About Washington Park Cemetery

Washington Park Cemetery, originally 75 acres, was founded in 1920 in what is now the City of Berkeley by lawyer, Andrew Henry Watson and Real Estate Board member, Joseph Hauer as a for-profit burial place for African Americans. It was created under the nation’s Jim Crow laws, which were initiated during Reconstruction after the American Civil War. The land was purchased from the estate of grain merchant B.H. Lang. It became the largest African-American cemetery in the St. Louis area. Andrew Henry Watson was owner of Watson Law Reporting and Process Serving Company and previous to this had been a St. Louis City deputy sheriff. Hauer, a member of the St. Louis Real Estate Board, made his fortune in real estate and mining.

From its creation in 1920 until 1960, the community considered Washington Park to be the most prestigious cemetery in the area for blacks.

Originally sold as a perpetual-care burial ground, Washington Park Cemetery’s covenant was dissolved at some point in its history. Beautifully landscaped in the lawn-park tradition, the grounds were planned by master cemetery designer G.D. Joyce. He created an ordered set of paved paths and tree plantings that were meant to offer respite to those who visited loved ones interred there. Joyce’s design is still evident despite the cemetery’s deterioration and lack of upkeep. Today, his colonnade of gingko and tulip trees can be still seen from the lawns adjacent to Natural Bridge Road. Joyce was a partner in the Joyce Surveying Company, which designed other rural lawn-park cemeteries including Memorial Park Cemetery, Laurel Hills Cemetery, Lake Charles Cemetery and other suburban burial grounds reserved for white burials.

Throughout its history, the cemetery suffered from the systemic racism that created the racial divide that still plagues St. Louis today. Hauer and Watson were supportive of restrictions on land rights within the City of St. Louis, including the rights for equal interment and recreational use of public parks. Ironically, during its development, both investors were accused of disrupting bucolic country land with the presence of black St. Louisans, whose rights to picnic at the cemetery they defended. St. Louis itself has a long history of racism and racial segregation. In 1916, St. Louisans voted on a “reform” ordinance that prevented anyone from buying a home in a neighborhood more than 75 percent occupied by another race, and in East St. Louis in 1917, a mob of white attackers destroyed 300 houses occupied by African Americans, wounded hundreds, displaced thousands, and killed over 100 people, but the exact number is not known. Historically black communities in the city were razed for the sake of “urban renewal,” highway construction and redevelopment projects. Indeed, it was highway expansion that was the first sanctioned intrusion on the cemetery’s land. In the late 1950s, Interstate 70 was built, bisecting the cemetery and paving over graves.

 

"In 1950, the City of St. Louis closed its last municipal burial ground at 59th and Fyler to make room for a new apartment complex. The city made arrangements to have indigent blacks who were buried there relocated to Washington Park Cemetery, while white indigents were re-interred at Mount Lebanon. In 1952, when the old Wesleyan Cemetery at Hanley and Olive Streets closed, the graves of African-Americans were transferred to Washington Park and white burials were re-interred at Memorial Park Cemetery." [stlgs.org] Harlan Brown purchased the cemetery in 1955, when the elderly original owners sold the property under a reorganization plan.

As Washington Park Cemetery was being developed, the airfield that that would become St. Louis Lambert International Airport was also being developed. Lambert-St. Louis Municipal Airfield became the first municipally owned airport in the United States and would become the second intrusion into the bucolic peace of the cemetery. 

In 1972, the airport acquired nine acres for an expansion, and again in 1996, the City of St. Louis acquired part of Washington Park Cemetery for purposes of “aviation obstruction removals and land use compatibility” relating to Lambert Airport’s longest runway, 12R-30L. Known as Washington Park Cemetery North, the 8.74 acre area was situated along the eastern-most boundary of Lambert Airport, north of Highway 70 and east of McDonnell Boulevard.

 

The cemetery also suffered at the hands of past owners, and its original landscaped beauty fell into disrepair over the years. Harlan Brown transferred the ownership of the cemetery in 1986 to his long-time friend and secretary, Virginia L. Younger. In 1990, she was investigated for mismanagement and malfeasance including allegations of “overturned graves, missing bodies and stolen caskets.” The owner of the cemetery, Ms. Younger became overwhelmed with complaints. On Aug 22, 1990 she was hit with the first on many civil suits. many of these were for "severe emotional distress".Then the grand jury looked into her cemetery. On Jan 6, 1991 the MO Attorney General announced that it would take state legal action. This must have been the final straw, because on or about Jan 29, 1991, Ms, Younger committed suicide in her home in Normandy MO. Not at the cemetery. She had shot her self thru the heart on her bed. The lawsuits and attune general investigation had worn her down. Also she had not paid any of her workers and they had filed union complaints against her. The news papers also stated that all of the utilities her home had been cut off and she was penniless. She requested that her remains be cremated because "she did not want people looking down on me." Her death did not end the suits, they went against the estate."

In 1992 came the third transgression into the cemetery. The City of St. Louis condemned the north half of the cemetery to make room for the MetroLink light rail system and further expansion of Lambert Airport.  In all, somewhere between 11,974 and 13,600 souls were disinterred and relocated to 23 area cemeteries, but records and numbers are unclear. This upheaval and the mismanagement of burial records caused some families to lose track of the graves of their ancestors.

Per the St. Louis City Recorder:The St. Louis County Circuit Court (21st Judicial Circuit) required the City to file a Report with the Court, the St. Louis County Recorder of Deeds, and the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds containing the name of each deceased person disinterred and location of reburial.The Washington Park Cemetery-North Reinterment Index provided on this website is from the 299 page report recorded with the St. Louis City Recorder on August 21, 2000.The Index includes information on the reinterment of 11,974 deceased persons, including 165 persons indexed under "Doe" - Baby Doe 5, Jane Doe 88, John Doe 76. 

 

Since then, Washington Park Cemetery has changed hands several times. The late Ronald Kuper, publisher of the former St. Louis County Watchman Advocate, and his partner, the late Charles Clardy, purchased the south section of the cemetery for $1,928 in unpaid property taxes in 1994. In 2007, Kuper made an appeal for an angel to help save the cemetery.  Mr. Kevin Bailey, whose grandfather is interred there purchased the cemetery for $2 in 2009. For many years he strived to rehabilitate the cemetery with very little funding.

From Wash U -  HIGHER GROUND: Honoring Washington Park Cemetery, Its People and Place - Jennifer Colten

http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/washington-park/about-cemetery

and https://stlgs.org/research-2/life-death/cemeteries-2/st-louis-area-cemeteries-list/washington-park-cemetery-w05

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Here is a list of prominent St. Louisans who are buried at Washington Park Cemetery.