MY FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE GEOFF STORY, A VERY TALENTED DESIGNER AND PHOTOGRAPHER/ARTIST, shared with me this image he took of a graveyard photograph attached to a gravestone at St. Louis’ famous and historic Bellefontaine Cemetery. Over 100 years have passed, giving this particular tombstone photographic image some very strange qualities. The gentleman’s hair has turned blue—an amazing cerulean blue! This angelic couple, floating in death by soft, cotton-like clouds, remain as a surreal image whose particular qualities fit our sensibilities today perfectly. This is an amazing photograph of a transformed-by-time photographic tombstone image.
The story of Bellefontaine Cemetery, a non-sectarian, perpetual care cemetery, begins with the year 1849, when many prominent citizens of St. Louis, who had the welfare of the City at heart, recognized that the old cemeteries located along Jefferson Avenue would soon have to be abandoned, since they were directly in the path of the City’s westward growth.
The movement for a new cemetery was led by William McPherson, banker and prominent lawyer, who had served as Mayor of St. Louis several times prior to 1849. They organized a group of notable men, regardless of their religious affiliations, and procured 138 acres of land on the Bellefontaine Road, — Hempstead farm. On the 7th of March, 1849, they adopted a constitution and incorporated under the name of the “Rural Cemetery Association”, received a Charter from the State of Missouri. At the next meeting of the Association, they decided to drop the name “Rural” and adopt the name “Bellefontaine”, because of the fact that the Cemetery was located on the old military road leading to the former Fort Bellefontaine.
They had acted none too soon, for in June of that year the worst cholera epidemic in all our local history came up the river from New Orleans. By the early part of July, it had so alarmed the community that all the city fathers, excepting the Mayor, fled from St. Louis with their families, leaving the Mayor to cope with the situation as best he could. Before the middle of August, more than ten percent of the City’s total population had perished. There were more than thirty funerals each day from the Catholic Cathedral; and from other prominent churches a like number.
As soon as the plague had abated, James E. Yeatman, a member of the Bellefontaine Association, went east to obtain the services of a competent landscape architect. At Greenwood Cemetery, in Brooklyn, New York, he found Almerin Hotchkiss, a man thirty years old and of good education. Mr. Hotchkiss embarked upon his career at Bellefontaine that autumn and held the position of Superintendent until his death, forty-six years later. He was succeeded by his son, Frank, who held the position for some twenty years.
The Cemetery, as we view it today, is largely the work of Almerin Hotchkiss. The original 138 acres was expanded to 314 acres by three additional land acquisitions before 1900. Approximately 70 acres of unused ground remain for future development. Bellefontaine’s fourteen miles of curved roadways were created to afford beautiful views of the landscape, seasonal foliage and lakes confined within its borders. The Cemetery, noted for its silent beauty, numbers 86,000 interments among 6,800 spacious family lots and numerous single grave areas. Bellefontaine continues to have one of the finest collections of trees in the St. Louis area.Learn more about this famous cemetery here.