Monday, October 25, 2010

day 49: i began searching for a ghost

I have probably driven by Union Cemetery hundreds of times without knowing it. Hidden behind several trendy condo and apartment buildings between Warwick and McGee streets, the small, wooden sign pointing the way to the entrance is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. So too is the entrance itself, a rusted, wrought-iron gate chained shut with a standard-issue padlock.


And you're goddamn right I would've scaled the fence had Johnny "young professional condo owner" McDouchebag not been drinking a Bud Light and talking loudly into his cell phone on a porch overlooking the gate. I stopped with my fingers wrapped around the top of the fence and my foot lodged on a crossbeam, assuming the residents of these buildings don't take kindly to graveyard explorers and/or robbers. 

Only a few years ago I would've overlooked the threat of a misdemeanor trespassing charge, but I just turned 28, dammit, so now I'm goddamn mature and stuff. I know better than to break and enter in plain sight. I should totally wait until after dark to jump the fence, and probably bring a boy. (Gonna happen later this week.)


As I dig into Kansas City's seedy, ghost-ridden underbelly, Union Cemetery seemed an obvious stop on my tour. Founded in 1857 after a cholera epidemic killed off shitloads of people in Westport and Kansas City, maxing out the capacity of both cemeteries, Union was named for its location between the two towns and was intended to house both their dead. At the time, no one knew the 49-acre plot of land would eventually end up at the center of a bustling downtown district.


The sexton's cottage has caught fire twice in its 153-year history, destroying many records and leaving many weathered wood and limestone grave markers unmarked and undocumented. As I peeked in between the posts of the tall iron gates while rush hour traffic zipped by behind me, I realized this only adds to the cemetery's mysterious appeal, much like a blurred face in a photograph or a letter with sentences erased. After all, everyone wants to be remembered, but no one wants to be discovered marred or unwhole.


My photos of Union aren't as intense as I'd hoped. But what exactly had I hoped? To see a ghostly face peering from behind a tree? A skeletal hand stretching upward out of the earth? A glowing orb floating eerily above a grave? Well, yeah. The Union Cemetery Historical Society does, after all, claim to have electronic voice phenomena recordings of the grounds' otherworldly wanderers (albeit under a section titled "just for fun").


Luckily there are still six days of Halloween week left. And goddammit, I'm searching for a ghost.


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