning point of the Civil War. That three-day battle, which was fought in July of 1863, left 51,000 casualties. Because of the large number of deaths, graves were scattered about the battleground and hospital sites. The moment that Jim and I left our car, we each felt a sense of solemnity and reverence.

Our nation has many meticulously designed and well-maintained military cemeteries. One of the largest is the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery at St. Louis. The 331-acre site has thousands of white monuments, honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Visiting military cemeteries makes one proud.

One cemetery that I do not like is the St. Louis Cemetery near the French Quarter in New Orleans. Because of its many statues and rows of small stone buildings that house the dead, the term “City of the Dead” describes the cemetery well. When our tour guide added tales of voodoo and transformed cats, I was ready to leave.

Another site that caused me to want to leave was a Native American cemetery in northwest Oklahoma. As we walked among the graves of chiefs and viewed the raised grave site of a medicine woman, I felt like an intruder. Jim said he had a similar feeling when he took a tour and walked by the open tombs in the catacombs of a church in Kiev, Ukraine.

My favorite cemeteries, by far, are small, rural ones, such as the Fox Cemetery east of Powell. Its secluded location along a picturesque hillside overlooking Sugar Creek brings one a sense of peace.

Another memorable small cemetery is in Mansfield, Conn. The odd images of skulls and wings on the gravestones of my Puritan ancestors leave me with awe and the desire to know more about history.

What cemeteries have you found most interesting? Why?

Suggestions or queries? Write Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or email frankie

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