History Emerges During Dallas Cemetery Crawl

On the eve of All Hallows Eve, I found myself wandering through cemeteries and mausoleums as a participant in Preservation Dallas’ 2021 Fall Tour – Cemeteries of Dallas.

Historically, Preservation Dallas hosts its Fall Architectural Tour – inaugurated in 1996 with the houses of Clifford Hutsell – but in our paranormal world, cemeteries provided an alternative open-air adventure on a crisp autumn day. Learn more about the organization and its future events at preservationdallas.org.

Over two decades ago, I joined one of the Intown Outings to Greenwood Cemetery and remembered that our city’s history is written on the headstones there. I learned that familiar street names Gaston, Lemmon, and Field also belonged to prominent business and civic leaders.

Along with Greenwood, seven other historic cemeteries were on the self-guided tour: Western Heights Cemetery, Oak Cliff Cemetery, Oakland Cemetery, Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery, Temple Emanu-El Cemetery, Sparkman/Hillcrest Memorial Park & Mausoleums, and McCree Cemetery. They serve as timelines for the expansion of our city, revealing stories about poverty, slavery, reconstruction, segregation, prosperity, and adversity.

One hundred billion people have lived and died before us, and cemeteries represent a small moment of history.

Teresa Schnur

David Preziosi, executive director of Preservation Dallas, welcomed participants to an architectural symposium sponsored by Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home in the beautiful marble chapel of the Hillcrest Mausoleum designed by noted architect Anton Korn in 1936.
Versar, Inc., a leader in cultural resources management, sponsored the event. Dr. Michelle Wurtz Penton, cultural resources group manager at Versar and a City of Dallas Landmark Designation Committee member, was a panelist. She began at Versar as an intern focused on excavating and analyzing unmarked historic burials at the Potter’s Field of Greenwood Cemetery.

John H Slate, Dallas’ city archivist, served as moderator. The panel also included Tony Hanson, a genealogist and board member of the Texas State Genealogical Society, and Teresa Schnur, a funeral director with Sparkman/Hillcrest.

“Cemeteries tell us about our past and about our city limits,” Wurst Penton explained. “Cemeteries originally lay outside of the city on land not suitable for development. Burial grounds existed long before they were established as (for profit) cemeteries.”

The historic cemeteries of our city have shrunk over time as development encroaches on the land. Freedman’s has seen the most change with four land transactions requiring reinterment of 11,000 individuals.

As a genealogist, Tony Hanson sees cemeteries as documented evidence that a person existed. “Headstones, like birth and death records, preserve information,” he said, “and where a person was buried provides information on their religion and their social status.”
As a funeral director, Teresa Schnur is familiar with funerary traditions and practices.

“One hundred billion people have lived and died before us, and cemeteries represent a small moment of history,” she said.

“Historic cemeteries shrink over time, crosses and markers deteriorate, and stones sink,” she added. “Some individuals, like paupers, were buried outside of the fence and are forgotten. Other cemeteries are abandoned. Cemeteries like Sparkman/Hillcrest are perpetual care cemeteries where graves and crypts receive care year-round.”

Thankfully, archeologists, genealogists, and volunteers are working to document and preserve these cemeteries for the future.

Cemetery Chronology:

Oak Cliff Cemetery

First Burial 1844

Notable Families: Leonards and Wrights

The oldest public cemetery in Dallas County

Western Heights Cemetery

Established 1848

Notable Families: Stuck, Cole, Loupot, Coombes, and Fisher

Notorious Burial: Clyde “Chestnut” Barrow

Of Note: metal crosses and tombstones with German-language epitaphs

Hillcrest Memorial Park & Mausoleums

A Texas Historical Site

First Burials 1850s

Developed on land owned by William Barr Caruth

Notable Crypts & Graves: Mickey Mantle, Tom Landry, Greer Garson, Ross Perot, The Caruth Family, John Tower (Historic Marker), Judge Sarah T. Hughes, Mary Kay Ash, Jack Kilby 

Architects buried here: James Cheek, Roscoe P. DeWitt, Charles S. Dilbeck, Marion Foshee, George F. Harrell, Frank O. Witchell, Anton Korn, Mark Lemmon, George Dahl

McCree Cemetery

Dallas City Landmark

First Burial 1862

Notable Families: McCullough, Griffin, and Goforth

Preservation Dallas is actively engaged in preservation work at McCree using grant funds received from the B.B. Owen Foundation.

Freedman’s Cemetery and  Memorial Park

Established in 1869 by former slave-owner W.H. Boales

An exclusively African-American burial ground

Graves face east into “the Rising sun”

Wooden slabs mark the head and feet of the graves

Graves decorated with fresh-water mussel and seashells, broken china, marbles, dolls, toys, glass vessels, and pressed glass

Temple Emanu-El Cemetery

First Burial 1872

Notable Families: Neiman, Linz, Sanger, Harris, and Titches

“Rabbis Row” has the graves of Rabbis David Lefkowitz, Levi A. Olan, and Gerald Klein and their wives.

The mausoleum was designed by architects Duane and Jane Landry

Many of the headstones include both the English and the Hebrew name.

Greenwood Cemetery

First Burial 1875

Established by William H. Gaston (developer of much of East Dallas & founder of the State Fair of Texas) & W. H. Thomas

Notable Families: Slaughter, Cockrell, Oram

Oakland Cemetery

First Burial 1891

Notable Families: Dealey, Ervay, Thornton, Grauwyler, Armstrong, Zang, Belo, Minyard, Gano, Loudermilk, and Lawther

A “rural garden cemetery” with many beautiful monuments and sculptures, two designed by Achille Canessa of Genoa, Italy

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