It hardly seems possible that I’m writing a fourth installment about Mount Mora Cemetery. But when you’re faced with such a rich history of place and people, you don’t want to leave much out! Especially when it involves infamous bank robber Jesse James. But let’s start with the much more respectable Motter family.
Born in Washington County, Md., Joshua Motter went west with his wife, Katherine Augusta Barrow Motter to settle in Saint Joseph sometime before 1880. Joshua helped establish the Toothe, Wheeler and Motter Mercantile (a dry goods business). Eckles & Mann built them a stately home in 1898. (Note: I recently learned that the Motter Mansion, after sitting abandoned for several years, burned to the ground in the mid-1990s. Thank you, Gage Herrington!)
His son, John Barrow Motter, graduated from Yale in 1903 and after working for two years at the National Bank of Saint Joseph, joined his father at the mercantile. Younger son Samuel was an attorney.
Unlike many of the others on Mausoleum Row, the Motter Mausoleum is of the Classical Revival style. The date it was built is unknown. Katherine Motter died in 1927 and is interred within, along with John Barrow Motter.
The Motter Mausoleum is one of the few on the Row that has glass inserts in the doors so I could get a good look inside of it.
The Weckerlin Mausoleum is fairly simple but I was intrigued by it due to a comment in the application for the National Register of Historic Places. You may notice that the stone that says “Weckerlin” over the door appears to have been added at a later date and is made of a different type of stone. The name originally carved above the door was “Muchenberger”. Why?
Leo J. Muchenberger, a native of Iowa, was born to German immigrant parents in 1867. At some point, he moved to Saint Joseph where he married Annie Weckerlin in 1893. She was the daughter of Phillip (a saloon keeper) and Elizabeth Wecklerin, Swiss immigrants.
Leo owned and operated Muchenberger Brothers Wallpaper and Paint Co. in Saint Joseph for several years before moving to Santa Monica, Calif. with Annie and their only daughter, Leeanna, some time before 1920. According to the 1880 U.S. Census, he did have two brothers, John and Otto.
In 1936, Leo donated his old wallpaper factory to the City of Saint Joseph with the promise that it must become a recreation center, which it did. The Muchenberger Center operated until 2012 and a new Muchenberger Center was built in 2012. The old building was closed. When I looked on GoogleMaps, the building was still there but not in use.
Muchenberger most likely had the mausoleum built for his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Weckerlin, when she died in 1901. His name is on the records as owner. At the time, he and Annie probably thought they would live the rest of their lives in Saint Joseph but their move to California changed that. Leo and Annie Muchenberger are both buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica, Calif. Only Weckerlins and their spouses are interred in the former Muchenberger Mausoleum at Mount Mora.
The last and most unique mausoleum I’m going to talk about is different than all the others. The Geiger Mausoleum is in a class by itself for several reasons. The application for the National Register of Historic Places describes it thus:
The Geiger monument is a fanciful creation in stone whose source was Medieval Europe, specifically the great late Gothic cathedrals of the 14th and 15th centuries, built in what is termed the “flamboyant style”. A confection of open work stone tracery surrounds the raised sarcophagus. The tracery is carved from a light-colored limestone, while the sarcophagus is a red veined marble, creating an interesting contrast.
In addition, the mausoleum features several sections based in different styles, from Egyptian Revival to Gothic to Classical. The writer of the applications asks, “Was the use of a variety of motifs intended to portray the cultural knowledge of the world-traveled Dr. Geiger within?”
Interred within are Dr. Jacob Geiger and his wife, Louise Kollatz Geiger. For his stunning mausoleum alone, Dr. Geiger could be notable. But his career had a surprising brush with fame that he probably never expected.
A native of Germany, two of Geiger’s brothers (Stephen and Clemens) emigrated to the U.S. after their father’s death in the 1850s. A few years later, the brothers had enough money to bring Jacob, their brother, Florants, and their mother over. The Geigers went by covered wagon to Missouri then Kansas where Clemens settled and started a family. Stephen and Jacob settled in Saint Joseph.
Jacob’s ambition to become a doctor was stymied by lack of funds so he learned what he could and when he could from a local doctor while working various menial jobs. By 1870, he had enough money to attend medical school at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and graduated in two years. I’m guessing his apprenticeship with the local doctor was taken into account. In 1887, he married Louise Kollatz of Atchison, Kans.
Back in St. Joseph, he ran a general practice until 1890 when he became exclusively a surgeon. He was instrumental in starting the two colleges that would eventually merge to be come Ensworth Medical College, where he served as dean for several years. He also published a medical journal and owned a considerable amount of local real estate.
But the event most historians remember Dr. Geiger for was his part in a violent event that took place in Saint Joseph on April 3, 1882: the murder of infamous bank robber Jesse James.
Living under an alias in a rented house in Saint Joseph with his wife and children, Jesse James was unaware that one of his trusted partners in crime, Robert Ford, was plotting his demise. With a promise of a hefty reward from Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden, Ford shot James in the head while the legendary bank robber was supposedly straightening a picture on the wall. Ford’s brother, Charley, also fired a few shots.
Local coroner J.W. Hedden asked Dr. Geiger and two other doctors to assist him with James’ autopsy at a St. Joseph funeral home. They supposedly removed James’ brain during the examination while trying to determine the bullet’s path. A rather bizarre story circulated that one of the doctors (Geiger’s name was never explicitly mentioned) showed a local reporter a jar containing the outlaw’s brain, resting on his desk in his office. This claim has never been confirmed or denied.
In addition, oddly enough, the results of that autopsy have been missing for decades.
Rumors emerged that Jesse James had actually faked his own death and went on to live a peaceful life under the name J. Frank Dalton in Texas where he died and was buried. Because these rumors persisted, James’ body was exhumed in 1995 from its grave in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Kearney, Mo. A mitochondrial DNA test proved with almost 95 percent certainty that it was indeed the infamous bank robber.
Dr. Geiger’s English Gothic Revival mansion, designed by E.J. Eckel (who else?) in 1911, is still standing. United Missouri Bank renovated it into a bank in 1976, adding teller bays and drive-thru lanes. Saint Joseph real estate developer Steven Craig purchased it in 2011 and gave it a facelift. In 2014, the mansion was re-opened as a coffee house with a separate law office as tenants.
Dr. Geirger and Louise never had any children but they did indeed travel extensively. He practiced medicine right up until his death in 1934. His brother, Steven, who owned a dry good store in Saint Joseph and was elected a city councilman in 1880, is also buried at Mount Mora with his wife, Nannie.
Mount Mora Cemetery has more stories I could talk about. Several remain lost forever, never to be known. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit this special place and share a few of them with you.