Since writing Part I about Mount Mora Cemetery, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to add about its origins. To do that, here’s a little history lesson on how Saint Joseph began.
In its early days, Saint Joseph was a bustling town, serving as a last supply stop and jumping-off point on the Missouri River toward the West. It was the westernmost point in the U.S. accessible by rail until after the Civil War.
In 1843, successful fur trader Joseph Robidoux chose Frederick W. Smith and Simeon Kemper to help fully design Saint Joseph’s layout. Under Kemper’s plan, the town was to have been called Robidoux, a feature Kemper thought would appeal to his boss. However, Robidoux liked Smith’s plan more because it featured narrower streets and would leave more land for Joseph to sell in the form of lots.
As is often the case, the pocketbook won over the ego. The main east-west downtown streets, however, were named for Robidoux’s eight children and his wife.
Believing a cemetery might become a lucrative business opportunity, Kemper and his wife, Jane Ann, deeded two-thirds of a 20 acre plot on their farm to Israel Landis (who is mentioned in Part I) and Reuben Middleton. The land covered a scenic hilltop approximately a mile west of the Buchanan County Courthouse.
Sadly, Kemper had a personal connection to the property. The Kemper family’s three-year-old daughter, Susan Jane, died in 1847. Nine days later, their infant son, 10-month-old Simeon Love, was buried beside her. The Kemper family plot is on top of the hill of Mount Mora.
By 1870, people were complaining that livestock roaming the cemetery and hogs were rooting up the graves. Town trustees hired prominent architect W. Angelo Powell to draw up and implement a master plan that eventually transformed Mount Mora into a rural cemetery with a park-like feel.
Most burials at Mount Mora occurred between 1851 and 1930. About 15,000 people are buried there, with approximately 8,850 stone markers. So many of the graves aren’t even marked.
During the post-Civil War period, Saint Joseph experienced a sort of golden age that gave rise to the construction of some exceptional tomb architecture. Mausoleum Row and the others scattered throughout the cemetery pay historical tribute to turn-of-the-century Saint Joseph.
Consisting of 21 mausoleums, Mausoleum Row also reads like a “Who’s Who” of St. Joseph’s economic and social elite, competing with each another to build magnificent homes and impressive burial tombs. It’s clear that the city’s creme de la creme had money and wanted to show it off, even in death.
Many people think W. Angelo Powell is buried in the Powell mausoleum but he’s actually buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery (also in Saint Joseph) with his wife, Cecelia. However, Powell’s son William (also an architect) and his wife, Gracie, are buried in the Classical Revival-style mausoleum at Mount Mora. It’s likely William’s brother, Grey, designed the limestone tomb. William’s ashes are in an urn placed next to a portrait of Gracie, which I could not photograph well through the door glass.
Built in the 1930s, the Townsend Mausoleum was designed by the firm of Eckel & Aldrich, who designed a number of St. Joseph structures. It is the centerpiece of Mausoleum Row and features an Egyptian Revival tomb with the influence of the modern Art Deco period (during which it was built) and lacking the ostentatious decoration found on the earlier Victorian mausoleums. Two sphinxes flank the front doors. Notice the winged disc/double cobra symbol at the top of the building, which I talked about at Omaha’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
Robert and Mary Townsend are interred within the mausoleum. Townsend & Wall (officially known as Townsend, Wyatt and Wall) at 602 Francis Street was the principal department store in downtown St. Joseph from 1866 to 1983, founded by Robert’s father, John Townsend. Designed in 1909 by Walter Boschen, their last building was converted into loft apartments and is still in use today.
Amazingly, the roof alone of the Townsend Mausoleum weighs a whopping 24.5 tons according to Mount Mora historian Suzanne Lehr. She said in a recent article, “Because of the great weight on the granite walls, the mortar between the granite slabs has oozed out.” A multi-thousand dollar project will be completed to repair the steps of the mausoleum and to re-mortar it.
Two deeply intertwined families have mausoleums at Mount Mora, the Nave and McCord families. The McCord Mausoleum (which is to the right of the Townsend Mausoleum) also features an Egyptian-style of a winged disc (no cobras) above the door. Built in 1909, it’s not surprising that it was designed by Eckel & (Walter) Boschen, whose names we’ve seen already.
The cobras, however, can be found on the doors’ knockers. I’m not sure why a mausoleum would need them since the occupants within are deceased but who am I to question it? The Fairleigh Mausoleum features the exact same knockers on its doors.
In addition to the Egyptian motifs, the McCord Mausoleum has a variety of flowers woven through the bronze work of the front gates that cover the doors. It makes for an interesting contrast.
James McCord and Abram Nave were connected by marriage when Nave married McCord’s sister, Lucy Jane. They became business partners and the result was several successful endeavors too many to list here. The best known in Saint Joseph (and founded there) was the Nave & McCord Mercantile Co., a major pioneer mercantile chain of stores in the Midwest from the mid-19th century through the early 1930s.
The Nave Mausoleum is actually not located on Mausoleum Row but elsewhere in the cemetery. The style is Victorian Eclectic and the mausoleum is made of dolomite limestone. Black granite columns flank the doors. The words “AD MAJOREM GLORIAM” are above the doors, which means “To the greater glory of God.”
Lucy McCord Nave died in 1853, only 10 years after she and Abram married. They had seven children together, several of whom died in infancy. He would marry twice more after that. While Lucy is buried in a different cemetery, Abram and his other two wives are interred in the Nave Mausoleum.
Another Victorian Eclectic-style mausoleum is next to the McCord Mausoleum. The Marlow Mausoleum only has two occupants, George Marlow and his wife, Arcadia Perry Marlow. Built in 1893, the architect is unknown. The rectangular-shaped structure is constructed of dressed blocks of gray granite. A broad projecting pavilion, deeper than any other on the Row, dominates the facade.
Marlow, a native of Virginia, headed to St. Joseph after the Civil War to open a shoe and boot business called Elephant Shoe Store that was quite successful. Arcadia Perry Marlow was the daughter of a prominent St. Joseph businessman. They married in 1886. A long-time bachelor, Marlow was 48 and Arcadia was 30.
Sadly, their story did not end happily. On Nov. 16, 1893, Marlow arrived at his store as usual and went up to the third floor to do some work. One of the shoemakers found him a few hours later, laying on the floor dead. He had shot himself in the head with a pistol.
Marlow left two letters, one for one of his clerks and another for Arcadia. According to a newspaper article, the letter to the clerk said he was “racked with pain, was unfit for business, and did not desire any longer.” Apparently, Marlow had been miserable and told his wife several times that his head felt like it was “on fire.”
Arcadia never remarried but chose to live with her sister in St. Joseph. She died in 1937 and her ashes were interred in the Marlow Mausoleum with her husband. They never had any children together.
Next time, I’ll have more stories to share from Mount Mora’s Mausoleum Row in Part III.