by Joe Bollig
LAWRENCE — Truly, the old cemetery on the east edge of Lawrence was haunted, but not by ghosts.
Rather, the Franklin Catholic Cemetery was haunted by lost history and chronic neglect. Portions were choked by brush and trees. Here and there, headstones were shattered or toppled.
That changed when members of Knights of Columbus Council 1372 from St. John the Evangelist Parish, and a few others from Corpus Christi Parish, both Lawrence churches, began to restore the cemetery last fall.
From adjoining Kansas Highway 10, the unmarked cemetery looks like just another hillside pasture topped by a clump of weather-ravaged trees. Occasionally, homeless persons established campsites in the thickets.
It’s safe to say that few of the thousands of persons speeding past the plot, which lies between the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers, are aware of the site’s significance and history.
For Brian Walter, a trustee with his council, cleaning up the pioneer cemetery was just an interesting service project — until he found his great-grandfather.
As part of the project, he obtained a list of known burials from the Watkins Community Museum in Lawrence.
“One name stood out — William Grauel,” said Walter. “I thought, ‘That name sounds familiar. How do I know that name?’
“Then I remembered that my mom and dad used to talk about Uncle Bill Grauel.”
When he asked his parents, they told him that their Uncle Bill’s father, William Grauel, was buried in a cemetery east of Lawrence.
In the course of clearing brush, Walter found his grave: William Grauel, Feb. 8, 1850 – Sept. 15, 1899.
Members of St. John the Evangelist and Corpus Christi parishes joined forces in spring 1994 to clear the cemetery, but no provision was made for maintenance. Over the course of the 20 years that followed, nature ran riot again. Only a portion was kept clear, and that by a local farmer who continues to cut and bale hay on the land.
The Catholic cemetery and the nearly disappeared Protestant cemetery on the next hill to the east are all that remain of the former territorial era pro-slavery stronghold of Franklin.
The site, near where the Oregon Trail fords the Wakarusa River, was recorded as a squatter claim in 1853. A post office was established in 1855 and, soon afterward, the town of Franklin was incorporated.
It was inevitable that clashes would occur between pro-slavery Franklin and neighboring Free State Lawrence.
In response to the sacking of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, the firebrand John Brown led Free State forces to attack Franklin on June 4, 1856. This battle was only two days after the Battle of Blackjack in southern Douglas County. The second attack on Franklin occurred on Aug. 12, 1856.
After Kansas joined the ranks of loyal Union states in January 1861, the fortunes of Franklin declined. People moved away and the town disappeared.
There never was a Catholic parish in Franklin, said Walter. The land was deeded as a cemetery in 1870, but the oldest tombstone is from 1869. Walter found references to burials in 1863, after Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. It’s possible the cemetery began as a small, family burial plot.
Just how many bodies are buried in the Franklin Catholic Cemetery is hard to say.
Records indicate burials as late as 1915, although the latest gravestone the Knights found is from 1911. There are 52 known burials in the cemetery, but they’ve been able to find only 17 stones containing 22 names. Records indicate that some graves were moved to Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lawrence. Both cemeteries are owned by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Walter hopes to gather groups of Knights on a semiregular basis to keep the cemetery from getting overgrown again.
“In the future, Mount Calvary Cemetery won’t have any more room,” said Walter. “At some point, this cemetery will be used by Lawrence as a new Catholic cemetery.”
“There are future plans to use it,” he concluded, “and, fortunately now, there are plans to maintain it to the best of our ability.”