Historical Union Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, MO

CJ Coombs

Cemeteries are locations where lives are continuously memorialized. Having driven past the Union Hill Cemetery many times, I decided I needed to see its history. The cemetery is over 150 years old. It is the home of many Civil War veterans. In 1849, a cholera epidemic had affected the area, and cemeteries in what used to be called the Town of Kansas were enjoined into a "union" of victims to the epidemic. This is how the cemetery received its name. What is now known as Kansas City and Westport used to be collectively referred to as the Town of Kansas.

Initially, the Union Hill Cemetery was erected on 49 acres but is only about 27 acres now. Over 50,000 people are buried there, but many do not have markers. If you want to know if you have an ancestor buried there, try searching the database on the Union Hill Cemetery Historical Society of Kansas City website. Located south of Crown Center, this cemetery welcomes historians, joggers, dog walkers, or stroller walkers. It is a very pleasant area to walk through along the paths.

One of the paths through Union Hill Cemetery.Photo credit: author.

This cemetery is located on what must have been a hill at one time. It is surrounded by a black wrought iron fence and the area adjacent to the cemetery are apartments. This cemetery with its markers and fence looks very distinct against the well-taken care of green lawn that was garnished with yellow dandelions when I last saw it. In the entrance to the cemetery, a very old small white house stood to the right. A visitor might wonder if at one time a groundskeeper was employed to greet people or help them locate a specific gravesite. At one time, there was a sign posted on the house indicating the cemetery is a historical site and tours are self-guided.

After passing the house to the right, there was a wide open area with just a few markers. I wondered if possibly there used to be other markers there because the markers were very old. I was curious about the graves having no markers.

When walking through the cemetery, you might think about how this cemetery must have been just part of a growing city, and that now it's only near the heart of an ever-growing city with suburbs. With nearby buildings being converted into upscale apartments, some of which rest only a few feet from the wrought iron fence enclosing the old gravesites, there's an interesting reinvention of opinion that seems to take place. Who would want to live next to a cemetery? That's a commonplace query. It seems ordinary to not choose to reside too close to one, but in light of the historical beauty of this cemetery plus the downtown area convenience, acceptance and desire happen.

On my first trip to this cemetery, I noted a 5 mph speed limit sign but was concerned I should not be driving the pathway because it was very narrow. Upon seeing a couple of other vehicles inside, I proceeded. I saw joggers and watched them running back and forth through the paved paths as if they were strolling through a park.

The first Civil War marker I paid attention to was inscribed "Sam. L Troutman." There was a dot between the "m" in Sam and the "L" and I wondered if it was a shortened version of the name, Samuel. The marker had obviously undergone the effects of weather and time. There was a tombstone dedicated to "La Hines" containing an old base with a newly erected monument made of red-tinted marble. There were tree trunk-designed tombstones that were interesting to observe. One of the designs included a squirrel. This type of creative or artistic marker seemed to be more personal.

There was a lot of square and rectangular-shaped markers. Some of the older ones were not legible at all and pronounced antiquity. There was one I saw that caused me to wonder if it ever contained an inscription.

There were two tombs, the fronts of which were abutted against the earth in that the rest of the tomb was buried. One held the family name of Gree and the other of McGee, the latter dating back to 1884.

A lot of old markers were overcome with moss and weather effects. The newly designed markers included engraved marble. Some of the old markers had raised letters causing me to wonder about the concrete casts or forms that were used at one time. There were few I recalled seeing that had inverted engraving. Another interesting marker had open gates on it with a dove depicted at the top, and below the gates were the words, enter in.

Union Hill Cemetery.Source: author.

On my second trip to the cemetery, the sun was out and the lawn was wonderfully green. I remember thinking if I lived closer to this cemetery, I would want to plant flowers near several of the gravesites, especially in the section for infants. Interestingly, there were so many markers dating back to the late 1800s.

One comparison in markers I noted was of the surname, Swain. The older marker on the left had a very interesting architectural design at the top which depicted some type of cover with tassels. I wondered if it was just a design the surviving members had selected, or if it was representative of some favorite cover or blanket. When you look to the right of the marker, you immediately note the new condition and casting material of marble.

Most of the markers I was drawn to date to the late 1800s. I would imagine a group of family members standing in a half-circle nearby with the men dressed in black with dusty boots and women in their long dresses and bonnets.

The monumental markers stood quite tall and several had begun to lean from the ground settling. As I looked across the grounds, I thought of how many people were buried there, what their lives must have been like and what kinds of goals could they have had. In looking at each marker, a life was represented. In noticing the styles of some of the markers, I tried to decipher or at least imagine what the meaningful message was with each image or message. Aside from realizing the cemetery existed during the Civil War, I wondered how much history existed in this cemetery. It was a great visit.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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