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Archive for Monday, May 27, 2002

Private cemeteries are rare find

May 27, 2002

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To find a moment of solitude, Ralph King Jr. sometimes visits a secluded spot near his farmland, where a few tombstones marking burial sites at least 100 years old are hidden behind overgrown vegetation.

"This is a lovely place to just stand and listen," King said. "It's so peaceful. It's sort of like an area time forgot."

In many ways time has forgotten the private Kennedy family cemetery in rural Douglas County.

There will be no influx of visitors placing flowers on its few marked graves this weekend. There will be no Memorial Day ceremonies.

Yet the cemetery has not been totally overlooked. Steps have been taken to preserve what remains of it.

King, who asked that the cemetery's location not be published, owns the farmland surrounding it. He purchased the land several years ago to keep it from falling into the hands of people who might not care about the area.

The cemetery actually belongs to the Kennedy Cemetery Assn., now consisting only of Ted Kennedy, 89, retired Lawrence dentist, former mayor and King's uncle. It was established in 1856 by Kennedy's ancestors who moved to Kansas from Ohio. Among family members buried there are William Kennedy, who fought to keep Kansas from becoming a slave state. The last burial was Ted Kennedy's grandmother, Amanda E. Kennedy, in 1932.

Kennedy said he always knew about the cemetery but hadn't visited it often. Several years ago he made a return trip with researchers from the Douglas County Genealogical Society.

"It was a cold winter day, and we were walking around out there and I suddenly realized I didn't know where it was," Kennedy said. "We finally found it."

Getting to the cemetery isn't easy. A person has to walk about a quarter of a mile through a field and into a wooded area. The first indication that you've found it might be the cast iron pipe fencing that surrounds some of the graves.

There are about 40 recorded graves at the site, Kennedy said. Not all of the markers still exist. He and King think there are probably many more graves, some of them from outside the Kennedy clan. They have heard that some who died at what was once known as the Douglas County "poor farm" are buried nearby.

There are 22 abandoned or inactive cemeteries in Douglas County, according to the book, "Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County Vol. 2," available from the Douglas County Genealogical Society. There are 30 active cemeteries. Another 10 cemeteries no longer exist, and 45 unmarked burials exist on private properties.

Ted Kennedy thinks it would be nice to be able to better maintain the cemetery. At the same time he, like King, doesn't want it to become a well-known place to outsiders bent on vandalism.

"I think this is a fine resting place," said King, 71, a retired Douglas County court judge. "Obviously I could get out my tractor and mow around it so it's easy to walk up to. But all the people who want to go to this much trouble to get here can still see it."

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