By Diane Euston
A postage-stamp sized preserved ground stands above the street, showing the layers of the land that have been carved away over the years. As the landscape around Linwood Pioneer Cemetery was greatly altered in the 1950s to make way for a shopping center to support the suburbs, it almost didn’t survive.
So many of these stories surface in my research- stories of these important early burial grounds that showcase the names of pioneers who chose a remote region to raise their families, harvest their crops and build a lasting legacy. But as bulldozers began pushing the ground around this once-two-acre cemetery to make way for Ranch Mart shopping center, those with loved ones buried at Linwood had something to say about it.
The story of Linwood Pioneer Cemetery at 3600 W. 95th St. and those buried within its drastically shrunken grounds reveal the tenacity and vigor of Johnson County’s early settlers.
The Creation of the Grounds
Prior to white settlement, the area in what is now Leawood, Ks. land was allotted to Native Americans. While some writings indicate that Wyandot Indian Dr. Grey Eyes owned the land where Linwood Cemetery is today, the 1854 plat map shows that Charles Bolt Garrett (1794-1867), a Wynadot, was in possession of the land.
The land was sold to Simeon W. Peeples and on June 10, 1873, he donated two acres of land to the Methodist Episcopal Church. The church was named Linwood along with a school nearby. A wood frame church was built and a cemetery established in its front yard. The first minister was Rev. John C. Telford (1829-1896), a man who traveled to Kansas and joined the church. Because of the remote region, Rev. Telford had several churches in his charge, including congregations in Spring Hill, Gardner, DeSoto and, of course, Linwood off current-day 95th St.
Burials in the cemetery predate the 1873 donation of land and creation of an organized church; it was common in remote areas to have community burial grounds. Some of these burials of these pioneers reveal an interesting story of the past.
The Rippeto Family: Divided
Still standing in the little Linwood Cemetery are several headstones with the Rippeto surname. Behind this name is a family torn apart during the Civil War.
Thomas B. Rippeto (1798-1850) and his first wife, Ann moved with his family from Tennessee to Jackson Co. before 1840 and settled north of current-day Martin City near Watt’s Mill. After his first wife died, he returned to his old home and married 18-year-old Sarah Ford.
Around 1845, Thomas’ oldest son, Oliver H. Perry Rippeto (1826-1896) moved back to Jackson Co. and worked in freighting. He gained a reputation as an Indian fighter and was known to sport a large caliber revolver. A short time later, the family traveled back to Missouri where they once again settled on land near Watt’s Mill.
In 1850, Thomas Rippeto passed away and his estate was held up for years in probate due to a divide in the family. His older children from his first marriage stood on one side while his second wife, Sarah and her children stood on the other. The division over money transformed into a division over loyalties during the Civil War.
Thomas’ children from his first marriage were Southern sympathizers; some of them owned slaves just steps away from the state line. Sarah settled on a segment of land owned by her late husband at current-day 99th and Madison Ave. Her stepson, Oliver H. “Perry” Rippeto continued to freight even at the onset of the Civil War.
A moment of life and death plunged Perry Rippeto even deeper into the Southern cause. While moving freight with a man named J.T. Palmer, Federal troops approached the men and asked where they were going and where their loyalty was. Perry lied and said he was a Union man while his friend, Mr. Palmer, admitted to his Southern sympathies.
The men were asked to take an oath of loyalty while a Union officer held a gun to their heads. Without much of a choice, Perry took the oath and narrowly escaped death. After their return to New Santa Fe at current-day 122nd and State Line, Perry strapped his revolver on his waist and proclaimed, “They have forced that oath upon me, and I don’t feel bound by it. They will never get me again alive.”
Perry enlisted in the Confederacy in 1862 and served with well-known southern Jackson Co. pioneers such as Stubbins Watts, Nathan Lipscomb and Turner Gill. He was captured on July 4, 1863 in Vicksburg and served through the remainder of the war. Perry passed away in 1896 and was buried at the Wells farm at current-day Avila University. He was later removed to Belton Cemetery.
Perry’s half-brother, William Harrison Rippeto (1842-1888) took a much different path and joined the 6th Kansas Calvary and served for the Union. Sarah continued to live on her farm with her single son, James until her death in 1896. After farming 20 acres just south of Minor Park, James A. Rippeto died in 1915. Sarah and her two sons are buried at Linwood Cemetery.
A Lethal Ending for an Early Pioneer
James Dennis Tennison was born in 1823 in Tennessee. At a young age, he moved to Illinois where he became a farmer and school teacher. There, he met his wife Lucy Wilder and was married in 1846. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Wisconsin. Around 1857, the family relocated to Johnson Co., Ks. where he settled on a farm on the east side of current-day Roe Ave. just north of 95th St.
A man who believed in temperance, Tennison was a well-known member of the Linwood Church. When he passed away at 73 from a sudden illness June 19, 1887, his friends and neighbors grew quite suspicious and demanded a coroner’s inquest.
The Topeka Daily Capital reported that the stomach, liver and organs were analyzed by a chemist at the University of Kansas, and found “arsenic enough in the stomach alone to kill two men.”
James’ wife, Lucy was immediately arrested for the murder of her late husband. Further investigation revealed that Lucy had confessed to a prior attempt to kill her husband with poison in 1876. The couple separated for a year after this unfortunate attack on his life.
Lucy was first set to go to trial in 1887 but it was thrown out on a technicality. An appeal was filed and was granted.
The second murder trial in 1889 included evidence that Lucy had purchased arsenic from a druggist at 9th and Main. When asked why she needed this, she told the druggist she was “killing rats.”
Witnesses included over 30 neighbors who testified to Mr. Tennison’s unusual illness and Lucy’s strange reaction to it. Neighbor Mrs. Hutton said that Lucy told her “she would put [her husband] to sleep and she had the stuff to do it with.”
Lucy was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life. When she arrived at the state penitentiary, she was described as “pinched and frail, weighing not to exceed 80 pounds.”
Just months later, the supreme court reversed the decision and Lucy Tennison was retried a final time in March 1890 where she testified for the first time. After a 14-hour deliberation, the jury found her not guilty of the murder of her husband.
Lucy died in 1897 at the home of her daughter in Aetna, Ks. and is buried there. James Tennison was laid to rest in 1887 in Linwood Cemetery where his memorial remains today.
Stolen and Returned
Born in 1877, Myrtle Manis, who went by Mabel, was married at 18-years-old to Luther Taylor. One year later at their farm about one mile from Linwood Church, Mabel died suddenly on Feb. 12, 1896 while sitting in a chair at her home. Heart failure was suspected- although she was only 19.
She was buried in her wedding dress at Linwood Cemetery.
The day after her funeral, her husband Luther returned to her gravesite to erect a headstone. The Kansas City Star reported, “He discovered tracks around the grave and white bow in the mud a few feet away. The ribbon had been on his wife’s shroud.”
With the help of neighbors nearby, Luther opened the coffin. Clothing that Mabel had been buried in along with her gloves were in the coffin – but her body was gone. Neighbors reported to the sheriff that the night before, they heard a spring wagon headed toward the cemetery. The newspaper proclaimed, “The ghouls left with [the body] in the direction of Kansas City.”
Although hard to imagine today, bodies were sometimes stolen by medical colleges to be used as cadavers. With the help of Kansas City police, every medical college was checked while the newspapers continued to report on the sad story of Mabel’s stolen body.
Just days later, a passerby noticed a naked body in a gully full of weeds near Belton, Mo. Possibly under pressure due to the press coverage, the thieves disposed of her body and were never found.
Myrtle “Mabel” Manis Taylor’s body was returned to her grave at Linwood Cemetery and covered with a layer of cement for safekeeping. Decades later, Mrs. Taylor’s body was in danger once again when the two-acre cemetery was compacted into a small patch of earth surrounded by a shopping center.
Making Way for a Shopping Center
Linwood Church stood for approximately 50 years before it was torn down; all that remained was the two-acre cemetery where families continued to bury their loved ones into the 1920s.
The land surrounding the cemetery was farmed for many years and was eventually sold to Chandler Landscape and Floral Company whose headquarters were at 47th and Ward Parkway. From the 1920s into the 1940s, the land was used for “propagation and growing of grafted evergreens” and eventually functioned as a retail outlet for the large company.
In 1958, real estate developer Vic Regnier (1917-2000) bought the land to be the site of a large shopping center he coined Ranch Mart. Vic had managed to overcome all obstacles as a child growing up during the Great Depression and become an award-winning builder of subdivisions in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties. As he began to develop the area around 95th and Mission, he recognized the dire need for a grocery store to anchor the new suburban community.
Modeling Ranch Mart after a friend’s strip mall in Palo Alto, Ca., Vic was able to develop the shopping center into some of the most coveted retail shops in the area.
In addition to buying the land surrounding Linwood Cemetery, Regnier also contacted the Methodist Missionary Society of Kansas City who owned the old burial ground – the land was sold in July 1958 to Regnier. At the time, the cemetery was in bad shape and burials had ceased for decades.
Shortly after Vic Regnier obtained the land, 16 relatives of those buried in Linwood Cemetery filed injunctions asking the court to halt any changes to the ground. The Kansas City Star reported, “The signers asked the court to order Regnier to refrain from removing graves, headstones, and trees, and restore the ground to the original condition.”
Saving the Cemetery
Remaining trustees of the cemetery fought Regnier to stop any development of the cemetery as parking lots and buildings were erected around it. The trustees claimed that in 1961, the developer was going to remove top soil and some of the bodies that had rested for decades on the land. In 1963, nearly 70 gravestones were vandalized and erosion due to the grading around the cemetery was so bad that the edge of a casket was exposed.
The court battle continued for years. In 1964, negotiations with the trustees and the developer ended; Regnier built a retaining wall around the cemetery in order to stop any further issues. What was originally a two-acre cemetery was downsized to a 128ft x 124ft enclosure. The area where the post office once stood at Ranch Mart used to be part of Linwood Cemetery.
In August 1964, 19 graves- including Myrtle Manis Taylor- were relocated at Regnier’s expense and reburied inside the portion of the cemetery that remained. After years of issues regarding the space, Vic Regnier was able to find a happy medium when he moved the graves into the gated grounds of Linwood Cemetery.
Through the 1980s, the cemetery was maintained by the Leawood Garden Club until funds were too tight to continue. Then, the Leawood Lions Club stepped in for several years to keep up with maintenance.
The last burials to take place at Linwood Pioneer Cemetery were Vic Regnier in 2000 and his wife, Helen in 2005. “We looked all over for a proper place,” Bob Regnier explained. “It seemed so fitting to have my dad there, overlooking all that he developed. It was poetic.”
Vic Regnier spent a bulk of his life standing on the corner and supervising the multiple businesses that helped build up Overland Park. He wasn’t just a man who built an iconic shopping center- he was a man who became a recognizable figure of the area. He put his heart and soul into turning Ranch Mart into one of the most successful strip centers in the area.
Today, the Regnier family maintains the small cemetery and the grounds; it is a peaceful place amidst commercial development.
If This Ground Could Talk
You could miss it if you aren’t looking. It stands four feet above the current grade of the road and is surrounded by a well-maintained fence and a brick retaining wall. The grounds, bounded by a cement parking lot, still sustains its charm.
The remnants of pioneers are hard to come by in the Kansas City area as new structures so often replace the past. Cemeteries, it seems, are often the exception. But in this case, it survived past all the odds. Linwood Pioneer Cemetery, surrounded by suburbia, may have lost graves and its size over the years, but what is left is a gateway to our past. Left behind in these sacred spaces are the names of so many settlers who have unique stories to tell.
Diane writes a blog of the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com