Prospect Hill Cemetery: Alive with HistoryMar 01, 2022 11:43AM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo via History Walks LLC
Stan Baumann was a resident of Prospect Hill Cemetery for 30 years. Not one of those residents, however.
Baumann is a former curator, and he’s nowhere near ready to join his maternal ancestors interred on the grounds. Although he’s no longer in that official role with Prospect Hill, he continues to be a champion for the richly historic site.
Baumann’s dedication to honoring the departed may be in his DNA. In 1879, his great-grandfather John Bloom founded the J.F. Bloom Monument Co., which continues today as J.F. Bloom & Co.; his grandfather, Alvin Bloom, and mother, Louise (Bloom) Baumann, served on the board of trustees for Prospect Hill Cemetery. Baumann’s involvement began in 1979.
“I’m now the longest-serving person at the graveyard,” Baumann said. “I’m involved for life.”
As a longtime advocate, Baumann said he has persistently presented a wish list to the current Prospect Hill board that includes finding funding to support a grounds crew of at least two people to provide more extensive upkeep; to repair vandalized and damaged monuments; and to restore the interior road. He also urges trimming some of the trees on the cemetery’s east side; the North Omaha hilltop location offers a spectacular view, but foliage obscures visibility of the Missouri River, downtown Omaha, and Eppley Airfield much of the year.
“It gets overgrown so fast,” he said, adding, “How can Omaha’s historic cemetery still be a mess? It just boggles my mind; it should be the most beautiful cemetery in town.”
Prospect Hill Cemetery, designated a historic site in 1979 by the Landmarks Commission of Omaha and the Omaha City Council, is the final resting place for more than 15,000 people. It’s believed to be the oldest pioneer cemetery in Omaha, Baumann said, and is one of the oldest in Nebraska. It seems that its 17-and-a-half acres were always destined to be a burial ground.
“Before [Territorial Legislator] Alonzo Salisbury was buried here—burial permit number one in 1858—there were people being buried here,” Baumann said. “We have records of people, maybe 20 or 30 people, buried up on the hill before it was a cemetery. And the Indians buried [people] here before that.”
Most of Prospect Hill’s oldest markers are on the north part of the grounds; first and second additions to the south were added over time. However, a nearby neighborhood absorbed some of what was once burial land.
“There used to be an Omaha Cemetery that stretched across Parker, to where those houses are,” Baumann said, pointing south.
Research from Prospect Hill and Nebraska State Historical Society websites reveal that real estate developer and politician Byron Reed led the formal organization of Prospect Hill Cemetery in 1860 following the authorization of cemeteries by the Territorial Legislature in 1858. Reed also acquired land that included the adjacent former Cedar Hill and Omaha City Cemeteries and consolidated them into a single entity. Most of the graves were moved to Prospect Hill, and some to Forest Lawn Cemetery, but Baumann said he believes some remain deep under lawns and houses.
Historical markers and the Prospect Hill website show that several buildings were built on the Prospect Hill property, including a chapel and receiving vault at the “circle” on the north side, later demolished and replaced by a gazebo, which is also gone. The current chapel, receiving vault, and curator residence, where Baumann lived for three decades, was reportedly built in 1917 and marks the cemetery’s entrance off Parker Street; the grounds span an area between 31st and 33rd streets. The former 33rd Street entrance is now closed off. Further research showed that in 2002, the City of Omaha installed directional signs on 30th Street for cemetery visitors.
Many prominent Omahans are buried at Prospect Hill. A stroll through the grounds is a discovery of names seen on city street signs, such as Poppleton, Woolworth, Paddock, Redick, Lake, and Drexel; associated with historic and enduring parks such as Krug, Hanscom, and Hummel; and in local history archives and on buildings: Metz, Kountze, Sorenson, and Buffett. Another buried there is John W. Nichols, Civil War guard to President Abraham Lincoln. So is Ezra Millard, whose family name lives on in suburbia. The notorious madam Anna Wilson and her companion Dan Allen, who ran a large local gambling house, have a large and distinctive monument. Founder Byron Reed himself was laid to rest at Prospect Hill.
The cemetery also contains a section of military graves from the Civil War era and late-1800s Army burials from Sherman Barracks (later Omaha Barracks and then Fort Omaha) in an area now called the “Omaha Barracks.”
According to news clippings provided by Baumann, in 1885, Byron Reed sold the graveyard to Forest Lawn Cemetery for one dollar, essentially donating the land. Soon after Reed’s death in 1891, however, a group of lot owners unhappy with Forest Lawn’s lack of attention to the property re-formed the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association to oversee the burial grounds. In 1979, Prospect Hill Cemetery Historical Site Development Foundation was established. A historic marker, which gives a brief history of the place, was set inside the entrance that same year.
Baumann said that, to his knowledge, the last Prospect Hill burial was “four or five years ago, maybe…We don’t sell lots. But if an old family wants to bury, if there’s room, we can bury.”
Until the day he dies, Baumann intends to continue beating the drum to generate public support in restoring Prospect Hill.
“This is Omaha’s historic cemetery,” he said. “It should be a showcase.”
Visit prospecthill-omaha.org for more information.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.