Bellefontaine Cemetery Visit

I am producing a documentary about cemeteries. I’d love to explain it in detail, but I should refer you to website set up for that:  www.southernmostillinoishistory.com  I needed to visit Bellefontaine Cemetery in north St. Louis, Missouri because the location welcomes visitors who are interested in the history of the place (or so I thought). Founded in 1849, BC holds the remains of some of St. Louis’ wealthiest and more prominent citizens – and, I might add, quite a few “scalawags” as Carol Ferring Shepley talks about in her book Movers and Shakers | Scalawags and Suffragettes: Tales from Bellefontaine Cemetery (2008, Missouri History Museum). I know the place welcomes visitors –  but aside from an office and another building, I wasn’t sure where to go. It was raining so I decided to drive around rather than enter an office and bug someone. I drove for more than a half-hour through the site – which contains several miles of winding roads.  There is a white line and numbered gravesites – that’s for the vehicle tour that’s available (again, no signage). The cemetery continues to bury people, so I saw workers erecting a tent for an upcoming internment. Another crew was trimming and mowing. To say the place offers a feast for those of us interested in burial markers is an understatement. It is literally an outdoor museum. It contains some of the most classic examples of Victorian Era stones I’ve ever seen.  And given the money behind those buried there, the place offers original works of sculpture art here and there. The family crypts can be found along one road at what appears to be the highest level. But every level and every road offers an overwhelming display of stone. I could spend a month exploring there – easily. And if my GPS hadn’t found my way out, I would probably still be there. I got lost. Once you enter, it’s like a maze and there’s no signage indicating where to go to get out (perhaps a metaphor?).  I stopped and asked directions. The worker told me he had been asked for directions “once or twice” and then laughed.  He then proceeded to give me completely meaningless directions. I finally decided to turn on the GPS and within 30 seconds I was at the front gate.  I recommend reading Shepley’s book about some of the famous and infamous buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery. And I know the site welcomes visitors and offers a map and a booklet, but you need to make an effort to find those resources.  Perhaps some day I’ll return and make the effort myself.

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