Sometimes, buried bodies can't rest in peace.
As St. Louis grew, congregations formed new cemeteries, and sometimes had to move old ones.
Roosevelt High School, in south St. Louis, was built on the grounds of a former cemetery; stories that the building is haunted continue to be told. During the construction of Ikea, off Vandeventer, workers found a long-forgotten grave from a long-forgotten cemetery.
And one city park is the site of an old cemetery.
Old Picker's Cemetery
Children in part of South City have long exchanged stories of ghosts haunting Roosevelt High School. The school building is on the site of a former cemetery, and though the graves were supposed to have been moved before construction began, not all of them were.
Old Picker, or Old Picker's, Cemetery hadn't had any burials in it for about 25 years when construction began in 1922. The cemetery was bounded by Arsenal on the north, Wyoming on the south, Louisiana west and Compton east, with Juniata running through it. The high school's campus is nearly the same, but ends a block south of Arsenal at Hartford.
In 1916, workmen dug up graves on the section of the cemetery north of Juniata when the Lutheran church that owned the land wanted to sell it to make room for homes to be built. Workers were paid by the grave, and the article in the St. Louis Star-Times notes they "were in a hurry to open as many graves as possible to increase their daily wage." They'd remove the bones from opened coffins, but left the caskets in place. The cemetery hadn't been used since about 1901.
An article from Nov. 25, 1922, describes workers who found the coffin of a young woman while working at the site of the school; it was at least the third coffin workers found while building the high school.
The cemetery served a Lutheran church.
Men dig up cemetery graves at $1 each
Old St. Marcus Cemetery
A cemetery that opened in 1856, St. Marcus became "Old St. Marcus" when another cemetery with the same name opened south of the River des Peres. As new burials went to the newer cemetery, the old one slowly deteriorated.
In the 1960s, a legal fight arose over whether the German Evangelical St. Marcus Congregation, the owners of the cemetery, could sell it to a developer to build new houses. By 1965, the cemetery was described as "weed-strewn and debris-littered," and photographs showed toppled grave markers and vandalism.
A 1966 article describes vandals who broke into the mausoleum, broke open caskets and placed a headless skeleton in a sitting position. A 1964 article said vandals broke into the mausoleum, removed a body from a copper casket, then stuffed the casket with newspapers and set it on fire.
In 1977, the city purchased the land for $100,000. Between 1,000 and 1,500 graves were moved from the site in the 6600 block of Gravois to New St. Marcus Cemetery. The land may have held as many as 20,000 graves; the coffins that were moved were under perpetual care provisions.
The old cemetery is now a park, and several monuments still stand near the walking trails.
1977- Old St. Marcus Cemetery
1963 - Old St. Marcus
1977 - Bodies being moved from cemetery
Some coffins may have been moved several times.
New Wesleyan Cemetery was once at Olive and Hanley in University City. Before that location opened, a cemetery with the same name was near Grand and Laclede avenues. Some burials from the midtown location were moved to University City about 1874. (Dred Scott, originally buried at the midtown location, was moved to Calvary in the late 1860s.)
In the 1880s, bodies from the Christ Church Cemetery were also moved to New Wesleyan Cemetery. (Christ Church Cemetery was originally near Ohio and Chouteau avenues, bordered by California on the west and LaSalle to the south.)
Burials at New Wesleyan Cemetery continued until the 1950s. Then the Wesleyan Cemetery Association ran low on funds for upkeep, and a construction company acquired the cemetery, agreeing to move the graves and set up new headstones.
Some of the bodies were taken to Memorial Park on Lucas and Hunt Road in Normandy.
1928 - Wesleyan Cemetery
1952 - Bodies in iron coffins found
Washington Park Cemetery
Some moves were made more recently.
Bodies in Washington Park Cemetery, near Natural Bridge and McDonnell Boulevard, had to be moved as MetroLink and the St. Louis Lambert airport expanded.
In 1992, MetroLink construction ran through part of the cemetery north of Interstate 70. The path of the train tracks had about 1,600 graves in it, the nine acres north of the highway had more than 12,000.
While attorneys negotiated the process to acquire the land, it was revealed that 300 bodies, originally buried in Wesleyan Cemetery, had been dumped in a single grave at Washington Park.
That discovery followed civil suits brought by relatives of people buried in the cemetery, alleging their deceased family members had been buried in the wrong plots.
Work to remove the bodies for the MetroLink rails uncovered more problems. The work, a 1993 article explained, "dredged up distress in families that will have to bury their relatives once again.
"When they say 'rest in peace' they mean until the Lord comes and raises you up," said Hattie Mae Smart, whose son had been buried in the cemetery in the 1970s. "That grave site was supposed to be the final resting place."
A marker in the path of the MetroLink line read: "In memory of those who were originally interred in Potters Field located in the city of St. Louis prior to 1950 and reinterred in a portion of Mount Lebanon Cemetery thereafter. Reinterred this site June 1986. May they rest in everlasting peace."
An archaeologist who was hired to remove bodies for the MetroLink line took more than 20. He was supposed to take the bodies for identification, but instead stored them in rural Missouri (not the university where they were to be studied).
In 1997, Lambert officials oversaw the removal of more graves to level a hill near a runway.
Path of historic black cemetery is in path of airport's expansion
Article details issues
A 25-foot hole just north of the northwest corner of Jefferson and Martin Luther King Drive revealed 20 to 23 gravesites.
The area once was the site of three church cemeteries — for Presbyterians, Catholics and Methodists — in the 1850s. The bodies were in simple wooden coffins.
Bones found at Ikea construction site
1951 - 1318 South Seventh Street
Spanish Land Grant Park
A lot in Florissant was used in the late 1700s for the first St. Ferdinand's Church, and the church's cemetery. The west part of that lot was the "Place d'Armes," or parade ground.
An 1892 article about the church's 100th anniversary notes that the cemetery was used "as recently as 1877." With a new cemetery opening, families moved some bodies there. "Some raised their dead and buried them in the new cemetery, but others either did not care to unearth ... or they could not find any trace of them."
In 1899, Florissant's city council condemned the old St. Ferdinand graveyard, and asked that bodies be removed.
The empty lot was left alone through the decades; Spanish Land Grant Park was dedicated in 1976.
A 1976 article says that, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution, a business association donated a monument inscribed in memory of the "valiant pioneers of the Florissant Valley who lie here in unmarked graves."
Spanish Land Grant Park dedicated
Sometimes just the gravestone was removed
Calvary Cemetery, in the 1950s, removed more than a thousand gravestones. The director of cemeteries at the time said they were removed because the cemetery received no payment for upkeep on the plots.
"Our position is that, if the markers have toppled over, the plot owners have no apparent interest in the cemetery," said the Rev. James R. Hartnett at the time. "We feel we not only have a right to take them out, but that we have a duty to do so, because they are unsightly, hazardous and increase the cost of maintaining the cemetery as a whole."
Matt DeWitt, current managing director of administrative services for Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said some of the stones were probably from border markers and steps up hills. They were removed as part of modernizing the grounds, which in the 1910s had ivy-covered mounds over each grave; by the 1930s, many of the mounds were flattened, he said.
1951 - Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery
'Extraordinarily creepy' gravestones memorialize children
The image, of two children sitting in cradles stopped me cold while I was going through the Post-Dispatch archive photos of cemeteries.
"People find them extraordinarily creepy," said DeWitt. He hadn't heard the legend, recounted in the 1970 caption on the image, that the children's mother left toys in their gravestones.
People today still leave toys at the gravesites, he said.
The stones memorialize John B. Sarpy Morrison, who was about 6 when he died in 1876, and Julia Olivia Morrison, who was about 2 when she died in 1870. Their father was James L.D. Morrison and their mother was Julia Ann Adele Sarpy Morrison. James Morrison died in 1888 at 72; his much-younger wife died in 1925, at 84.
James Morrison was a lawyer who served in the Mexican-American War, both branches of the Illinois General Assembly and in the U.S. Congress, representing part of Illinois. The two married in 1861 and had four children; two survived.
Whether she actually visited the graves to leave toys isn't certain. Julia Morrison wrote several books after her husband died, and was described in newspaper articles as a social leader. A February 1888 article says she "is one of the most striking examples St. Louis affords of a wealthy, energetic woman, who does not let time hang heavy on her hands, and whose industry ... is indefatigable." She owned (with her sister, Virginia Peugnet) several properties in St. Louis, East St. Louis and Jefferson County, and was a co-owner of the St. Louis Shot Tower.
The Sarpy-Morrison plot includes several family names, including Berthold, Carr, Peugnet, Roche, Morrison and Sarpy, according to archdiocesan burial records.
This was originally published in October 2018.
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