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Old cemetery uncovered

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 27, 2011 - Researchers at the Missouri History Museum Library & Research Center are busy working through documents and articles, searching the history of a forgotten cemetery.

On Thursday, May 26, a construction crew dug up several bones and pieces of wood at 1316 South Seventh St., near Park Avenue and South Broadway. Director of Library and Collections at the Missouri History Museum, Chris Gordon, and other researchers discovered a map of St. Louis from 1839 that reveals the site was an old burial ground, possibly dating back to the 1810s.

"Whenever they find something like this, it is a true gem for research," Gordon said. "It is always a fun and unique opportunity to find new information about the city."

The bones were discovered on the site of a demolished Burger King restaurant about seven feet deep into the ground. Gordon's research revealed the cemetery was between two properties owned by early settlers in the 1800s Gabriel Cerre and Antoine Soulard. Gordon believes this was an ideal site for a cemetery as, in 1820, the city had passed an ordinance banning burials within the city limits. At the time, this site was just outside of those city limits.

Associate Archivist Molly Kodner is researching more about the cemetery in the Daily Missouri Republic, a St. Louis newspaper during the mid 1800s.

"We are skimming the newspaper trying to find any mention of the cemetery. It is really exciting for us to research the history of a site that no one knew about," Kodner said.

Kodner first became aware of a possible news article after a book from 1883 referred to the removal of the cemetery and to an article in the newspaper. A passage in the book reveals that the cemetery was moved, but the remains were not properly relocated at the time:

"The public cemetery, on Park avenue, west of Carondelet [then two blocks east of 7th Street], is to be recognized to-day only by the three to four broken tombstones which are left. Not a single trace of the enclosure exists, and as a new cellars excavated or an adjacent street improved, the remains of the dead are taken up carelessly, to be placed in this or that cemetery."

Gordon and Kodner believe that because there was no conscious effort to relocate the remains, they most likely are those of poorer people or people not considered to be in the elite at the time.

More information about the cemetery and the remains is still being researched, but Gordon hopes that more information is uncovered at the site.

"More digging would be of great help to our research. If we can find a tombstone or other identifying items that would help us gather more information on those buried at this site," Gordon said.

Jonathan Ernst is a senior at Saint Louis University and an intern for the St. Louis Beacon.