Elmwood Cemetery’s 150th anniversary was celebrated this weekend, complete with living history, food, talented musicians performing in the Armour Chapel and community.
The cemetery, Kansas City’s second oldest memorial park, located at 4900 Truman Road, is the final resting place to many well-known Kansas Citians and residents of the area, reflecting a diverse population racially, economically and professionally.
John Weilert of the Elmwood Cemetery Society Board of Trustees estimated 300 visitors to the cemetery on Saturday, including one very special guest, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.
“We’ve had good feedback,” Weilert said. “Mayor Lucas came out at the beginning and he read a proclamation, and October 1 of 2022 is officially Elmwood Cemetery Day.”
Weilert has been volunteering at Elmwood for over 20 years, and Saturday’s celebration was like a trip through time for him.
“So many people I knew in the early days of doing this are still friends of Elmwood and still come out, and so for me that was just special to be able to say hi to them again and see how much people do love the cemetery,” Weilert said.
The Elmwood Cemetery Society raised money to make upgrades to Armour Chapel.
“We’ve done well financially on it, through the generosity of a number of friends of Elmwood and the Truman Road Community Improvement District really came through with a very nice sponsorship,” Weilert said. “There’s a real sense of community about that kind of thing.”
Tess Pattison-Wade is working with the Truman Road Community Improvement District (CID) to do a demographic study in the area to better understand the needs of the properties along the historic corridor and help them to implement some of their new programs.
“This is 43 acres of green space, which is pretty hard to come by in the city, period, so that in itself makes it unique,” Pattison-Wade said of Elmwood Cemetery’s importance to the corridor. “It obviously has a really famous architect who designed this, so I think there’s a lot of ways we could utilize it better, especially in a community that is really lacking in green space.”
The Truman Road CID is comprised of 177 properties from Indiana Avenue to White Avenue. At Elmwood’s celebration, representatives from the CID hosted a raffle and shared information about their organization.
“They collectively contribute to beautification along Truman Road, security, maintenance, trash pickup, things like that,” Pattison-Wade said.
The group wants to continue to maintain the space and make it more inviting for the general public to visit, whether to research, walk or ride bikes.
Actors portrayed notable Kansas Citians buried in Elmwood Cemetery to give visitors a taste of the history that the grounds hold.
“It’s a way of focusing the lens on the person who’s buried in that grave,” Weilert said. “It’s about the best way that you can do it, as if that person comes out of the grave and talks about their life, it’s quite an experience and people love it.”
The cemetery did something similar about 20 years ago, and ever since then, Weilert has been getting calls asking when they’ll do another living history tour.
Mike Vestweber and Kelly Gillespie, who live in Lee’s Summit, Mo., portrayed Jacob and Ella Loose.
“I did see it on Facebook that they were wanting some people to reenact some of the very important people in Kansas City that were buried here at the cemetery,” Vestweber said. “So I decided to jump at the chance and she soon knew I was doing it, and she said, ‘Well, let me do Ella Loose,’ and it worked out pretty good.”
They shared the famous Kansas Citians’ history with three large tour groups who were meandering through the grounds, stopping to hear the stories of those buried at Elmwood.
“We’re lucky, we have a new board member Steve Paddock and his wife Allison, and Steve was the past president of the Folly Theater board of directors, so he knows how to put on,” Weilert said. “Our new President, Simon Abrahms, has just thrown himself into this effort and he’s just done a remarkable job.”
Abrahms said the whole notion behind it is to keep the grounds as living, breathing entities.
“There was not meant to be buried 33,000 people here, close the gates and forget it,” Abrahms said.
They had around 50 volunteers, including nine board members, running the event. A dedicated group of volunteers keeps the cemetery running year round.
“Overall, I’m pleased with it, I felt good about it,” Abrahms said. “I think, again, people are going to take memories away, and I think the important thing is that those 300 people who were here, they’re going to talk about it to 10 other people about what a great afternoon it was at Elmwood, I think that’s going to be important, too.”
Elmwood once hosted annual picnics, an effort spearheaded by well-known civic leader Adele Hall.
“Adele loved Elmwood Cemetery, and she underwrote that endeavor, and she did a perfect job,” Weilert said. “People knew that if Adele Hall was doing it, it was going to be right, and people really enjoyed it a lot. We’re not trying to replicate that, we can’t, Adele’s not with us anymore, but she’s the one who started the initiative to do a public gathering each year as a celebration. We’d like to continue it and we’re kind of finding our way now.”
Abrahms said it’s meaningful to them that the hard work of the volunteer group is recognized by the leadership of the city.
“I think that’s a big thing to have the mayor here to personally read the proclamation regarding Elmwood Cemetery Day. That’s a big deal,” Abrahms said. “That was probably the highlight of things, and it just tells us that people appreciate what we’re doing and recognize what we’re doing.”
For more information on Elmwood Cemetery, visit their new website