Tragic struck 1849 St. Louis when a cholera epidemic resulted in the deaths of thousands. But according to common belief at the time, urban cemeteries were a public health risk. So where to place all the bodies? Prominent residents of the city decided to build a new large cemetery well outside the city limits. It would become known as Bellefontaine Cemetery, and in time would be home to a famous explorer, an influential novelist and a baseball team owner, among many other fascinating figures.
The massive cemetery takes up over 314 acres and inters around 87,000 people. Fortunately, Bellefontaine Cemetery has entered the digital age, offering visitors with a smartphone app to help find particular graves. But aimless exploring is also a big part of the fun. Many of the most impressive tombs and monuments, in fact, belong to relative unknowns.
For those who’ve been to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Bellefontaine was actually landscaped and designed by the same person: Almerin Hotchkiss. Some of the cemetery’s individual mausoleums, meanwhile, were designed by notable architects like Louis Sullivan.
In addition to prominent businessman and celebrities, Bellefontaine Cemetery is also home to victims of the 1855 Gasconade Bridge train disaster and numerous Civil War veterans.
Furthermore, Bellefontaine is also an accredited arboretum, and is home to over 180 tree species.
Exploring Bellefontaine Cemetery
Bellefontaine Cemetery is best appreciated by spending at least a few hours there. Given its massive size, the cemetery should be explored by car (there are only roads and no walking paths). But if you don’t have access to one, you can still have an enjoyable day by taking a taxi over and seeing as much as you can on foot.
You can download the official app on your phone to help with navigation, while many notable graves are even marked in Google Maps. As there’s no single best way to get around, the graves featured below will be ordered alphabetically and not based on location.
Eberhard Anheuser (1806 – 1880) is best known for leading the Anheuser-Busch Company. First, he acquired the indebted Bavarian Brewery Company before changing its name to Eberhard Anheuser and Company. Later, he’d partner up with his son-in-law, Adolphus Bush, also entombed at Bellefontaine (see below).
Anheuser had grown up in Germany before moving to the US in 1842, and he was also known as a prominent soap and candle maker.
William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs (1914 –1997) is easily the most famous writer buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery. One of the most prominent authors of the Beat Generation, Burroughs is known for books like Naked Lunch and Junkie. But he wrote no less than eighteen novels in total.
Burroughs experienced living throughout the United States in addition to Mexico and Morocco. Many of his works go into detail about his experiences as a drug addict and his interactions with various subcultures. His work continues to influence a wide range of artists today, from other writers to musicians.
Arriving at his grave at Bellefontaine, you’ll probably first notice the large obelisk with ‘William S. Burroughs’ written on the side. But that’s actually the grave of his father, a wealthy St. Louis inventor. The author’s grave just next to it is marked by a considerably more modest tombstone.
Adolphus Busch (1839 – 1913) was a well-known brewer who ran the Anheuser-Busch Company with his father-in-law (see above). And like Anheuser, Busch was also born in Germany. As a young adult he emigrated to St. Louis which was home to a large German community at the time. And that meant that there was also a large market for beer.
Following Anheuser’s death, Busch became president of the company. And thanks to his marketing expertise and innovations like refrigerated freight cars, he helped Budweiser become a nationally recognized beer brand in the 19th century.
Today at Bellefontaine, the Busch Mausoleum is one of the more notable tombs on display. It was designed by the Barnett, Haynes & Barnett architectural firm in the Bavarian Gothic style but made with local stone. It supposedly cost around $250,000 to build at the time, which equates to over a couple million dollars today!
Not everyone might recognize the name William Clark at first, but the term ‘Lewis and Clark’ should definitely ring a bell. Clark, together with his partner Merriweather Lewis, were among the first people to explore the western half of the United States.
The expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804, shortly after the US acquired the huge central portion of the country in the Louisiana Purchase. And the purpose of Lewis and Clark’s expedition was to find the most direct route to the Pacific Ocean.
They were also tasked with mapping the western territories along the way, and with establishing trade relations with various Native American tribes.
Lewis and Clark’s two-year journey officially began and ended in St. Louis, now nicknamed ‘Gateway to the West.’
Afterward, Clark stuck around in the city, handling Indian Affairs for the Louisiana Government. And at some point following his return, he became a Freemason. Accordingly, his grave at Bellefontaine is adorned with Masonic imagery.
Anheuser-Busch may be a world-famous brand, but the Griesedieck Bros. Brewing Company has a history that’s just as old. In fact, there are many graves of various Griesedieck family members spread throughout Bellefontaine.
One of the most impressive graves is that of Anton Griesedieck, the one responsible for bringing his family’s brewing tradition from Germany to St. Louis. His sons would later run a collection of various brewing companies throughout the region, but they’d be hit hard during the prohibition era.
The Griesedieck Bros. Brewing Company was more recently revived in 1992 by descendants of the family, and its beer is now widely available throughout the St. Louis area.
The central portion of Anton’s granite gravestone features a bust of the man himself. Meanwhile, a sculpture of a woman in mourning sits on top.
You’ll also notice graves of other members of the Griesedieck family just nearby.
The grave of Herman Luyties (1871 – 1921) is among the most unique at Bellefontaine Cemetery. And it has a rather creepy backstory. Luyties, the owner of the first drug store in St. Louis, took a trip to Italy at the turn of the 20th century. There, he fell in love with a model who ultimately rejected his proposal for marriage.
But Luyties couldn’t let her out of his mind, and he even commissioned a sculptor to immortalize his former lover in stone.
Now, in some form at least, Luyties can lie forever with the woman who wouldn’t have him. Over time, the marble statue gradually eroded due to weather, and so it was later placed in the glass box we see it in now.
Another notable mausoleum entombs Frederick Wallace Paramore (1855 – 1916). His family founded the St. Louis Compress Company in 1873, the largest cotton compress company in the country. His mausoleum almost looks like its own little castle.
For fans of Egyptology, the Tate Mausoleum is one of the most interesting at the cemetery. Constructed in 1907, it inters Frank N. Tate, a prominent theater tycoon who ran theaters in St. Louis, Chicago and New York.
Both railings are adorned with sphinxes, with faces that could possibly be meant to resemble Tate himself. And above the door are carvings of ancient Egyptian sun symbols.
Chris von der Ahe
Chris von der Ahe (1851 – 1913) was the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, then known as the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Born in Germany, von der Ahe started out in St. Louis as a grocery store clerk. But he gradually worked his way up, eventually purchasing the store itself. And from there he bought the local baseball team which had been going through some serious financial troubles.
The Browns, as they were widely called then, had great success with von der Ahe as owner. And he became a well-known public figure in his own right. Eventually, though, the team would lose many of its best players and von der Ahe’s stadium would catch on fire, ultimately costing him his team. Von der Ahe ended up as a bartender, not unlike his humble beginnings as a store clerk.
Interestingly, the statue of him at Bellefontaine once stood outside of his ballpark. It caused quite the controversy at the time. People were aghast that instead of honoring his star players, a team’s owner would erect a statue of himself!
The Wainwright Tomb
The Wainwright Tomb is one of Bellefontaine Cemetery’s most well-known mausoleums. It was designed in 1891 by renowned architect Louis Sullivan.
It comprises of a dome over a cube that’s been decorated with lines of floral patterns. The design is simple, yet feels especially exotic in a North American setting.
The Wainwright Tomb is one example of a tomb’s design being better known than the person inside it. At least currently.
Entombed here is Elis Wainwright, a millionaire brewer who lived from 1850 – 1924. He’s also known for the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis, one of the world’s first skyscrapers. Notably, Louis Sullivan designed that too.
But the tomb was originally constructed for his wife Charlotte who’d passed away at the age of 34. Wainwright would then go on the run to Paris after being indicted in a bribery scandal. Decades later, he was finally entombed next to his wife upon his death.
This unique mausoleum is where James Westlake, founder of the Westlake Construction Company (1871 – 1944) and Nellie Westlake (1872 – 1951) are both interred. It’s the only open tomb in all of Bellefontaine, lacking the doors found on all other mausoleums.
Entrance to the cemetery is free. It’s open daily from 8:00 – 16:30.
To get there from central St. Louis, take I-70 and get off at exit 245B. Head down West Florissant Avenue until you eventually see the entrance to the cemetery on your right.
Before visiting St. Louis, understand that public transportation is virtually nonexistent. And while not a huge city, it’s much too spread out to walk comfortably from place to place. Unless you’re willing to ride an Uber every day, having a car is a must.
As you’ll need a car to get around regardless, location is not incredibly important as long as you’re somewhere relatively central. In addition to a myriad of hotels, there are plenty of Airbnb options as well, which is oftentimes the better value.