HAUNTED ST. LOUIS
The two most amazing cemeteries in St. Louis (and some would say the Midwest) are located along West Florissant Avenue on the north side of the city. In addition to the breathtaking art that can be found here, the cemeteries provide the final resting places for both the famous and the infamous... in addition, they are home to one very restless ghost!
In March 1849, a banker and church leader named William McPherson and a lawyer and St. Louis Mayor named John Darby incorporated a new burial ground outside of the city. Together, they gathered a group of men, regardless of religious affiliation, and purchased 138 acres of land (which later grew to 327 acres) that became the “Rural Cemetery Association“. That spring, the state of Missouri issued a charter to the men for the land along Bellefontaine Road and the graveyard later changed its name from “Rural” to “Bellefontaine”.
The cemetery today is largely the work of its first superintendent, Almerin Hotchkiss, a landscape architect and the former caretaker of famed Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. He remained at Bellefontaine for more than 46 years, creating a forested burial ground with over fourteen miles of roads.
The cemetery grew rapidly, mostly because of a terrible cholera epidemic that hit St. Louis later in June 1849. At the height of the epidemic, there were more than thirty burials each day. Thanks to a law that went into effect forcing all burial grounds to be located outside of the city for health reasons, Bellefontaine began to receive internments from most of the churches in St. Louis.
Today, Bellefontaine has become the resting place of governors, war heroes, writers and adventurers and noted residents include Thomas Hart Benton, General William Clark, Sara Teasdale, William S. Burroughs, the infamous Lemp Family and others. One notable monument here is that of the Adolphus Busch family of beer brewing fame. Their mausoleum has been designed to resemble a French cathedral, right down to the gargoyles. Another famous tomb belongs to the Wainwright family. It was designed by architect Louis Sullivan, who refused to put the family name on the exterior of the crypt. He wanted cemetery visitors to look inside out of curiosity. When they do, they discover a domed ceiling and walls that are completely covered with intricate mosaic tile designs.
The photo above rests on the grave of a St. Louis druggist named Herman Luyties who traveled to Italy in the last century and fell in love with the model who posed for this piece. She would have nothing to do with him, so he purchased this seven-foot-tall, marble likeness of her and brought it home. It stood in the foyer of his house until his death and then his family had it moved to his grave site. She is covered with a glass shield today and makes a spectacular scene in the cemetery.
Located on the other side of the roadway from Bellefontaine is Calvary Cemetery, another beautiful example of the classic Garden burial ground. Calvary was started in 1857 and also came about because of the epidemic of 1849. After the death of so many St. Louis citizens from cholera, most of the city’s cemeteries, including all of the Catholic cemeteries were filled. In addition, many of these burial grounds stood in the way of new development. There was no question that St. Louis Catholics were in need of a larger burial ground, and thanks to the new law, one located outside of the city limits.
In 1853, Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick purchased a 323-acre piece of land called “Old Orchard Farm” on the northwest side of the city. Kenrick established his own farm on half of the property and gave the other half for use as a cemetery. The ground had already been used for burials in the past, as a portion of the land had once been an ancient Indian burial site. In addition, Native Americans and soldiers from nearby Fort Bellefontaine had also buried the dead here. After Kenrick purchased the ground, all of these remains were exhumed and moved to a mass grave. A large crucifix was placed on top of the site and it is located at one of the highest points in the cemetery today.
Kenrick lived in a mansion on the western edge of the grounds for many years, even after the Calvary Cemetery Association was incorporated in 1867. Archbishop Kenrick became its first president. Around this same time, many of the smaller Catholic cemeteries in the area were moved to Calvary, which now contains over 315,000 graves on 477 acres of ground.
Like Bellefontaine Cemetery, Calvary also takes advantage of the natural wooded setting and rolling hills. It also features amazing displays of cemetery artwork and the final resting places of many notable people like Dred Scott, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, and many others.
Strangely, while neither of these cemeteries boasts a single ghost story, there is a spirited tale connected to Calvary Drive, the road that runs between the two burial grounds, connecting Broadway and West Florissant Road.
There are actually three different versions of the story, but each concerns a phantom that appears along this gloomy stretch of road. The first is a classic "Vanishing Hitchhiker" story about a girl who is sometimes picked up along the road but who then vanishes from the car. It started back in the 1940’s when she was referred to as "Hitchhike Annie" and she limits her appearances to the time of day when the sun is setting and that she also sometimes appears on different roads in the same general vicinity.
According to the accounts, motorists who passed along Calvary Drive (and sometimes other streets in the area) would be flagged down by a young girl in a white dress. She was usually described as being quite attractive with long brown hair and pale skin. After climbing into the car, she would sometimes claim that she had been stranded or that her car had broken down. Either way, she would ask for a ride and direct the driver to take her down the street. In every case though, just as the automobile would near the entrance to Bellefontaine Cemetery, the girl would mysteriously vanish from the vehicle! The door would never open and no warning would come to say that she was getting out. Annie would simply be gone. The story of Annie persisted for many years, but by the early 1980’s seemed to die out.
In another version of the story, the phantom is a boy who is dressed in old-fashioned clothing from the late 1800’s. He is said to appear in the middle of Calvary Drive when there are cars coming, causing the vehicles to swerve and slam on their brakes to avoid hitting what they think is a flesh and blood child. When the drivers try to look for him, they always discover that he has simply vanished.
And that’s not the only ghost who allegedly haunts this stretch of roadway either. Stories were also told for many years of a woman in a black mourning dress who would also cross this roadway. According to the man who passed the story on to me, who remembered it being a current tale when he was a child about two decades ago, the woman would suddenly appear in the street, much like the little boy. She looked like a real person, clad in a long, rather old-fashioned dress and wearing a hat and a veil over her face. From the description, she was apparently an almost stereotypical mourner from the Victorian era. The woman walked out into the street, or appeared suddenly in the middle of the roadway, and drivers were forced to come to sudden stops so that they wouldn’t strike her. Each time though, she would vanish before their eyes.
Once again, this story made the rounds for a number of years and then seemed to fade away. What was it that made this stretch of road one of the most haunted highways in St. Louis, at least for a time? Could it have been the close proximity of the city’s two most hallowed burial grounds, or something else? And what caused the stories to stop being told? Could the haunting here have ended... or could it be waiting to simply start back up again someday?
Bellefontaine and Calvary Cemeteries are located in northeast St. Louis near the Broadway exit of Interstate 70. The main entrances can be found on West Florissant Avenue. Bellefontaine is open regular hours during the week but by appointment only on weekends. Calvary Cemetery is open daily. Free maps and cemetery information is available in the offices.
© Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.