[The following article originally appeared as the December, 2007, installment of "Lake Stories with Michael Gillespie," in the Lake of the Ozarks Business Journal.]
ARE THERE GRAVESITES UNDER THE LAKE?
Don’t read this if you are squeamish about cemeteries. Especially don’t read this if you dread the thought that there might be burial sites under the lake directly in front of your property. You see, there is a fair chance that a long-forgotten cemetery site is out there, at the bottom of the lake, within sight of your home or favorite resort. And that cemetery may still be…well, occupied.
The portion of Osage River valley that we now call Lake of the Ozarks was settled by pioneers a full century before the lake existed. Those pioneers buried their dead in scores of cemetery plots—usually on their farms. And those farms tended to be in the valleys where the land was a little more fertile. Land that would be covered by the lake in 1931.
While Bagnell Dam was under construction, Union Electric, the company that developed the lake, did all it could to remove buried remains if the cemetery site fell below the projected shoreline of the lake. But it was a monumental job. The official count lists 60 cemeteries of various sizes—encompassing approximately 2,800 individual gravesites.
Only 1,121 burial sites were clearly identified with tombstones, according to records collected by area genealogist Patti Calton. The rest were marked in whatever fashion the families could afford: a rough-hewn stone with initials carved into it—or nothing at all. The grave diggers had to rely on word of mouth as to the exact location of many burial places. Often the next of kin had moved away, and no one was left who could point out a certain spot as the resting place of an ancestor.
Then, too, stories persisted among the old-timers that even when a gravesite was located, there was no purpose to looking for the remains. The unembalmed dead were buried in wooden caskets. Fifty or seventy-five years in the ground left little to find.
“I heard the old men talking about this years ago,” said Calton, a long-time area resident. “They said they just took a shovel of dirt from the old graves and took it to the new cemeteries. Because they had been buried so long, there wasn’t anything left.”
Eight new cemeteries were created by Union Electric to receive the disinterred. If the old burial site was marked with a tombstone, it was moved with the remains. If there were no tombstone, the new gravesite was assigned a number, and a metal plate bearing that number was placed over the grave. Written records commissioned by the company listed hundreds of gravesites with nothing but a simple notation: “unmarked.”
Genealogist Johnna Quick, who also has documented many area cemeteries, said that the process of moving the graves—marked and unmarked—from low ground to new burial sites was piecemeal, at best. “It was a big mess,” said Quick. “And I know that in some of the places they didn’t even get the names right.”
But more than getting the names right, did they actually move all the graves? “I think absolutely there were graves that never were moved,” says Quick. “I don’t know how they went about figuring out where the graves were. In some of the areas they put ads in the paper. If no one spoke up about it, I’m sure it didn’t get moved. I still come across things in old family histories that say a person was buried on the family homestead, and the homestead is under the lake, and you don’t find any listing for them being reburied.”
So where are these flooded cemeteries that lie under the lake? What follows is a partial list based on an index of inundated cemeteries compiled by Union Electric in 1931, and on surveys of the future lake bed made in 1930. I have included modern lake references, and mile markers, to better pinpoint the locations.
· MM 0.1, Thornsberry Farm Cemetery, in the second cove from Bagnell Dam on the south side of the lake, in front of Edgewater Beach Resort.
· MM 2, Ed Vann Farm Cemetery, in the middle of McCoy Branch Cove, in front of Point Randall Resort.
· MM 2, Muskrat Pond and West Muskrat Pond Cemeteries, in five foot of water on the first point west of Duckhead Point, south shore.
· MM 3, Birdsong Cemetery, near the mouth of Birdsong Cove just off Hidden Valley Road.
· MM 4, Wooley Cemetery, in Jackson Branch Cove in front of Lake Road W-12O.
· MM 8.5, Stevens Cemetery, opposite Twin Islands and next to Mallard Point Resort. Much of this cemetery still exists in a wooded patch along the shore, but fifteen graves supposedly were moved from the shoreline area.
· MM 11, Degraffenreid Cemetery, on the north side of the channel opposite Ozark Barbeque, in front of Palisades Drive.
· MM 12, Wallace Cemetery, on the north shore at the mouth of the unnamed cove in front of Southwood Shores Condos.
· MM 26, John McCrory Cemetery, in front of Tan-Tar-A Resort, in shallow water between the shoreline and the resort’s boat dock.
· MM 26.5, Crabtree Cemetery, opposite Tan-Tar-A Island, on the southwest shore in shallow water.
· MM 26.5, Garrison Farm Cemetery, in the center of the channel.
· MM 27, Shoup’s Bluff Cemetery, in deep water just off the north tip of the rock ledge called The Palisades, also known as Lyon’s Bluff.
· MM 31, Crane Cemetery, in mid-lake at the mouth of the Niangua Arm.
· MM 31, Ferry Cemetery, in Linn Creek Cove in ten feet of water at Lake Road Y-24.
· MM 31, Groom Cemetery, near the southern end of Linn Creek Cove, opposite Linn Creek Campground, in front of Lake Road 54-73.
· MM 31, Roach Cemetery, in Linn Creek Cove at the mouth of Possum Hollow.
· MM 35.5, Laurie Cemetery, in the center of Laurie Hollow Cove.
· MM 41, Davidson Cemetery, directly opposite Alcorn Hollow Cove, just off the shoreline in front of Lake Road 5-25S.
· MM 41, Jack Purvis Cemetery, just off the shoreline on the east side of the mouth of Staley Cove.
· MM 41.5, Houseworth Cemetery, north side of channel, in deep water.
· MM 42, Tombs Cemetery, on the north side of the channel in twenty feet of water.
· Gravois Arm, MM3, Gladstone Cemetery, north side of Gladstone Cove. This cove was the site of the village of Gladstone.
· Gravois Arm MM 3, Kays Cemetery, in the center of the lake between Gladstone Cove and Coffman Beach Public Access.
· Gravois Arm MM 3, Sheledy Hill Cemetery. This cemetery site was partially above the shoreline and is now under the boat ramp and rock fill at Coffman Beach Public Access. In earlier lake days, this was also the site of Coffman Beach Resort.
These are but 25 of the 60 known cemeteries that now lie under the lake. If you would like to know about others in your area, e-mail me at TheRiverWriter@aol.com.
Copyright © 2008 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.