The answer to that question (at least at Calvary and Sts. Peter and Paul Cemeteries) is partially answered by these fascinating articles written in the 1950-60s in St. Louis Newspapers. Thanks to Mary Ann Molner, of Kansas, for providing these articles.
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August 5, 1951 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
1000 Gravestones With Old Names Removed From Calvary Cemetery
Markers Being Destroyed Without Consulting Plot Owners - No Payments Made to Care for Areas
More than 1000 gravestones and monuments in Calvary Cemetery, many of them bearing the century-old names of early St. Louis settlers, have been removed from their places and are being destroyed by the administrators of the cemetery without consultation of plot owners or their representatives, the Post-Dispatch learned yesterday.
The cemetery, which covers 468 acres centering on the 5200 block of West Florissant avenue, is one of four official cemeteries of the Catholic Archdioceses of St. Louis, and is administered by the archdiocese.
The Rev. James R. Hartnett, who, as archdiocesan director of cemeteries, is directly in charge of their administration, asserted the grave markers in Calvary have been removed because the cemetery has received no payment for keeping up the plots.
The markers, together with tons of marble entrances and borders, crosses, urns and other emblems, have been pulled from the graves and stacked near the cemetery maintenance sheds. The cleaned-out areas have been graded and leveled.
Father Hartnett described the program as a combination economy and beautification" move.
"The renovating is being done in the older sections of the cemetery where very few plots are endowed with perpetual care.' Father Hartnett said. "It is financially impossible for the cemetery to assume the burden of caring for these abandoned lots with all of the monuments and markers on them. It is all we can do to keep them mowed when they are clear and level."
"Our position is that, if the markers have toppled over, the plot owners have no apparent interest in the cemetery," Father Hartnett said. "We feel we not only have a right to take them out, but that we have a duty to do so because they are unsightly, hazardous, and increase the cost of maintaining the cemetery as a whole."
Family names like Philibert, Patrick Madden, Deloughray, McCormack & Maguire, James Daneri, Marion Lynch, Husman, Mennemeyer and Fischer were a few of those dearly in view on top of the discard pile.
"We made no attempt to consult the families because it would have been impossible to trace down every one of them," Father Hartnett said. "Several notices were carried in the Catholic Register. There was ample opportunity for the plots to be fixed up. before we removed the markers."
Grave Markers at 2nd Cemetery Removed Over Upkeep Fee Issue
More Than 500 Stones Taken Off at SS. Peter and Paul, Administered By Catholic Archdiocese.
Grave markers and monuments by the hundreds have been removed by officials of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery, 7030 Gravois avenue, because the cemetery has not been paid for up-keep of the private lots, the Post-Dispatch learned yesterday.
The cemetery is owned and administered by the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. A similar removal program, as reported by the Post-Dispatch last Sunday is in progress at Calvary Cemetery, 5239 West Florissant avenue, which also is administered by the archdiocese.
An estimated 500 to 600 stones and markers have been removed at SS. Peter and Paul and the graves graded and leveled. Some graves have been left completely without identification.
The only effort to notify owners of the lots, or their families or relatives, has been through notices in the St. Louis Register, official archdiocesan newspaper. Three such notices have appeared since removal of the stones began two years ago. No attempt has been made to find or consult any individual family before removal.
Statement by Director.
Removal of the markers has been at the direction of the Rev. James R. Hartnett, who has been archdiocesan director of cemeteries for about two years. Father Hartnett described the procedure as only one part of a general "renovation and beautification" program in the older sections of the cemeteries.
Father Hartnett pointed out further that it was easier and more economical to mow level, unmarked lots than to clip around the "abandoned" gravestones, he said the cemetery could not afford to pay for the upkeep of these older, un-endowed sections unless the operation could be done cheaply. No grave markers which were in "good condition" have been removed, Father Hartnett contended, "regardless of whether or not the owner was paying for upkeep of the lot." Only those "in a truly hazardous condition" were taken, he said.
Results of Inspection
However, an inspection of the dumping grounds near the maintenance buildings of both cemeteries showed that the great majority of stones remained in reasonably good condition. Inscriptions on a great majority of the markers were either perfect or clearly legible, and were illegible on only a handful. An armed guard was placed st the 1000-stone dump at Calvary after the Post-Dispatch story appeared last Sunday, and persons since have been prohibited from inspecting the inscriptions.
One person turned away from the area was Ralph P. Bieber, professor of history at Washington University and an authority on settlers of this area in the last century. He was seeking further Information on the name 'Philibert," - which the article had quoted from one of the discarded markers. Many of the stones bear century-old names and dates.
"I have been in cemeteries of all church denominations throughout the nation, and never have I found grave markers being removed like this,' said Prof. Bieber. "Much of the history of our country is recorded in the old cemeteries such as these in St. Louis."
Visited Grave Frequently.
Mrs. Lena Ellensohn, 314 Weiss avenue, Luxembourg, was one of those who had a marker removed without having been notified. The stone which had marked the grave of her husband was removed last May although, she said, she and her children visit the grave frequently.
Mrs. Ellensohn found the marker in the dump yard and her son hauled it out. A monument dealer has repaired a chipped corner, and It will be replaced - after the cemetery Is paid a second $10 monument fee.
"They also took up some beautiful big trees near our lot," Mrs. Ellensohn said. "The people in the cemetery office told me it was too much trouble to rake The leaves and trim around the tree trunk."
B. W. Bier of Cincinnati, O., made a trip here Friday especially to check the condition of his father's grave In SS. Peter and Paul, after his sister Mrs. Arthur Tunniclift, 2608 Oregon avenue, wrote him of the removal of stones from Calvary.
"We found the stone still there, but the whole section was in the worst condition I've ever seen in a cemetery," Bier said. "The weeds were shoulder-high. I even stepped on three snakes trying t find my father's grave."
Bier said his father is buried in a one-grave plot, for which the cemetery will accept no perpetual-care payment.
"If we could have paid for perpetual care, we would have." Bier said. "But would it have made any difference? The cemetery promised us the grave we selected would be kept in order."
IN NORTH ST. LOUIS
By ROBERT JACKSON Globe-Democrat Staf (sic) Writer
Thick weeds hide the graves of many Civil War veterans in little-known cemetery in North St. Louis - Old Bethlehem Cemetery, 1000 Bittner st.
A reporter and photographer who visited the five-acre plot Wednesday found the weather- beaten head stones of Civil War officers and infantrymen from Missouri, Illinois and Ohio.
Neighbors told The Globe-Democrat that some of the graves were once decorated, particularly on Memorial Day, but have been neglected for years.
"It would be wonderful if someone could do something about the graves, with this year being the Civil War Centennial." said John R. Johnson, a Public Service Company bus driver of 5538 Riverview bl.
Mr. Johnson and his son, John E.. Johnson, and a neighbor youth, Williarn.Zellmann, of 4972 Alcott ave.. have often visited the plot to see how much history they could uncover.
Side by side with the graves of many civilians, most of whom died before 1910, are headstones with such names as "Felix Kistner, Company D, Twenty-eighth Ohio Infantry," "Cpl. Thomas Schmidt, Company Six, Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry," and "Franz Voss, Company F, Second Missouri Light Artillery."
OWNED BY CHURCH
The little cemetery is on a knoll just north of Calvary Cemetery. It is owned by Bethlehem (rest of article missing).