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Bellefontaine Cemetery is an interesting history lesson

5:17 PM, Mar 27, 2013   |    comments
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By Heidi Glaus

ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KSDK) - It is a beautiful, peaceful place where more than 85,000 people have been laid to rest, but Bellefontaine Cemetery is also a door into the past.

"Ah, this is heavy," Carol Shepley said as she pushed a mausoleum door open.

It's a place where extraordinary stories live on thanks to Shepley and her book "Movers and Shakers, Scalawags and Suffragettes: Tales from Bellefontaine Cemetery."

"So this was built by William J. Lemp, but since this is women's history month we're here to talk about Lillian. She was called the Lavender Lady because she always wore lavender," Shepley explained.

Always is apparently putting it lightly.

"She kept a team of seamstress on staff to copy the latest Paris gowns in lavender, but this also became one of the reasons she was divorced. It was the biggest scandal of the day.

Across the road rests another beautiful lady in what some have called the most beautiful piece of tomb architecture in the country.

"The story that goes with it is so great. Ellis Wainwright was one of the wealthiest men in town," Shepley said.

He's the man behind the Wainwright building, one of the first skyscrapers in the world.

"Just before it was even finished his beautiful bride Charlotte dropped dead of peritonitis so he commissioned this monument to her beauty," Shepley said.

But there are other women here known for much more than their beauty.

"The Coris won the Nobel Prize for science in 1947 and Gertie was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize," Shepley pointed out.

And then there's Eliza Haycraft, who no doubt left her mark even though there's no monument with her name on it.

"She died in 1871 and she made her great wealth entertaining the troops during the Civil War," Shepley said as she put entertaining in air quotes.

She didn't entertain like the USO, she was the biggest Madame in town.

"She wanted to be buried at Bellefontaine cemetery where her most prominent clients were buried, but the cemetery Board of Trustees said 'No, not you' and she said, oh you could tell she was a good business woman, she said 'Maybe I'll have to speak to your wives,' so guess where she's buried," Shelpley added.

So they sold her the plot, but with the stipulation of no monument and just think these are only four of the fascinating stories that lie beneath at Bellefontaine Cemetery.

You can take a tour this Saturday and learn even more about the amazing women who came before us in St. Louis. It's a free tour, but you do need to make a reservation, so call Bellefontaine Cemetery at 314-381-0750.


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