Bodies still buried in Mission Hills Pioneer Park

But gravestones thrown into ravine at Holy Cross

The green patch at Washington Place and Randolph Street was once Calvary Cemetery.
  • The green patch at Washington Place and Randolph Street was once Calvary Cemetery.
  • Image by Rick Geary

Dear Saint Matt: Help! My husband and I have been arguing over this useless bit of info for four years. According to him and the headstones on the back ridge, Grant Park in Mission Hills used to be a cemetery. I’m perfectly willing to leave it at that, except for one minor detail. He claims that the bodies are still there. I have a hard time believing that the city or the neighborhood would allow a park with dead bodies in it. Picture it: Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Jones are sitting on a bench discussing feminine freshness. Meanwhile, Johnny and Freddy are helping Fido dig up Mrs. Schaeffer’s arm so they can play fetch. And everyone’s okay with this? What gives? Who’s right, me or Hubby Man? — Terminally Curious in University Heights

This week’s “Truth Is Ten Times More Revolting than Fiction” award goes to (ta-da) Hubby Man. Our panel of judges made allowances for the fact that it’s Mission Hills Park (or Pioneer Park), not Grant, because the notion of picnicking on the departed neatly fits the spirit of the award. The history of the site is so convoluted that we’ll skip a lot of the details. Briefly, the green patch at Washington Place and Randolph Street was once Calvary Cemetery. It opened for business in 1874, when the Campo Santo in Old Town was full-up, and filed away its last applicant in 1960. Originally, half the site was to have been a Catholic cemetery, half a Protestant cemetery, but the Protestants never used their portion. That ground’s now partly covered by the park’s tennis courts. Maybe Protestants are just more interested in tennis than death.

Calvary began to fall into disrepair in the 1920s, the city took over the site in 1941, and neglect and vandalism took their toll for another 20 years. In the 1970s, the city removed all but the most historically significant of the headstones and dumped them into a ravine at Holy Cross Cemetery. One public faction wanted them back, declaring, “The stones belong with the bones,” but the locals wanted a park. If you still don’t believe Hubby Man and me, consider the wording on the plaque adjacent to the monuments: “Dedicated to the memory of all those interred within this park.” Make that still interred. They’re down there somewhere, about 2000 of them.

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