Elmwood Cemetery Walking Tour

By Kevin Gray

If looking for a unique, educational and enlightening day-trip, the Elmwood Cemetery, established in 1872 in Kansas City, Missouri, brings to mind familiar names, like Armour (Armour Boulevard), Loose (Loose Park), Atkins (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) and Meyer (Meyer Boulevard) amidst ever-changing headstones, mausoleums, and monuments. As well as a living, breathing doe or a deer, as in “doe, a deer, a female deer,” already becoming rock star famous in Kansas City.

A female deer named Ella, born about a year ago on the cemetery grounds, reminds visitors to the cemetery of “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music.

Born about a year ago, she has plenty of clover to eat, said Bruce Mathews, member of the Elmwood Cemetery Board of Trustees and volunteer, but nobody knows what happened to Ella’s mother. “She might have run out into traffic and been hit by a car. We really don’t know,” Mathews said.

The cemetery, especially around the Armour Chapel, appears to be where

Ella can be found. “This is her domain. It’s all she’s ever known. When people come to visit, she likes to hang out where people are found. She’s only known being around people,” Mathews said.

Volunteers, Mathews said, have had to step in and stop her occasionally because she does like to follow cars. “At least the cemetery is walled in with gates,” he said.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, volunteers from the Elmwood Cemetery

Society spent the weekend on the grounds to help with tours or to promote self-guided tours.

“We live by donations,” said Mathews. The cemetery at  4900 Truman Road, Mathews said, is owned and operated by the Elmwood Cemetery Society, which is charged with sharing cemetery history and maintaining the grounds. “There are 43 acres and 36,000 people buried in the cemetery,” Mathews said. Along with famous names from Kansas City history, visitors will find 1400 veterans, 800 from the Civil War. “There are 800 Union,100 Confederate, and several of Quantrill’s Raiders,” Mathews said.

Many firsts can be found on walking tours, like the first permanent resident of Kansas City; the first Jewish settler; the first mayor; the first African-American police chief; the first Kansas City major league baseball team owner; and the first female member of the KC Board of Education.

The online Elmwood Cemetery website provides maps and information about people by occupations, veterans, and the Who’s Who section includes insightful biographies and photographs.

A map of the cemetery designed for walking tours includes 29 stopping points beginning with Milton Feld, the man Walt Disney sold his first animated films to, which were called “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams.” Feld later became a producer for Universal Studios with Darryl F. Zanuck.

Heroes Way, Mathews said, has been a designated final resting place for police and fire fighters. “But when we raised money to erect metal flag poles and metal urns, they were stolen right away. This is why you won’t see anything metal in the cemetery,” Mathews said.

The regular upkeep like mowing, Mathews said, has been contracted out to his son, who is a contractor and farmer north of Kansas City. “We used to have crews in the past, but they took a long time to do the job, left trash around, and left a mess. My son knew a lot of farmers where he lives, so he put together his own crew to mow, pick up branches and trash. They get it all done in one day once a month,” Mathews said.

But, Mathews said, they still rely on volunteers because they do not receive city, state, or federal funding. And, there is more to the upkeep than what his son’s crew can do in the one day.

“The fourth Saturday each month is our volunteer day. Church groups come out to help. The student history group from Bishop Miege High School cleans up the children’s section.

“Many Boy Scout Eagle projects have been completed here over the last three years, especially with helping to raise fallen monuments and headstones,” Mathews said. As for individual grave sites, Mathews said, there is no consistency to how  they are plotted.

“There are no rows. You will most likely be standing on someone’s grave no matter where you step. Graves face in all directions,” he said. Cave ins make for an even bigger problem than knowing where to walk.

“When it’s been rainy, the ground can be soft and spongy enough, but when the old wooden caskets crumble from the ground pressure, the ground caves in and leaves dangerous holes.  All we can do is try to fill the hole in as quickly as possible,” Mathews said.

Although this may be one of the oldest cemeteries in Kansas City, plots are still available. “We know exactly where every single grave is, even if there is no marker,” Mathews said.

And many visitors, Mathews said, are surprised when they learn how many weddings take place in the cemetery.

“Well actually, the weddings take place in the Armour Chapel. We do have an active year-round wedding season,” he said. But before people jump in to planning an Elmwood Cemetery wedding, they should know about the trap door in the alter floor of the chapel.

“Years ago, when funerals took place and ended, caskets were lowered through the trap door and carried out a side door on the way to the burial site,” Mathews said.

For anybody who has ever wondered where they came from and suspect they might be related to someone buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Mathews said they have the Elmwood Cemetery History Project.

“The project includes information on more than 36,000 of the individuals buried in Elmwood,” the online Elmwood site said about this work in progress project.

Mathews published Elmwood Cemetery: Stories of Kansas City, a full color and hard cover book, in 2010. Proceeds for the $29.95 book go to the cemetery.

“I have another book coming out soon with more stories about the cemetery. In this one, I am trying to capture the spirit of Kansas City by profiling 75 people and the things they did.” Mathews said.

Elmwood Cemetery: Stories of Kansas City contains photographs shot by

Mathews and written by him.

“The book can be found on the cemetery website or online,” he said. For more information about the Elmwood Cemetery, burials, weddings, volunteering, or the book, search for www.ElmwoodCem-KC.org.

Or Bruce Mathews can be contacted at 1-816-868-1392.

The main entrance can be found near the corner of Truman Road and Van

Brunt Boulevard. For anyone driving from Osawatomie, the most convenient route would be to follow Kansas Highway 169 to Interstate 35 and, then, to I-435 to Truman Road, much like driving to Worlds of Fun or the Truman Sports complex.


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Posted by admin on Jun 26 2012. Filed under News and Updates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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