Many St. Louisans have heard of Bellefontaine and Calvary Cemeteries: both are historic memorial parks in North St. Louis, and they are the perpetual home to some familiar names: William Clark (of Lewis and Clark), James Eads, and Susan Blow are at Bellefontaine, while Auguste Chouteau, Dred Scott, and William Tecumseh Sherman are buried at Calvary. These old cemeteries are popular historic destinations, and the spaces benefit from donations and community support; both are parklike spaces with many resources for finding graves of the famous and regular people alike.
Just five miles to the west is a smaller, lesser-known burial ground with similar historic heft: Greenwood Cemetery. Established in 1874, just a few years after Bellefontaine and Calvary, Greenwood was the first nondenominational cemetery in St. Louis for African Americans. Many historic African-American figures are buried in Greenwood’s rolling hills, including Harriet Robinson Scott, Lee Shelton (the folk hero “Stagger Lee”), jazz pianist Walter Davis, formerly enslaved people, and veterans from the Civil war to the Korean War. In its modest 31.25 acres, over 60,000 people are buried, but only 6,000 have headstones. (Compare that to Bellefontaine’s 314 acres and 8,700 burials.) The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form is a fascinating read, and it gives a glimpse into local history and how the geography of St. Louis has changed.
Greenwood’s ownership changed hands several times in its almost 150-year history, and it is now managed by Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, a non-profit who took on the Herculean task of resurrecting the grounds from years of overgrowth and illegal dumping. The Mission Continues connected SPACE with GCPA’s President Raphael Morris, and our team visited the cemetery on a sunny Friday in August to lend a hand with the groundskeeping. Greenwood’s all-volunteer staff does so much with very little, so please consider donating to help preserve the cemetery and the history contained within.