City Cemetery Monument

Pictured are grave markers at the Washington City Cemetery Nov. 26. A historical monument is planned for the cemetery, which received a sign April 22 of this year.  

City leaders are hoping to erect a historic monument detailing the history of Washington’s City Cemetery, but first they are asking the public’s help in paying for it. 

Preliminary projections put the monument’s cost at $2,200, including installation. To date, the city has $150 that can be used to purchase the monument.

“We’d like to have it completed and installed in March,” said Marlin Heidmann, administrative assistant with the city of Washington. The topic of the cemetery sign and monument was brought up at last week’s historic preservation commission meeting as commissioners discussed the next phase of the two-step project to bring recognition to the cemetery. 

The first step in the process was completed in April when more than 60 people attended the unveiling of a new sign at the entrance of the cemetery. 

More than 400 people are buried in the Washington City Cemetery, a hilltop burial place adjacent to the Wildey Odd Fellows Cemetery and overlooking the sprawling city that is its namesake. Many of the people buried there, and even the cemetery itself, had been largely forgotten in the century-and-a-half since the first reported burial there.

The majority of the people buried in the city cemetery are Black or were too poor to afford plots in other cemeteries, according to city leaders. The first burials date back to an era when cemeteries, including church-owned cemeteries, were segregated. The cemetery’s last burial was in 2020. The cemetery is still open for future burials but on a limited basis, according to officials.

The late Marc Houseman, the longtime director of the Washington Historical Society and Museum, championed the cause for years, arguing that the city cemetery needed a sign or would run the risk of being completely forgotten. Houseman wrote the history of the cemetery, and his writings will be used as the source text for the historical marker. 

“Marc knew so much of our history as a community, so we are happy to have his words there to help us with this part of the project,” Heidmann said. She said she is also grateful to those in the community who helped raise funds for the city sign, which is now paid off, as well as to those who will help raise funds for the historic marker. 

The new cemetery sign was paid for using public and privately raised funds. The historic preservation commission donated its entire annual budget of $2,500 to the sign project. Other donors include the East Central College Civic and Community Engagement Committee, the Washington Historical Society and private individuals.

“It is a very heartwarming feeling to know that we are addressing something that has been going on for more than 100 years,” Heidmann said. “For more than 100 years, this cemetery and the people buried there were without any true recognition, but together we are changing that.”

Those interested in donating funds to the monument at the cemetery are encouraged to send their checks to Washington City Hall, 405 Jefferson St., Washington, MO 63090. Donors can mark the envelope to the attention of Heidmann and should write on the memo lines on their checks that the money should be used for the cemetery monument.