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"Reflections of Change: Death and Cemeteries in the Boonslick Region of Missouri"

Maryellen Harshbarger McVicker
Dr. Osmund Overby, Dissertation Supervisor



        Cemeteries are the final stop in the journey of life and they are unique because they are usually only added to, not subtracted from.  Thus, they offer the chance to study an undisturbed continuum of cultural change which has the potential to be the most complete and authentic.  In the Boonslick region of Missouri, in the center of the state along the Missouri River, cemeteries exist from the days of earliest white settlement to the present.  Thus, this region can legitimately serve as a microcosm of the state since all groups were in the area at some point.  This first survey of a region in Missouri confirms that the first settlers buried their dead in private family or community burial grounds (unsanctified ground) following the cultural patterns of their origin areas in the Upland South.  A couple of generations after first settlement, this was followed by burials in church graveyards which was the method preferred by the other major white ethnic group, the German settlers.  Finally, municipal cemeteries evolved and one Romantic, rural park cemetery, Walnut Grove, capped the movement.  Distinct and separate from the above pattern are the cemeteries for those of African American descent where factors other than culture affected burial patterns.  Gravestone styles reflect more rapidly the shifts in attitude and lifestyle and mark narrower distinctions of cultural change.   They are visual symbols of the values and taste of each period.  In the period of settlement the stones are often crude and locally carved.  As the frontier receded, the influences from more settled eastern states invaded then area.  During time of economic prosperity, the stones are large and grand; permanency and material ism became important.  The invisibility of modern death is reflected in the smallness of the twentieth century gravestones and the manicured lawns of modern cemeteries with flat stones.

Chapter One: Introduction

Chapter Two: Cemeteries of the Boonslick and Their Role

Chapter Three: The Mitchell Family Burial Plot: A Case Study in a Boonslick Family Burial Plot

Chapter Four: Church Graveyards

Chapter Five: The Rise of Rural Park-like Romantic Cemeteries

Chapter Six: Walnut Grove Cemetery: The Outstanding Rural-Park Cemetery in a Municipality

Chapter Seven: Markers of Change: Gravestones in the Boonslick

Chapter Eight: Marble Headstones and New Motifs

Chapter Nine: Monument Men: A Generation Apart

Chapter Ten: Granite, Metal and Later Motifs

Chapter Eleven: The Culture of Death and Burial: A Case Study

Chapter Twelve: A Future for the Past: Problems and Suggestions

Appendix A: African American Cemeteries: A World Apart