Woman hopes to identify dead in potter's field near Kansas City

Sunday, May 25, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After a decade of digging, Gloria Lundy finally found the missing piece to her family tree in a potter's field.

Now she wants to give others a chance to honor their descendants, too.

Once Lundy learned her grandfather was buried in a potter's field near Kansas City's Municipal Correctional Institution, she made it her task to identify and recognize the thousands of other paupers, patients and murder victims who were unceremoniously dumped there nearly a century ago.

Through her work, an informal memorial service is scheduled for May 31.

"None of these people ever had any words said over them," said Lundy, a 62-year-old school nurse. "I want them to have a memorial service and I want their descendants to be able to find them."

Lundy's quest to identify the dead started earlier this year when she was searching old death certificates available online through the Missouri secretary of state's Web site hoping to find her grandfather, Robert Williams Jones. She learned that Jones died in 1929 of diabetes, apparently penniless, and was buried at "Leeds," a cemetery she had never heard of.

After some research, Lundy learned that Leeds was an old potter's field, which had been called Municipal Farm Cemetery or Leeds Farm.

Now Lundy spends her weekends at the site, tramping her way through the rugged terrain in an effort to put names with the bodies under the ground. She's discovered hundreds of metal stakes with broken glass nameplates that once marked graves by city jail inmates.

Lundy also has started poring through old death certificates in an effort to create an inventory of the people buried in the field.

Audreay McKinnie and Corinne Patterson, members of the Midwest Afro-American Genealogical Interest Coalition, have helped Lundy, working for about a year to compile names of people buried in the area by combing the records of black funeral homes. The pair plan to make their research available to others in hopes of bringing closure to other families.

"If we don't keep our history together so others can research it, what good is it?" asked Patterson, who learned her aunt, Mary McCanse Brown, was buried in the potter's field in the 1930s.

The potter's field has two areas. The older section was used for burials from the 1910s to 1930s, while another section was used for segregated burials in the 1960s. The burial grounds became forgotten over the years, to the point that the jail no longer has records of the cemeteries.

Lundy estimates there are thousands of bodies in each section and has worked with area archaeologists to get the Missouri State Historical Prevention Office to recognize them as archaeological sites. She also would like the empty metal grave markers to be protected and perhaps have a meditation area created.

"I want it to be recognized as a cemetery by the city," Lundy said. "I want it marked."

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