Archive for Monday, July 17, 2006

Pruning reveals hidden graves at historic Pioneer Cemetery

Burial ground has record of neglect

July 17, 2006


When Kansas University crews recently began cutting down bushes in the Pioneer Cemetery on west campus, they made some historically interesting discoveries.

Obscured for years by the overgrowth were graves and markers tied to the city's earliest settlers, including the resting place of a young recruit killed during Quantrill's Raid.

"It's great to see these old stones," said Lawrence historian Karl Gridley.

Of the recently revealed stones, the refrigerator-size marker with the words Pioneer Cemetery commands the most attention - it is visible from Iowa Street. But it's not the most historic of the findings, Gridley said.

That title, he said, belongs to the long-missing gravestone of Walter B.S. Griswold, a young Union recruit killed during William Quantrill's murderous Aug. 21, 1863, raid on Lawrence.

"(Griswold) was one of 18 recruits who were camped by where the city parking garage (downtown) is now. They were all teenagers; they had one rusty musket between them," Gridley said.

"They were trampled to death by Quantrill and his men," he said. "Those who survived were shot and killed."

Gridley had assumed Griswold's gravestone was "long gone." Instead, it was hidden beneath a giant juniper.

"It has a willow tree carved into the marble," he said, "and it says, 'Died on the Memorial morning August 21, 1863.'"

Many rescues

West of Iowa Street across from KU's Ellsworth Residence Hall, there now stands visible a big chunk of carved quartzite bearing the words "Pioneer Cemetery."

It's been there since 1928 when then-Mayor Robert Rankin rescued the city's original cemetery from neglect. But in succeeding decades, clumps of juniper bushes ran amok, obscuring the marker and several gravestones.

Kansas University workers removed several clumps of brush last week.

Among the findings:

¢ Carl C. Rau gravestone - Rau was an early German settler in Douglas County. Dated Nov. 4, 1855, his gravestone, inscribed in German, is one of the earliest extant in Kansas.

¢ John Oliver gravestone - Oliver died in Lawrence in 1861. This stone was placed in Pioneer Cemetery by his granddaughter, Hannah Oliver, a survivor of Quantrill's Raid.

¢ Monument to the Unknown Union Dead of the Civil War - A project of the Grand Army of the Republic, this obelisk was dedicated in 1906, marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. Some of the brick-and-stucco monument was visible before the brush was cleared.

Grazing cows

Pioneer Cemetery, first known as Oread Cemetery, fell into disrepair in the early 1880s, a victim of the city's more popular Oak Hill Cemetery. Despite Rankin's 1928 campaign, the cemetery again faded from public view by the early 1950s.

Then came KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy.

"What happened was Chancellor Murphy was out walking one day, getting his exercise - this was out in the country back then - when he noticed the cemetery and saw that it was is such poor shape," said Daryl Beene, senior vice president at the KU Endowment Association.

Pioneer Cemetery

"At the time, there were cows grazing on it," Beene said. "Iowa was a gravel road."

Murphy convinced the city to deed the property to the Endowment Association for a dollar. The university, in turn, agreed to maintain the site.

"It's become a nice, little quiet place on a busy campus in a busy city," Beene said.

Several KU faculty, staff and family members are inurned at Pioneer Cemetery, including: former chancellors Deane Mallott, W. Clarke Wescoe and Raymond Nichols; Elmer McCollum, KU alumnus who discovered Vitamin A; outstanding alumnus W. Fred Ellsworth; former Dean of Women Emily Taylor; and Del Fambrough, wife of former KU football coach Don Fambrough.

Among historians, Pioneer Cemetery is perhaps best known for being Thomas Barber's final resting place. Barber, a free-state settler shot and killed during the so-called Wakarusa War, was memorialized in John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, "Burial of Barber," which became an anti-slavery call to arms.


DanFreako 11 years, 11 months ago

I thought (and remember) that James Naismith was buried there was well; am I mistaken?

Brad Barker 11 years, 11 months ago

I think Dr. Naismith was laid to rest in Oak Hill Cementary near 15th street a few blocks eat of Mass.

Emily Hadley 11 years, 11 months ago

So much for my fort.

Did local historians actually totally forget (or not notice) that those graves were there? Geez. They weren't underground or anything.

It is a very interesting cemetary. I guess any attention to it is good, but it didn't seem necessary to rip the bushes out completely--it definitely appeared that someone planted them around the graves. Too bad they couldn't have just pruned them; they provided privacy and tranquility for both the dead and their visitors, so close to the overpass, dorms, and Iowa Street traffic.

cutny 11 years, 11 months ago

Gridley continues to be a wealth of knowledge and source of inspiration for Lawrence to discover its own history.

DonnieDarko 11 years, 11 months ago

Providing "tranquility for the dead", Emily? I'd say being dead offers a certain degree of tranquility in itself.

Glad you could find something to bitch about, though. It isn't often that you can whine about the job that groundskeepers AND historians do in the same story.

Hunter2049 11 years, 11 months ago

Am I going crazy, or did I not read this exact story a couple of days ago?

centralcalifhawk 11 years, 11 months ago

As a former resident of Ellsworth Hall, I'm sure when they did the pruning...they also discovered bottles of suntan lotion and perhaps a beer can or two. In the spring, Pioneer Cemetery..for some reason...was a mecca for kids on Daisy lay out in the sun...perhaps even throw a frisbee or two.

Sheryl Wiggins 11 years, 11 months ago

okay so am I the only one who noticed that LJW spelled cemetery incorrectly on the headline?

Janet Lowther 11 years, 11 months ago

People today tend to think of cemeteries as solemn places and avoid them except for funary purposes and Memorial Day. One of my great-great aunts wanted "A grave stone big enough to have picnics on." I am told that they did follow her request for years.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 11 months ago

I say they were misplaced not lost but when you really think about it they knew just where they were maybe we are the ones lost.

DanFreako 11 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the clarification with Dr. Naismith.

redbird 11 years, 11 months ago

I was one of the 8 or so people who took part in this cleaning,everyone did a good job and it wasn't easy!!!! As for pruning that was out of the question,the bushes were overgrown way too much to prune.As for the "newly discovered" gravemarkers,they had been under these mass plantings of shrubs so long that noone remembered where they were located.It took approximately 16 dump truck loads to carry off all the shrubs and bushes that were removed,yeah they were that overgrown!!!! It was an honor for my co-workers and myself to help people find these graves and I would like to extend my thanks to my co-workers in helping with a task such as this!!!

Barber 7 years, 4 months ago

Thomas W. Barber was my Great-Great Uncle. Any information regarding his brothers and their descendants in Kansas would be appreciated.

Peter W Barber

Commenting has been disabled for this item.