By Abby Hoover
In the northeast corner of Elmwood Cemetery stood a tall, very old bur oak tree. It grew there as families laid loved ones to rest, provided shade to visitors, weathered storms and annually shed golden leaves. The tree was likely there when the cemetery began in 1872, but was felled last week.
Last year, volunteers and stewards of the cemetery noticed the tree had developed a vertical crack in its trunk, and the problem continued to worsen.
“We had it inspected by local arborist Molly Gosnell, and she concluded that it is now in such dangerous condition that removal is necessary,” said John Weilert, Elmwood Cemetery Society Board of Trustees Vice President. “It is over 100 ft. tall, and it could potentially fall into the intersection of 12th and Van Brunt.”
It was a very expensive task removing such a large tree from such tight quarters.
Gosnell, a certified arborist, referred the group to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) for possible financial assistance from MDC’s TRIM grant program. Gosnell ultimately prepared the TRIM grant application for Elmwood Cemetery Society.
Fortunately for the nonprofit group, MDC approved funds to make it possible for them to proceed. Throughout the process, MDC’s Wendy Sangster was the group’s point of contact.
“We simply could not have moved forward on this project without MDC’s assistance,” Weilert said. “The grant was approved, and MDC funded the lion’s share of the tree removal.”
The two-day project began March 31. Van Brunt Boulevard was closed for two days along the eastern wall of the cemetery. Walker Tree Service was selected by the Elmwood Cemetery Society for the job.
“The tree was located close to the intersection of 12th Street and Van Brunt Boulevard, and was surrounded by many century-old graves,” Weilert said. “Difficult circumstances. [Johnathan] Walker chose to use a crane to lift all the pieces of the tree up, over the wall, and out of the cemetery. The wood fit for milling was then transported to Urban Lumber. Walker’s performance on this task was excellent.”
This year, Elmwood Cemetery will celebrate its 150th anniversary of the founding of the 43-acre cemetery that was landscaped by George Kessler, the landscape architect and engineer who was a driving force in creating Kansas City’s park and boulevard system.
“We are having a celebration on the grounds on October 1, 2022,” Weilert said. “We’re thinking a tree planting in the spot of the original bur oak would be appropriate.”
To honor the legacy of this historic tree, Elmwood Cemetery Society arranged for the wood to be taken to Urban Lumber to be milled into lumber.
“It’s a fitting way the tree can have a future,” Weilert said. “Our board has even discussed having a new conference table made from the lumber.”
Urban Lumber’s Tim O’Neill explained that it takes one year to dry one inch of wood, so the group will have to be patient, but that’s okay with them. They have plenty to do at Elmwood while they wait.