Cape Girardeau residents mark founder's death

Monday, June 25, 2012
The crowd listens to Drew Blattner during the Louis Lorimier bicentennial commemorative celebration Sunday, June 24, 2012 at Old Lorimier Cemetery in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

About 120 people defied Sunday's heat to take part in a celebration 200 years in the making.

As the afternoon high temperature approached 97, generations of Cape Girardeau residents sat in shade from the massive trees in Old Lorimier Cemetery to hear the stories surrounding the establishment of the city during the Louis Lorimier Bicentennial Commemorative Celebration.

Lorimier died June 26, 1812, and was buried in the cemetery he created about four years earlier, shortly before his wife died.

Stan Baughn, chairman of the Red House Interpretive Center executive board, said Sunday's event was held two days before the actual anniversary of Lorimier's death to give people a chance to participate in the commemoration or observe it.

Lorimier was a friend to the Native Americans, Baughn said, and was able to perpetuate trade in the region.

"He provided a buffer between the Europeans and Native Americans," Baughn said. "War did not benefit him."

Dr. Frank Nickell, Southeast Missouri State University's director of the Center of Regional History, told the listeners scattered before him in lawn chairs that the cemetery links today's residents of the city with those who built the community more than 200 years ago.

Nickell named many of the area founders who are known to be buried in the cemetery.

They were the people who "built this community and took it through its first century," Nickell said. "It makes us different than other towns.

"Cemeteries teach us how we worshipped and what we valued as we tried to become a community."

He said such dignitaries as Amy Kimmel are buried in Old Lorimier.

Kimmel was influential in the development of parks and sidewalks in the city. She pushed for the pagoda that was erected in 1917 to cover the graves of the Lorimier family.

Historians believe there have been more than 6,500 burials at the cemetery, which contains about 1,250 grave stones.

The last burial in the cemetery was in 1993.

But vandalism, weather and time have been hard on the graves, officials said.

Over the past 20 years, improvements to security, such as the addition of a perimeter fence and the installation of security lighting have helped reduce vandalism.

Communities need to find creative ways to pay for maintenance for old cemeteries, Nickell said. Some have transferred cemeteries over to private organizations. In some places, the cemeteries are promoted as destinations for tourism.

Elaine Hendrix, 19, of Cape Girardeau stood in the shade of a large oak tree near the Lorimier family pagoda. Hendrix, dressed in a simple gray dress that nearly touched the ground, was performing a role, appearing as Charlotte Lorimier, Louis Lorimier's wife, who died a few years before him.

"She was the first one buried here," Hendrix said. "She was half Shawnee. She helped establish a relationship with the Shawnee and Delaware Indians."

Bruce Kahler, of Lindsborg, Kan., said he was impressed when he heard Nickell list many of the influential people buried in the cemetery, from prominent state and local politicians to business owners.

He said communities need to connect with places like Old Lorimier, because they help them connect to the past.

"Old Lorimier looks down on the Mississippi, as it always has. And now on the casino," Nickell said. "It connects the old and the new."

jgamm@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

500 North Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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