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Local History

The Old City Cemetery

 Stock photoGas Pipeline Men Dig into Remains of old cemetery
Skull and bones found in old Stephens Block cause old timers to recall "haunted" stories
Springfield, Mo. News and Leader October 26, 1930, page 2B

A crumbly skull or two and a few mouldy [sic] bones were all that was found by the men digging the natural gas pipe line ditch along Campbell Avenue between State and Mt. Vernon streets, but that was plenty to start the old timer recalling the "ghost haunted" cemetery which was there in the years gone by.

Long before the Civil War, Professor John A. Stephens, who established the first academy in Greene County, owned a small farm including the block now bounded by Mt. Vernon and Campbell Avenues and South and State Streets.  Before the days of the Civil War he deeded a piece of his land, the southwest corner of that block, to the city to be used as a cemetery.

Place of Gloom
Many burials were made there and for a time the place was kept up, but in the memories of the men who were boys forty or fifty years ago that cemetery was always a place of gloom, with uncut grass and underbrush growing high and tangling around the tomb stones. There were no large handsome markers such as one sees in the  cemetery today, but all small white stones not more than six or eight inches high but there was one grave with an iron picket fence around it.  Lewdon Sawyer, who is the grandson of Mr. Stephens, remembers when as a boy he and the neighbor children would take one of the markers out of the cemetery and erect it over the grave of any pet whether it be chicken or dog that might die in the neighborhood. Many small boys were afraid to go by the place after nightfall for there were tales abroad of the ghosts that roamed there and queer lights.

Mr. Stephens Shot Down
During the Civil War the Union soldiers came into town and a soldier, seeing Mr. Stephens hurrying toward his home, shot and killed him in his front yard.  The Stephen's block was burned for a battlefield, even the home being destroyed, and all the farm animals driven away.  Mrs. Stephens was left with nothing but the land on which to make a living for her six children.  The federal government made her postmistress of the city and she worked at that for a number of years.

When the city no longer used the cemetery, the land was sold to L. H. Murrary, an influential man of the town with the understanding that Mr. Murray would remove all of the graves to other cemeteries which he tried to do but some were missed and are being found only now, others were unearthed when State street was graded and paved some years ago.

A short history of the City Cemetery can be found in Greene County Missouri Cemeteries, Volume 9 Campbell township [page 217]... published by the Ozarks Genealogical Society, Inc.  A brief biography of John A. Stephens can be found in History and Directory of Springfield and North Springfield on page 75.

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