In the Shadows……

When I last left you, my readers, my heart was deeply mired in the current political turmoil which plagues our nation, leading to my post on the influence of the great Edward Bates who resides permanently at Bellefontaine. And while the issues that haunted me when I wrote my last post still ring heavy in my ears, my devotion to news media on my satellite radio has recently turned my attention to another major issue that sits very close to my heart; the current teacher strike taking place in Los Angeles. I have been a teacher for thirteen years. I am very fortunate to work in a district that, I feel, supports me and values what I do. I receive support from parents and students. I am, in my view, one of the lucky ones. While I know that things could always be better, I know that my life as a teacher is drastically different from so many others, more often than not the ones who serve the most underserved populations and face the biggest challenges in the classroom.

Me in my classroom the first day of school, 2018.

There has never been a moment in my career that I didn’t pride myself on being a teacher. It’s a badge I wear with such honor. I have always felt as if teachers had this superpower, an ability to inspire students in a way that I only hoped I could one day. This is one of the reasons why it hurts me so terribly to hear people say, “Well, you could always teach if nothing else works out.” I see the comments on news articles when teachers go on strike or make their voices heard regarding their needs or treatment. Teachers DO often pay for the resources in their classroom. They DO work more than 40 hours a week and they DO face challenges that are unique to our profession. And yes, I understand we are NOT alone in that regard. Truly, I do. But here is the thing; (According to popular opinion) If teachers go on strike or voice our needs, we are selfish. We are neglecting the kids. We are supposed to do our job for the kids, not for ourselves. And while we DO work for the kids and love them dearly, we also are humans with bills to pay and children to feed and not enough hours in the day. Basically, my point is that, we matter too. We are an integral part of society, but often we teachers are left in the shadows.

Which brings me to a woman who I have always felt resides so overlooked at Bellefontaine, in literally in the shadow of the large marker of her father. Susan Blow grew up in a wealthy St. Louis family, her father Henry a predominant businessman. Their wealth was considerable enough to move outside of the city proper and to the outskirts of Carondelet to escape both disease and the destruction of the 1849 fire. Susan had more opportunities than many other girls of the time due to the wealth of her family. In fact, her father and his brothers had helped to pay for Dred Scott during his fight for freedom, having grown up with him as children (Fact: Dred Scott is buried next door in Calvary Cemetery). Susan was a well educated woman with many doors opened before her. She had the opportunity to travel with her father to Brazil during his time as an ambassador during the Civil War.

Susan Blow

She then traveled to Germany where she learned of a new school system in which young children were educated in classrooms made for them, with an emphasis on moral and intellectual growth, self-care, physical education. Essentially, students learned through play and interaction with caring, loving adults. This was the kindergarten system. As the parent of a kindergarten student, I can attest that these people deserve way more credit than I’m sure they have ever been given. There is a reason I teach high school, and I’m reminded of that reason every day when I deal with just one six year old in my household.

My crazy six year old, Noah and I

Susan, upon returning to St. Louis from her travels established the first kindergarten system in the United States right in the heart of St. Louis. She was such a huge proponent of this program that she worked to continue and grow it, even up to just three weeks prior to her death. She wrote books about her classroom model, and by the time of her death over 50 schools in St. Louis had implemented kindergarten classrooms, setting children on a path to success that continues even into today. My son in his kindergarten classroom learns about character words alongside math and reading skills. He learns how to manage his body, work with others and think outside the box. All of this began with Susan Blow.

Des Peres School

Now, one would imagine the type of marker that a woman with this type of significance would have. I envision a beautiful lady, surrounded by small children as she reads them a book and they smile lovingly up at her as elementary students are prone to do (for the record, this stops at middle school). But much to my continued disappointment, Susan, who was so devoted to her career that she died unmarried, a ‘spinster’, rests with a small, inconsequential marker, so small one could almost trip over it in the shadow of the marker of Henry Blow, her father.

I can’t help but believe that this is another tragic example of how the marker doesn’t always make the man, or in this case, the woman. Susan’s marker is, in my view, a sad representation of how education has continued to be viewed.

Here you can see the large marker of Henry Blow and slightly to your left (right of the marker) is the tiny grave of Susan Blow. Henry’s wife and their two daughters are memorialized in the older marker to the right of the image.

We celebrate the achievements of the students and the system that made them, but too often forget to celebrate those who will willingly sit in the shadows for the sake of celebrating others. I can’t help but think that Susan would be right there with the teachers in L.A. today, urging them on to do better for education. I could be wrong. She probably would have focused on the students, as we often do, above ourselves. But we can not stay in the shadows, teachers. We have to put ourselves out there so that students can see this most noble of professions as the wonderful opportunity it is. That we do, is truly of the gravest importance.


I Just Can’t Let This One Lie

Driving home today from work, I realized just how much the current political turmoil in the United States has been encompassing my thoughts. Rather than turn on my radio to listen to music during my 30 minute commute (and much to the chagrin of my 3 and 6 year old passengers), I immediately turn on CNN news on my satellite radio to listen to the progress (or lack thereof) that has been made in regards to the current government shut down. It truly is like a terrible accident I can’t look away from.

My heart hurts for the innocent bystanders who are affected by this current shutdown.It truly has permeated all areas of American life. I mean, even in preparing to write this blog posting I ran into a disclaimer on the website for the national archives that no research would be done or discoveries updated due to furloughs of government workers. So, in attempting to wrap my thoughts around what is currently happening, I turned to Bellefontaine Cemetery as I commonly do. Bellefontaine, I have found over the years is one of the best self-help books for the living in both secular and religious ways. When a co-worker of mine suddenly passed away suddenly a few years ago, I spent my time of grief in springtime Bellefontaine, finding understanding in the beauty of nature, and peace in the silence. And although the sudden snowstorm today keeps me from physically traveling to the cemetery, my mind immediately drifted to the far north east corner of Bellefontaine, to the simple, understated tomb of Senator Edward Bates.

Edward Bates is by far one of my favorite permanent residents within the cemetery. A few years ago when I was completing research for my masters thesis, I had the opportunity to hold in my hand several of his letters and journals. He was, from my estimation, a bit dramatic.He wrote quickly and with emphasis. I could almost see that his brain was working faster than his pen would, which no doubt frustrated him. He was busy, too busy to be bothered by trivial nonsense. He was lawyer and a farmer and the father of seventeen children. This was not a man who tolerated stupidity well. Having said that, I know that he was devoted friend who suffered the losses of those friends deeply. When his brother-in-law Hamilton Gamble, who is also buried in Bellefontaine died, he lamented to another close friend who was ill at the time, James Eads of engineering fame, that he could not bear to suffer another loss so soon. Yes, Bates was a many of many emotions, and he seemed to feel them all deeply.

But these characteristics of Bates are not what brought him to my mind for this post. What made me think of Bates in these troubled times was the fact that although he held very strong and passionate views, he was not above putting those views aside for the greater good of humanity. Take for example the fact that Bates was a slave owner (slaves he did later grant their freedom). While slave ownership was a part of his life, he recognized that it would ultimately be bad for the nation, and took a stance advocating against the spread of slavery into new territories. He even took on and won the case of Lucy Ann Berry, a fourteen year old girl who sued for her freedom on the basis that her mother was free. Bates’s popularity and passion among the Republican party, and his success as Attorney General of Missouri led him to be one of the candidates running against Abraham Lincoln in 1860. And although he lost the election, Lincoln approached Bates to serve as his U.S. Attorney General during the tumultuous years of the Civil War, a position that the father of over a dozen children with a law practice and farm was reluctant to take.

A letter from Bates to Lincoln including the words, “Honorable Sir”

Bates became part of what is known as Lincoln’s Team of Rivals, which was made up of those who had ran against the President and held very strong, and differing opinions. To be certain, this was NOT simply a matter of keeping ones enemies close, but rather Lincoln knew that by listening to those who opposed him, he received multiple points of view from which to consider his decisions. At the same time, the cabinet members were able to consider their own positions and do what is best for the nation as a whole. For example, Bates may have been a slave owner, but he did support the belief that citizenship should not be based on skin color, AND he supported the Emancipation Proclamation. Together, with Lincoln, the team of rivals helped to end the Civil War and reunite a nation divided which, although deep cracks like that one take time to heal and never truly mend perfectly, it did move our country forward as both president and parties found a middle ground a purpose higher than themselves.

Now, when you started to read this posting, you may have assumed I had a political agenda for one party or the other. But rest assured, this is not about choosing sides. Rather, it is about putting differences aside. It is about compromise. It is about solving problems over self glorification. At times like this my dad likes to talk about the HBO mini-series John Adams and the movie, “The American President”. He feels that those works of cinema reflect what our country was founded upon and the values that we upheld. And he’s right, these are great films. But I get the same feeling when I travel to Bellefontaine Cemetery and look at the small, unassuming stone, tucked back quietly in the Coulter lot belonging to the parents of Julia Coulter Bates. Even in his final rest, we can see that Bates put simplicity before self. A man of his fame and statue and personality would be assumed to have a Lincoln-esque monument, with perhaps a statue or bust (which does exist in Forrest Park, away from his burial place).

But instead, we see a simple marker, denoted by the words “Lawyer and Statesmen.” Despite all that he did and all that he was, he put state and service and the people of the nation first. We could all, regardless of party or presidential preference, put ourselves aside for the greater good of humanity. That we do, and quickly, is of the gravest importance.


So, Do You Just Like Death or What?

Every new school year, I start by doing the standard dog and pony show of introducing myself to the new faces starting blankly back at me. I go through this each hour so that the students realize who or what they are getting in the weeks ahead. Typically this starts out with the expected glazed over expressions coming from the 25 faces staring back at me. I show them pictures of my beautiful but insane children, I describe my hobbies, my love of sports and McDonald’s Big Macs, I get a forced chuckle or two as I impress them with my ability to name all the ingredients of said Big Macs, and then, just when I feel them starting to slip away with expectations of an impending syllabus, I drop a screen on them with a slide entitled, “Three Truths and a Lie.” One of the statements about their teacher is false, the others are 100% accurate. See if you can figure it out:

  • My grandfather worked for Al Capone
  • I am terrified of needles but have four tattoos
  • I work in a cemetery
  • I have never been to Europe

Naturally, as I am a history teacher and that is all that students really know about me at this point, they tend to naively believe that I have had both the time and money to go to Europe at some point in my career. This is tragically inaccurate. The closest I’ve ever been to Europe is the pictures that former students send to me during their travels. It’s great. Really. Then, once students realize how much of a fraud I am, teaching about things I have never seen and places I have never been, they move on to the tattoos. I evidently do not appear cool enough to have tattoos, let alone four of them. However, this too is actually true. Fortunately, I am now able to simply roll up my sleeve and show them my wrist to prove the accuracy of this statement. Prior to 2018, they had to take my word for it as the others are not exactly work-place visible.

So, now we are down to the final two statements. Believe it or not, most students would rather believe that my grandfather worked for Al Capone rather than actually go for the idea that their teacher works in a cemetery. The looks on their faces surprise me, without fail, every single year as I attempt to regale them with the fact that my grandfather actually did work as a clerk on one of Capone’s “front” businesses (not actually for the mob) and did receive the turkey Capone gave his employees every year during the holidays. Now, I am quite proud of getting to tell this story that links my family so close to history. I love getting to tell my students about how my dad, growing up in Chicago, often went to weddings of his friends sisters in which envelopes were handed to the father of the bride and men wearing lots of gold rings and necklaces kissed each other on the cheeks. Cool right? Nope. Not to 15, 16 and 17 year olds who just realized that the tattooed woman with the black hair and pale skin standing in front of them actually, voluntarily and of her own volition, spends time in…….a cemetery.

Having been through this experience for many years now, I usually take this moment to open the floor up to questions, just to clear things up. Here is a collection of some of the most common queries I have received over the years and my attempts at answering them without (much) sarcasm:

  • Student: “So like, what do you do there? Do you like, dig the holes?”
    • Me: Only on the weekends . (Note: I generally clear this one up pretty quick as they are scarily quick to believe it. Apparently my 5’8″, 140 lb frame appears to be the grave-digging type)
  • Student: “So, have you ever seen any ghosts?”
    • Me: Nope, typically they don’t actually die in the cemetery, nor did they spend much time there in life, so the cemetery isn’t a place they would haunt. But the short answer is, no.
  • Student: “So like, what is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in the cemetery?”
    • Me: Turkeys. (Honest response. It’s weird to see them running in the middle of an urban area. )
  • Student: “So like, what do you actually do there?”
    • Me: Well, have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C? (Some students will nod). Do you know how there are lots of famous people there, like JFK? (More nods) Okay, well there are tour guides there who take people around and talk about the important “residents” who are in the cemetery. That’s what I do at Bellefontaine. We have some of St. Louis’s, and even America’s, most famous people in our cemetery, right here in your city. You’ve heard of Anheuser Busch, right? Well, we have Adolphus Busch. You’ve heard of the Lemp mansion? We have the Lemps! Lewis and Clark? We have Clark! (I could go on, but by this point, they usually seem to be getting it).

Now, at this particular point in the Q&A session, I am ready to move on to discussion of our syllabus and what the class I will be teaching holds for the a students. But there have been years when that ‘one kid’ decides to be brave enough to ask in front of the entire class, “So, do you just like death or what?” To be clear, I am not a fan of this question. I’ve been asked variations of it many times throughout my time as a master guide. Trust me, I get it. I do tend to have a bit of the look that goes with someone who was labeled as “goth” in high school and never completely moved on from it. My eyes are typically lined in black eyeliner, I listen to alternative music, my hair is just a step above black with hints of purple and red and no one could ever say that pastels are a distinct part of my wardrobe, if you catch my drift. I suppose I do look like someone who would enjoy the darker side of life, so to speak. In fact, at my most recent tour event at Bellefontaine, I was actually asked by a patron if I was “trying to go for the Elvira look on purpose” as part of my tours. (For the record, the answer is no. Mostly).

Beer Baron’s Tour-2018

Now, I try to see the aforementioned question from the point of view of the students looking back at me, and in the past, I’ve tried to shrug it off with humor or a typically sarcastic response. After thirteen years as an educator, very little that comes out of the mouths of students shocks or shakes me anymore. I mean, I teach psychology, in addition to World and Art History. Do you have any idea how many times in one class period you can say the word ‘penis’ when teaching Freud to teenagers? (Let the record show that, per the count of one student, the number of times is eight). If I can handle a student brazenly asking me, “Mrs. Schoellhorn, do YOU have Penis Envy?” in front of an entire class, then I’m pretty sure I can handle any question thrown at me regarding my life outside of school. But believe it or not, the question about my having a fascination with death does rattle me a bit, even more than the worst questions I’ve taken regarding Freud and his theory of anal fixation (yep, I’ve said that in front of teenagers too).

I think what bothers me most about why I choose to spend my time in a cemetery is that, it is not only students who ask me this question. Adults often give me the same response or inquisitive look when I tell them that I’ll be spending my weekend up at the cemetery (again) with a smile on my face. But in recent years, after many, many times of enduring the puzzled faces or grimaces that come from explaining what I do, I have realized this: it’s not their fault.
When tourists come to visit a cemetery, they typically focus on the deaths of those interred there. What I have realized is that our society has transformed cemeteries and burial grounds into a place of finality. An ending. A period at the end of a sentence. This is one of the reasons why people often feel uneasy about visiting a loved one within them, let alone going to one for a recreational purpose. They see a cemetery as an inevitable end for all of us, a reality that no one wants to face, a reminder of our mortality. But, after many years of visiting cemeteries and serving as a master guide within one, I am here to tell you with utmost certainty that if you look close enough, a cemetery is most certainly NOT about death. Rather, it is about life. Allow me to explain.

Bringing History to Life

From the first moment I walked into Bellefontaine Cemetery in 2005, I was awestruck with the beauty and majesty that stood before me. During my senior year of undergrad, I was composing my senior thesis on the cholera outbreak that ravaged St. Louis in 1849 (more on that in later posts). When my paper was chosen for entry in a symposium later that semester, I was told I needed visuals to go with my work. How in the world was I ever going to find a visual of such a massive plague that had ripped indiscriminately through the city over a century earlier? Fortunately for me, I had uncovered in my research that both Bellefontaine and Calvary cemetery, which were in part created as a result of the outbreak, were only a few miles away. When I first passed through the hallowed gates of Bellefontaine, my eyes and heart were unable to comprehend what I was seeing. This was no ordinary place of rest. This was a place of monumental (no pun intended) importance, not only because of the people who lay within it, but because the cemetery itself ,from its design to its monumentation was,to turn a phrase, a living and breathing testament to the historical context within which they were created. Suddenly, I knew in that moment that I had found a purpose for this visit that would go far beyond the symposium for which I was writing. I was determined, from that day forward, to bring Bellefontaine to life for as many people as I possibly could. That passion inspired this blog.

Cemeteries, if you know how to look at them, are alive and breathing with the stories of the past. The monuments (or lack thereof) are stories in stone and silence that can still speak volumes. By hearing those stories and listening to what is said (or sometimes unsaid), we can bring not only a people, but an entire city or a country back to life. A cemetery, in its purest form, has the ability to reveal the past and present of a society. The best and worst of who we are and who we have or will become can be revealed in where a citizen is placed, the marker that honors them, or the way a cemetery was designed. It cannot be ignored, or denied once it has been seen. The bell of knowledge and understanding, once rung, can never be unheard. This blog, dear readers, is my bell. It is my chance to tell the stories that rest in silence. It is my opportunity to show that, no, I do not enjoy death, but rather, I choose to celebrate and reveal the real life history that rests within the cemetery gates. And as a history teacher, that to me is truly of the gravest importance.

Stay tuned for the next posting of “Gravely Speaking” in which I be explaining how the layout and design of Bellefontaine tells the story of a history that goes far beyond the gates.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Plot Holder

Most often when I tell people that I am a tour guide at a historic cemetery, I am met with the common response of, “How can you spend so much time in a cemetery? Isn’t it depressing being around all that death?” Having become accustomed to this question by now, I am pretty quick to respond with my standard response of, “No, actually it is actually quite beautiful!”

You can imagine the reaction of most people when they hear me say this. Their faces scrunch up in skepticism, they look a bit shocked or surprised, some look at me sympathetically as if I’m delusional. And I get it. After ten years, I am no longer offended by these looks because I have come to realize the beauty I see in Bellefontaine comes from my experiences there, my love of history and my appreciation for what the cemetery is beyond its surface level appearance. There has not been one time I have been to the cemetery that I am not awed by the majestic rolling hills, the serenity of the water features in Wildwood Valley, the beauty of the sculpture and the breathtaking experience of seeing one of our foxes gazing at me from a distance. In fact, I believe that as a tour guide if I do my job well, people forget they actually ARE in a cemetery, seeing only the beauty beyond the (forgive me) surface level purpose of the 314 acres that is Bellefontaine.

It truly is this beauty I see in Bellefontaine that compelled me to write this post for you today. See, a few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to write a short piece about one of the women who was critical in forming the suffrage movement in the state of Missouri over a century ago. Bellefontaine thrives on being a tribute to living history and this year our focus is on the centennial anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in 1919. There are so many women in Bellefontaine who took up the banner for female voting. Not the least among them are Virginia Minor, Edna Fischel Gellhorn and Lucy Semple Ames. However, my writing assignment was focused on Mrs. Anna Clapp, a lady I am sorry to say I knew little about. Right away I began researching Mrs. Clapp and came up sadly disappointed. I was able to find that Mrs. Clapp was critical in serving the wounded during the Civil War and was a founding member of the Women’s Suffrage Movement of Missouri. And that was about it. Being the dedicated historian I am, I began using all the resources I knew to dig up (sorry) all the information I could on Anna, with little success. How, I wondered, could someone so important to the women’s movement in St. Louis, a hotbed of Suffragettes in the United States, be so poorly remembered?

After stewing about this for a bit, I decided to start at the end and observe the final resting place of Anna at Bellefontaine. I’m sorry to say that once again in this instance, the marker did not quite make the woman. A simple headstone, easy to trip over and forget, next to her husband, with no recognition for her achievements in history. She is tucked quietly in the North Corner of the cemetery, without much of a ‘view’ and far off the beaten path.

Naturally I found this a bit upsetting initially, but became even more troubled as I traveled the cemetery to look at some familiar markers, particularly as I drove past the marker of Mrs. Kate Brewington Bennett. Unlike Anna, Kate Brewington Bennett rests beneath a marker that screams to be noticed. Parked on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the vista towards the east, Mrs. Bennett is marked by a large, opulent and Gothic style monument featuring a beautiful woman lounging in a classical Roman pose in eternal peace.

Now you may be thinking that this woman must have contributed a great deal to society to have such a stately marker. But the truth is, Mrs.Bennett was known for one thing and one thing only: her beauty. When she died at age 37, she was known as the most beautiful woman in St. Louis. Her death, in fact, was in the name of that beauty due to ingestion of beauty powders designed to create a porcelain like complexion…..that included arsenic. That’s right, rat poison. Arsenic is cumulative and builds up in the system over time, leading to her death. If you’re trying to wrap your brain around this, think of the movie “Gone with the Wind” in which mammy does not want Scarlett to wear her now famous green dress to the barbecue as it will leave her shoulders freckled, making her appear unladylike as only field workers had tanned skin. White skin was a sign of being indoors, serene, controlled and demure, all that was desired of a bride. But this desire led women to undertake many measures that today would seem incredulous (well, maybe not), and could ultimately be deadly.

White skin was a sign of being indoors, serene, controlled and demure, all that was desired of a bride. But this desire led women to undertake many measures that today would seem incredulous (well, maybe not), and could ultimately be deadly.

As I made my way back around the cemetery after pondering at Mrs. Bennett’s grave for a bit, I made a call to someone I knew HAD to have more information on Anna Clapp. There HAD to be more to the story of why there WASN’T much of a story. My source didn’t fail me. He proceeded to let me know that while Anna Clapp was important politically, she wasn’t really considered a beauty or someone who could be the public face of a movement. In fact, ‘handsome’ was the most common word used to describe Anna Clapp, rather than the elegant words used to describe Mrs. Bennett, who had done far less in her life.

And then it hit me: the way in which Clapp and Bennett are remembered in their final place of rest is truly reflective of what was considered ‘beautiful’ at the time they lived. Beauty was in the eye of the beholder, and Anna Clapp just wasn’t beautiful enough for the notoriety that Bennett received. This is truly a metaphor for the way Bellefontaine itself is seen through my eyes versus others who see value only in life. To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world, because I am able to see beyond the surface rather than just at ground level. Furthermore, the story of Clapp and Bennett is reflective of a truth that still remains true today over 100 years later. The way we choose to remember the past, reflects a great deal about who we are in the present. We have to remember that the way we celebrate history, particularly as we enter Black History Month and Women’s History Month we reflect upon who we are now centuries into the future. We must be sure that what we value does not make us seem superficial, and that our present is respected when one day we become the past. That we do this truly is of the gravest importance.

Life Marches On…..

As a busy working professional with a full time job as a high school teacher, a part time job (complete misnomer, by the way) as an adjunct professor, a speech and debate coach and golf coach depending on the time of the year, I treasure my weekends as a time to really slow down and look at my two children; a six year old named Noah and a three year old named Gretchen. My second child, I have found, seems to be growing at an exponential rate. This could be because she is my second. It could also be because she is the strongest willed little person I have ever met, which ages her beyond her three years.

My serious little G at just one month old

I knew I was in for trouble with this one from pregnancy on. With Gretchen I was sick as a dog, unlike the easy pregnancy I had with my son. Also unlike Noah who took 12 hours to bring into this world, Gretchen was born from start to finish in less than two hours. She came screaming into this world and took it by storm immediately. While Noah as a newborn had to be woken up and brought to me to eat in the hospital, I knew Gretchen was on her way down the hall just from her loudly voiced complaints.

If the shirt fits….

Today my beautiful girl is just as strong, passionate, even scary at times with her refusal to back down from anything or anyone. She is creative, smart and determined, even earning her first set of staples under the age of two when she refused to stop climbing (she beat her brother who got stitches at 2 1/12). These are qualities that I know someday I will be thrilled Gretchen possesses, but that currently make it difficult to do anything, like loading her in a car in a timely fashion. I have absolutely no doubt that someday she will have causes she will devote her passionate little heart to.

She will raise her voice loudly and proudly and with great conviction. I’ve seen this first hand anytime that her brother does anything at all that displeases her, of if she isn’t fed fast enough (she comes by this honestly). What makes me most happy is that I know, as I watched footage of the Women’s March today, that most importantly, she will have opportunities and platforms to express her views and work for change. And as I thought about my daughter and the women she will follow as examples, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the women who came long before her, who raised their voices despite strong efforts to silence them, who marched before it was mainstream to do so.

In the southern corner of Bellefontaine cemetery, overlooking one of the ponds in Wildwood Valley is one of those women who spoke volumes about the rights of women without even saying a word at times. Edna Fischell Gellhorn, despite being brought up as a Missouri woman of privilege dedicated her life to improving the lives of others. One of her major passions was improving the quality, safety standards and inspection of milk, which, if not treated properly could cause diseases such as listeria, a major cause of miscarriages during this time.

The Walkless Talkless Parade, 1916

And while she did make tremendous strides in areas such as public sanitation, her greatest contribution came from her role as the first Vice President of the National League of Women Voters. She helped to found the Walkless Talkess parade in which women, wearing white dresses with yellow sashes formed the Golden Lane through which male voters walked through from their hotel to the democratic convention. The presence of these women helped to move forward the suffrage movement which earned women the right to vote in 1919, a century ago.

Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway, 1941

Edna, even after her death, left behind a tremendous legacy. Her daughter, Martha Gellhorn, was a famous journalist and the only woman to land on the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion of World War II (she was also married to Ernest Hemingway for a time, and was played by Nicole Kidman in an HBO special). Edna was also a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, who also played a major role in the fight for women’s rights. But as we stand in the year 2019 and we see women continuing to advocate for equality, we cannot forget women such as Edna Fischel Gellhorn and Virgina Minor (a story worthy of another day) who marched before the time of social media. Who faced risk, jail and public shame for speaking up for the rights of women everywhere.

Final resting place of Edna Fischel Gellhorn in Bellefontaine Cemetery

Today, the marker of Edna Gellhorn sits silent, just as her ladies of the Golden Lane did decades ago. But sometimes we have to remember that silence can truly speak volumes if we are willing to listen. And that is of the gravest importance.

The Laying Out

One of my favorite parts about getting to be a tour guide at a massive historic cemetery is when people who have never been to our cemetery before (and even some who have) decide to venture into the grounds on their own, without a map or any sense of direction, insisting that they can find their way around. See, Bellefontaine cemetery is comprised of 314 acres with miles and miles of road that wind through it. And while we DO have a painted white line, self-guided tour that takes visitors past some of our most noteworthy and notable residents, it should be noted that this white line takes visitors deep within the cemetery.

The White Line Tour of Bellefontaine Cemetery

Venturing off of the line can and sometimes does turn around an unfamiliar individual very quickly, leading to a phone call made to the office that can rapidly turn into a very interesting game of Marco Polo. As a matter of fact, one of the interns I was supervising at the cemetery a few years ago did just this very thing while searching for a particular headstone. In her search, she had wandered away from her car, off the white line and far from any knowledge of the gate house where I, her fearless leader was positioned.

Now, to be fair, I was only minimally concerned when this happened for two reasons: first, I knew she wouldn’t find the grave she was looking for. Because it doesn’t exist. I always send my interns searching for this particular person so that they learn to look for what ISN’T there, in addition to what is. The individual in this instance is buried in an unmarked grave, a critical part of his story (to be told in later postings). Secondly, I knew that as long as my intern was within the gates, I would eventually find her, however it did make things a bit more interesting when her point of reference was a “Washington Monument-looking-grave” (also known as an obelisk, and of which we have hundreds within the cemetery).

Nevertheless, my intern learned an important lesson that day that is the subject of today’s posting: to know a cemetery, you really need to understand the layout.

I’m sure when you first read this blog title, you were thinking that I was going to discuss the ‘laying out’ of a body. This IS a blog about cemeteries after all, so I can’t really blame you there. And yes, that is shamelessly how I semi-pulled you into reading this posting. But since it obviously worked, I should point out that you weren’t completely duped. The laying out of a cemetery is similar to the way a person is laid out prior to their internment: It is done with care, thought, sometimes planning, and with a definite goal to reflect who a person was during their life. Bellefontaine is no exception. It’s design, the love and care that went into it from the planning of the horticulture (as with flowers that commonly adorn the person being laid to rest), the road design and even the property values reflect who the cemetery was during its life during the 1850’s. The ‘laying out’ of a cemetery, just like a person, can often tell us who ‘we’ were, who we are and who we will be during a specific time in our life.

What We Can Learn From a Layout

Take for example the fact that what is now the entrance of Bellefontaine along West Florissant Avenue was originally the back of the cemetery. Visitors entered the cemetery along Broadway, where the rolling green hills reached their peak, overlooking a beautiful vista of trees and water, perfect for those who would spend an eternity overlooking them…..if they could afford it. See, St. Louis during the time of the first Bellefontaine burial in 1850 was slowly but surely entering the age of industry that had already swept Europe and was beginning to creep its way across the U.S., although it would hit a brief snag during the Civil War. During this time, aspiring entrepreneurs who were experiencing great success in areas such as beer, shoes, newspaper and pharmaceuticals developed the desire to reflect their newfound status in death, as well as in life. While many people would think that the age of industry would actually increase the life expectancy of the average human, it actually lowered it as people became more exposed to industrial age diseases including cancer, cholera and tuberculosis. This led to a major desire of the rich and famous to reflect their wealth in death, as well as in life.

Bellefontaine cemetery, like other cemeteries of its kind and in an effort to cater to the tastes of the upper echelon of society, sold plots at the cemetery at varying costs. Essentially, a person’s final place of rest was purchased like real estate, an investment that would pay off for eternity (or until the money placed in trust ran out). Families purchased plots big enough for many future generations and paid for mausoleums that would cost millions of dollars today. Sometimes, like certain media-fame based families that need not be mentioned, these people were famous simply for being famous rather than for any major contribution to society. But, nevertheless, this meant that the average Joe could not afford to loiter among those who were above him in status, even in death. This is why today, Bellefontaine is home to what we affectionately refer to as mausoleum or ‘millionaire’s row’, where every marker is bigger, better and more ornate than the last, and mausoleums comprised entirely inside of marble and art-nouveau windows stand less than half full.

This portion of our cemetery majestically overlooks what is today an industrial park, while the back (now the front), was the perfect place for those who were unmarked, unwanted or unimportant in the eyes of trustees.

No better instance of this can be seen than in the case of Eliza Haycraft, a Civil War Era madame whose houses of ill-repute were so successful during the influx of soldiers from the North and South that she was able to donate thousands of dollars to the widowed and orphaned victims of the war. Now, this was a woman who came to St. Louis as a member of the profession she later came to run. She rose from illiteracy to great wealth and notoriety. For those of you who have seen Gone With the Wind, picture Belle. I swear that Margaret Mitchell had someone like Eliza in mind when she wrote the character. As the end of Eliza’s life approached, she desired to be buried in Bellefontaine where many of her clients would permanently sleep. However, due to her profession, the trustees of the cemetery reluctantly allowed her, after initial rejection, only to be buried in the far back of the cemetery, in a plot big enough for 20 and with the stipulation that her grave would remain unmarked.

This is not the only instance in which the way a cemetery and its residents were ‘laid out’ reflects the lifetime in which it lived. The northern and older portion of the cemetery holds many lawyers and statesmen buried within yards of each other who were all united in the major cause of the mid-1800’s when the cemetery was opened: civil rights. William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame is placed in the farthest northeast corner of the cemetery, overlooking the place where the Louisiana purchase expedition began.

Without question, the layout of the Bellefontaine is so deliberate and so reflective of a life that has changed over time and continues to do so even today. We can see this in our Garden of Angels, a private place of remembrance, shrouded in privacy by trees, adorned with beautiful flowers and a guardian statue.

The Garden of Angels. Photo Credit: Bellefontaine Cemetery

This area is provided by Bellefontaine as a final resting place for children whose parents can not afford to give them a place of burial. What does this reflect about our lifetime, that after only a short time ago this area lay vacant, and is now full to the point of requiring a new addition? I wish I could say that the children we have placed in this garden all peacefully went to their rest. But this just isn’t the case. What does the high rate of mortality for children show us regarding the quality of healthcare that each person receives? Yes, there are families from the mid-1800’s, like the Campbells, an affluent family with thirteen children only three of whom reached adulthood. Child mortality was an unfortunately common thing over a century ago. But the fact that we still need a designated place of rest for young children that is sadly added to far too often, demonstrates that we still have a long way to go in our quest to improve the quality of life for all human beings.

The Garden of Angels reflects the nature of our society which is often violent, dangerous and unceasingly unequal. Anyone entering Bellefontaine can see, if they look in the right way, that our layout is a mirror reflecting the life we lived and the society in which we now live. We must look, even when it is hard, just as we would at the wake of a loved one who has been laid out for mourners to remember. Seeing is how we remember, it is how we move on. We have to remember if we want to move on, if we want to heal. It truly is of the gravest importance that we look and remember.