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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — After decades of asking people to move the remains of their relatives out of the deteriorating Oak Hill Cemetery mausoleum, the city of Lawrence is hoping for a different approach — ensuring the remains can stay.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Oak Hill Cemetery, including the public mausoleum, was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. The designation makes the city eligible for certain grants, and it has applied for a $90,000 Heritage Trust Fund Grant from the Kansas Historical Society to begin restoration of the 100-year-old mausoleum.

If awarded, the grant would pay for about 80 percent of the repairs, with the city-required match amounting to about $25,000. The city can re-apply for a grant annually. Parks and Recreation Director Derek Rogers said he sees the grant as an opportunity.

“I care about the cemeteries,” said Rogers, who began his position about three months ago. “I think it’s the right thing to do, and I saw that as a great opportunity to do a little more work on a 1917 mausoleum.”

A new local volunteer and fundraising group, Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery, is also spurring those efforts along. Group members said the idea for the group emerged following a Journal-World article published in April, in which descendants of some of those interred in the mausoleum expressed disappointment in its disrepair.

The features that once distinguished the stone mausoleum now mark its decline. The arched windows are filled with concrete, the bronze entry doors backed with plywood, the marble nameplates crumbled and the stained glass window broken. Once open to visitors, the mausoleum’s doors have been locked since 1985, according to newspaper archives.

Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery was one of the organizations that wrote a letter of support for the city’s grant proposal to restore the mausoleum. Group member Coyla Lockhart said the group’s conversations about improving the cemetery started with the mausoleum because it is one of the most visible structures.

“It’s such a symbol for the cemetery,” Lockhart said. “It’s the biggest structure there, and right now it just looks pretty scary and not cared for, and so I just think we really need to work on that.”

Pursuing a comprehensive restoration of the mausoleum is a new approach to an old problem.

In 1915, the Lawrence City Commission accepted trusteeship of the mausoleum from the Ohio Mausoleum Company, which transferred a $2,000 trust to the city to pay for upkeep. That arrangement has been problematic for the city for at least the past 70 years.

Piecemeal repairs have kept the mausoleum standing, but in some periods when roof leaks and other issues threatened, the tactic turned to relocation, according to newspaper archives. Newspaper accounts indicate the mausoleum once held the caskets or cremation urns of about 100 people, but about half of the remains are now moved out. Some remains were relocated decades ago, and not all of those changes are reflected in cemetery records.

Cemetery supervisor Mitch Young, who has been with the city for 20 years, said the city has made two efforts in that time to contact next of kin of those interred in the mausoleum. He said the city made arrangements with those families to relocate remains within Oak Hill. Before that, he is not sure.

“I know there were some people moved out before I took over in 1997, but I don’t know if they were all re-interred in Oak Hill,” Young said. “Before me, I think those people were taken out by family request.”

Young said the two recent efforts to contact relatives of those interred resulted in the relocation of about two dozen people’s remains.

But there are still the remains of about 50 people within the mausoleum.

If the city wins the grant, it would cover phase one of the mausoleum’s restoration, including roof repairs, joint repairs and mortar restoration for the outside of the structure, Rogers said. He said the grant would not be enough to restore the interior of the mausoleum, which is also in poor condition.

“The inside doesn’t get touched on this, so that would be something longer-term,” Rogers said.

The 60-acre cemetery is located on the eastern edge of Lawrence and continues to be used for burials. It is one of three cemeteries the city owns and maintains.

Oak Hill is the resting place of some of the victims of Quantrill’s Raid and veterans from as far back as the Civil War. The cemetery also contains the graves of several local historical figures, such as Lucy Hobbs Taylor and Forrest “Phog” Allen.

Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery has a broad scope. Lockhart said the group has been doing surveys of the cemetery to crosscheck records, document conditions and restore monuments. She said they have had high school and University of Kansas students volunteer to help with the surveys and that they plan to have cemetery cleanup days and other events in the future.

For Lockhart, she said volunteering in the cemetery is about remembrance.

“Whether it’s your grandfather or whoever, you don’t want them to be forgotten,” Lockhart said. “I think that by taking care of the cemetery, that it kind of shows everyone that we still care for these people.”

Rogers said efforts to improve the cemetery go beyond the mausoleum, and that a primary concern the department needs to address is the cemetery infrastructure, especially the roads. He said he plans to begin work on that front next year.

As far as the general upkeep of the grounds, Rogers said the assistance from Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery has helped identify and address concerns.

“I think connecting with volunteer groups like the Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery can be a great asset in helping address the needs of the cemetery,” Rogers said. “We have basically 2-and-a-half people to take care of three cemeteries, two full-time and one part-time, and it’s hard to get everything done.”

The city will find out Feb. 10 whether it is awarded the grant to restore the Oak Hill mausoleum.


Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World,