Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Used headstones free in St. Louis

While briefly channel surfing tonight I caught this report on the local Fox affiliate's (KTVI) 9 p.m. newscast about 24 headstones sitting on a downtown St. Louis sidewalk. The stones have been sitting there for weeks.

Unless I missed him listing people or agencies he contacted, there was an apparent lack of research exhibited by this reporter. Why were the City or State (for death records), the St. Louis Genealogical Society (who could offer help in various ways), the City Library (for obits) or the Post-Dispatch (again, for obits) not contacted? (And did no one think to wonder why the City has allowed 24 stones to be on a public sidewalk for three weeks? I'm sure the code enforcement division has their hands full downtown, but...)

I don't expect that most people know that old Missouri death certificates are online, but in a matter of minutes I found all but one of the available records (1910-1939 and 1945-1956) online. A pattern developed immediately while viewing the death certificates:
  • All of the deceased were black.
  • Of the records found, all but one of the deceased died at or en route to Homer G. Phillips Hospital.* (One certificate cites Easton Avenue as the place of death. Homer G. Phillips Hospital was bounded by what used to be Easton on the south. The mailing address was on Whittier Street.) This hospital was founded to serve blacks in the City of St. Louis and closed in the 1970s.
  • All of the available certificates listed Washington Park Cemetery as the place of interment.** (This cemetery is well known in the area, even if not by name. Just ask someone about the cemetery across from Lambert Airport along I-70 that didn't appear to have an overly ambitious maintenance program. They'll know it. Everyone taking 70 downtown to work or a Cardinals game has seen it.)
I believe the key is that these folks were buried at Washington Park Cemetery. I think the cemetery actually straddled I-70 and when the airport expanded — a brilliant decision, by the way — remains in that section were moved. That's probably where these stones came from. But I also recall from past news reports that this cemetery had a reputation for poor records management. Who knows where these stones belong?

The other troublesome part of the story was this statement:
"We'd give them away," Wiegraffe said. "If someone wants these stones they can have them. They're here for the taking."
They are in fact for the taking, out in the open on a public sidewalk and anyone watching the news now knows where to find them. From what I could tell, the stones looked to be in good shape. In the news report (the online article is not a complete transcript), it was mentioned that people are already eyeing these stones for their gardens. Great.

If these were discarded after unsuccessful attempts to track down descendants, that's one thing. But if they can be placed where remains were moved to, that should be done.

Here are the names, with links to death certificates. An asterisk denotes death at the aforementioned hospital; two asterisks denotes burial at the aforementioned cemetery. Not all of the dates and spellings match, but based on the pattern described above, I believe all of the certificates linked to are for these folks.
  • Edward Mitchell (2 Jul 1950) * **
  • William Malone (26 Oct 1950) * **
  • Ruth Oldham (4 Oct 1951) * **
  • Hattie Shelley (20 May 1963)
  • Elzonia Scott (15 Jun 1961)
  • Elmer Perry (1963)
  • Aaron Smart (21 Aug 1973)
  • Evie Lee Miller (7 Jul 1962)
  • Kardiga Simms (6 May 1960)
  • West Richardson (16 Jun 1969)
  • Martha Lee Morgan (16 Apr 1964)
  • Baby Wavie Knuckles (23 Nov 1948) * **
  • Willie Dudley (1950) * **
  • Travis Berryman (1962)
  • Minnie Busch (4 Nov 1948) * **
  • Estelle Edward (19 Oct 1960)
  • Green Moore (7 Jun 1950) * **
  • Florence Mitchell Thomas (1955)
  • Elmer Clemmons, Sr. (13 May 1960)
  • Mary Boyd (1948) * **
  • John David Patrick (1961)
  • Williams Clemmons (26 May 1949) **
  • Archie Martin (3 Mar 1960)
  • Edward Drummond (13 Apr 1948) * **
Further reading:


Lee said...

This is outrageous! Someone, or some agency, or some society, needs to intervene before Jane Doe makes a walkway out of those stones!

Apple said...

I hope you can contact the TV station with what you've found. It seems logical that remains were reburied someplace else. I hope they can be returned to to proper locations or to family members before someone walks off with them.

David said...

I sent a couple of emails last night. No response yet.

By the way, here's the video. And note that two of those people didn't just die, they were murdered.