History lives at Union Cemetery, but …

Bruce Matthews photographed the new book on Union Cemetery.

Bruce Matthews photographed the new book on Union Cemetery.

“…all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, awaits alike the inevitable hour.

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Thomas Gray

Veterans from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam are buried in Union Cemetery, so authors of a new book on the city’s oldest public cemetery promoted it at the Plaza Library on Veteran’s Day.

The cemetery in Union Hill started in 1857 out of grim necessity and grew with the city.

It began because cholera epidemics killed so many people in Westport and the city of Kansas that a new cemetery was needed for both.

It was named Union for that reason and people believed its 49 acres would be enough to bury all the area dead for a very long time.

The book Kansas City’s Historic Union Cemetery: Lessons for the Future From the Garden of Time tells of the resting place for pioneers, veterans, city founders and more, including people moved there from other cemeteries.

Judy King, photographer Bruce Mathews and others who contributed to the book spoke about it Tuesday to hundreds of people.

R. Crosby Kemper III, who wrote chapter three, told of the “historic fourteen,” people who were guiding forces in building Kansas City.

He wrote, “They lived in a time of the frontier, which was at once a wilder time, a rougher time and a simpler time.”

Often they failed, like Alexander Majors, creator of the Pony Express. His businesses went bust but he was still trying to sell investors on an idea when he died of a heart attack.

And there were complexities even with success. William Gillis built the first substantial hotel, started the first city newspaper, made the Hannibal Bridge possible, died vastly rich and left money to build Gillis Opera House, profits from which supported the Gillis Home for Orphans.

He was a lifelong bachelor but had at least eight Indian mistresses and children with at least two of them.

Kevin Fewell, chairman of the Union Cemetery Board, wrote the first chapter of the book.

It concludes that the tranquil cemetery in the heart of the city “stands as a reminder of who we were, who we are, and who we – as a city – can be.”

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