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Valley Center historian Vince Marshall uses dowsing rods in his research to find deceased people in unmarked graves. Here, he uses the rods to verify the gender of a marked grave from the late 1800s at Maple Grove Cemetery just east of I-135 on 85th North. See how to dowse for graves, Page 8.

If these graves could talk
By Les Anderson
Last Updated: March 25, 2010

Something is bothering Vince Marshall.

He can't figure out who is buried in all the unmarked graves at Maple Grove Cemetery just across from the Kansas Coliseum.

Marshall isn't talking just about graves that are inside the cemetery fence east of I-135 on 85th Street North.

He's more concerned about the graves he said are outside the fence, in the interstate right-of-way on the northwest and in the area south of the Park City water tower on the northeast.

More unmarked graves are inside the cemetery fence on the southwest and east sides, Marshall said.

In all, he added, there are more than 250 unmarked graves. Who is buried in those graves is a mystery, he said.

Marshall knew there were some unmarked graves in the middle of the cemetery. Longtime resident Murl Thompson, in a recorded interview with the late Valley Center historian Marcelyn Harris, said there were 15 graves with no markers, including one for a female Greenup child that once had a marker but is now buried.

Thompson, who died in 1989, said the graves in the middle of the cemetery contain stillborn babies or young children. Thompson was the next-to-last person to be buried in Maple Grove, also called Hoss Cemetery to distinguish it from Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita.

Outside the cemetery fence

Many of the unmarked graves Marshall said he has located inside and outside the cemetery fence contain children. He locates the graves by dowsing with two metal rods. He also said by dowsing he can determine the gender and approximate size of bodies buried in those graves.

Why so many unmarked graves, and why so many unmarked children's graves?

Marshall said Maple Grove Cemetery likely provided an inexpensive burial site for paupers. Parents too poor to bury their child in a family plot may have buried them there.

He also said disease and epidemics caused a high number of children's deaths. Marshall's research showed that there was a scarlet fever epidemic in the late 1800s.

If that many children from Valley Center had died in an epidemic, it would have decimated the small community. His search of Valley Center records show no such epidemic.

He figures the children may have come from Wichita. To keep diseases from spreading, he said, children who died during an epidemic might have been buried in a cemetery located away from a populated area, a place like Maple Grove near Valley Center.

Marshall found references in the Wichita Weekly Beacon in the late 1870s to cases of scarlatina, a less-acute form of scarlet fever. Later in the same year, he found references in the Beacon to children dying from scarlet fever. Families were urged to avoid meetings and gatherings.

Marshall said death records monitoring the deaths in that era were inadequate.

Cemetery opened in 1883

Thomas Hoss and Henry Raymond each owned 160 acres of adjacent farmland near what is now 85th North and I-135. They gave land for the cemetery to the Maple Grove Association on June 13, 1883.

Maple Grove Cemetery was given to the state of Kansas on March 17, 1967. The cemetery has been cared for by Grant Township since 1935.

Paul Carey, a member of the Grant Township board, said the township maintains Maple Grove, as well as Sunnydale Park Cemetery just north of 101st on Hydraulic.

Carey said the township became involved with the title to the cemetery when Park City wanted to erect its water tower on land it annexed north of the cemetery.

“We gave them an easement in exchange for them putting up a new chainlink fence for the cemetery," Carey said. “The easement saved them a couple of bores, and helped them get water to their new developments. And we needed a new fence."

Carey said he and Marshall have discussed the unmarked graves Marshall says are both inside and outside the cemetery fence.

Carey said he has no knowledge of the graves, but said if there are unmarked graves close to where Park City put its water tower, the construction company likely would have disturbed the graves during construction.

“That's a million-gallon water tower," Carey said, “and it would have to have a pretty big base. If there were graves there, they should have hit them because they had to go down twice as deep as any grave."

Jack Whitson, city administrator in Park City, said the original site of the tower had to be shifted 25 feet to the north because of poor soil conditions.

That was after the construction company had dug a hole, he said, adding that he didn't see any sign of graves or bodies during the digging, which originally was within 10 feet of the north cemetery fence.

Like Carey, Whitson said the base of the water tower is huge.

Marshall said he detected some unmarked graves just beyond the north fence near the water line that leads to the water tower. He said he did not dowse
for graves near the tower.

Carey said records for the cemetery are incomplete or missing. He's not sure if or when the township received the records.

Besides Thompson, who was buried in 1989, Carey said the  most recent grave belongs to Marie A. Cowan, who died in 1993, just nine months short of her 100th birthday.

Because cemetery records are incomplete, no other graves will be dug at Maple Grove.

“Since we don't have an accurate map, we don't know what still is available, or where," Carey said.

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