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Rich history underlies Saturday’s Mormon ceremony in Richmond

The 'Three Witnesses' memorial originally was dedicated in Richmond 100 years ago. (Submitted photo)

By Linda Emley

On Nov 22,1911, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came to Richmond and sang at the Farris Theater. The Choir was here to dedicate the monument that stands in the Mormon Cemetery that marks the grave of Oliver Cowdery. It is also known as “The Monument of the Three Witnesses.“
Richmond Missourian, Nov 23, 1911: “The Cowdery Monument Dedicated. A special train of 8 Pullmans, a day coach and baggage car arrived here early yesterday carrying the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Salt Lake, officials and guests, numbering over 250 persons, for the unveiling exercise at the Farris Theater and the monument erected at the grave of Oliver Cowdery at the old Richmond Cemetery.”
Forty five descendents of the Whitmer family and many citizens of Richmond were present for this dedication.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir would come back to Richmond again in 1918 when Alexander Doniphan’s statue was dedicated at the Ray County Courthouse. Not many small towns in American have had the honor of hosting this world famous choir, so we are very lucky to have enjoyed their music on two different occasions.
One hundred years later, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is coming back to Richmond to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of this monument. On noon on Saturday, Nov. 19, a plaque will be placed on the site of the old cabin jail where Joseph Smith and several other church leaders were held in 1838. The jail site is located on Buchanan Street between Thornton and College streets. At 1 p.m., the celebration will move to the Mormon Cemetery. The 1911 musical program will be recreated with the singing of “An Angel From on High” and a new song titled “The Witnesses”. A reception will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. in the community room of the Ray County Library, 215 E. Lexington St. in Richmond. The public is invited to join in the celebration.
I thought this would be a good time to share a brief history of the Mormon Cemetery, which is also known as the Richmond Pioneer Cemetery. It was the main Richmond city graveyard from 1846 to 1875 and is sometimes referred to as the old City Cemetery. The last known burial was in 1881. After 30 years, most of the land was used and a new city cemetery was started on West Main Street.
The Pioneer Cemetery is located six blocks north of the square on the corner of North Thornton and Crispin Srreet. Based on a tombstone count, there are over 90 people known to be buried there. This is no ordinary cemetery because people from the entire world come to Richmond to visit it each year. History is abundant on this acre of Ray County soil.
John Richardson bought the land from John Thornton in 1845 for use as a family cemetery. On Aug. 13, 1846, Richardson deeded it to the city as a public burial ground for $80.
On March 3, 1850 Oliver Cowdery died in Richmond and was buried here. His wife was a daughter of Peter Whitmer and many from the Whitmer family are also buried here.
In Oct 1864, William T. Anderson was buried here in an unmarked grave. He was also known as “Bloody Bill”. It would be many years later before he would have a proper funeral.
In 1878, a cyclone hit the grave yard and trees were damaged and some tombstones were knocked over. After this, there is very little mention of this cemetery till the Mormon Church dedicated the Monument in 1911.
The next major event took place in 1949, when the Mormon Church sent Irvin Nelson and his son Rene to Richmond to restore the cemetery. Richmond News, Sept.5 1949, “Mormons Are Restoring Old Cemetery Here. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, has begun the complete renovation of the old city cemetery on N. Thornton St. Irvin T. Nelson and his son of Salt Lake City arrived here last Tuesday to begin work on the tangle of weeds and old stones that mark the ground where many of Richmond’s founders lie buried. The city authorities have cooperated in every way possible to ease the Nelsons’ task. Irvin Nelson said, “Mayor Manley has been extremely helpful and we hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between our church and the city of Richmond.”
The clean up began in the fall of 1949 and continued in the spring of 1950. A complex mapping and marking system was used to insure that the headstones were returned to their rightful place before a bulldozer filled in the holes and leveled the ground. Many extra tombstones were found and placed in concrete in the middle of the cemetery. The city of Richmond supplied manpower and a dump truck to haul off the brush and trash that was removed from the cemetery.
In 1949, the city of Richmond leased the cemetery to the Mormon Church for 99 years. The church later bought the house next to the cemetery which was torn down and a parking lot large enough for tour buses was built. Two markers were added around the Oliver Cowdery monument in 1950 that list the Richmond mayor and councilmen that assisted with the clean up project in 1949 and 1950.
On Nov. 19,there will be a lot going on in Richmond with our winning Richmond Spartan Football team, but please also take a few minutes to welcome our out of town guests that have come to celebrate this historic event from our past.

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