Prospect Hill Cemetery is located between North 31st and 33rd Streets and Parker and Grant Streets in North Omaha. Its home to city pioneers, Buffalo soldiers and many ghosts, and its story needs to be shared a lot. This is a history of the cemetery.
The Basic History
Omaha’s oldest pioneer cemetery, Prospect Hill Cemetery’s first official burial was Alonzo F. Salisbury, Omaha pioneer and member of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature.
Formally opening in 1858, the year Omaha mayor Jesse Lowe set aside 10 acres of land for burial purposes. The next year, 20 acres was added, and in 1890, five more acres were added when the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association was founded. After court cases and a ban by the City of Omaha around the turn of the century, Prospect Hill couldn’t grow further, and today it has a total of 17 acres today.
Early business leaders, politicians, and important community figures are buried at Prospect Hill. The cemetery had two buildings, a chapel and a gatehouse. Both built in a the Tudor-Revival style, they were made of brick and stone.
Approximately 15,000 burials happened at Prospect Hill, including those of many Omaha pioneers, including influential developers, religious leaders, mayors, judges, and benefactors, for whom Omaha streets, parks and schools were named. Names from the cemetery that Omahans today recognize include Millard, Armstrong, Poppleton, Metz, Cuming, Reed, and Krug, among many others.
In the late 19th century, Forest Lawn Cemetery bought the Prospect Hill Cemetery. Seeking to popularize their new internment site, the Forest Lawn Cemetery Association willfully neglected Prospect Hill, including tearing down the surrounding fence and letting cattle plod over the destroy several burials at the cemetery. Prospect Hill regained control of their cemetery by 1898, and an independent nonprofit association has ran it since then.
A Madame Dies
Perhaps the most notorious burial at Prospect Hill was that of Madame Anna Wilson. Wilson was the owner and proprietor of a popular brothel in downtown Omaha, and the long-time partner of a famous gambler named Dan Allen. Dieing wealthy in her 70s, Wilson left her gigantic mansion/former brothel to the City of Omaha on her death. She also made arrangements for a unique monument for her grave, which was installed when she died in 1911.
Being a madame tied with the city’s darker side, Wilson wasn’t favored by the upper class women of Omaha. So much so that when she died, Wilson Wilson left distinct directions in her will that ensured that she and Dan Allen, who died 20 years earlier, were be left in Prospect Hill Cemetery forever.
Today, a polished stone with four posts represents the bed posts Anna Wilson shared with her love Dan Allen. But the secret of the bed in the cemetery is that the concrete slab below the polished stone is nine feet deep. Wilson supposedly did this to ensure that the society women wouldn’t dig her up and move her to another cemetery. There will never be another burial in Omaha quite like that of Anna Wilson.
Today, the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association holds an annual Memorial Day event at the cemetery, including a tribute to Anna Wilson.
While the cemetery is actively maintained today by a volunteer association, it hasn’t accepted burials in a long time.
The Prospect Hill Cemetery’s last official internment happened in the 1970s, and since then it has been closed to more burials. For almost 40 years, it sat behind a major public housing project and was largely neglected and forgotten by Omaha. However, in the last 20 years since those projects were demolished, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Prospect Hill. Today, events are held regularly and the cemetery’s board of directors meets regularly to manage the cemetery’s affairs.
North Omaha history owes a debt of gratitude to the cemetery for bringing many of the city’s founding fathers here to rest. I owe the cemetery for sparking my imagination about Old Omaha in my youth.
You Might Like…
- North Omaha History Podcast Episode 8: Prospect Hill Cemetery – Adam walks us through Omaha’s oldest cemetery – Prospect Hill. Where is it and who’s buried there? (April 11, 2017; mins). Listen Online or download on iTunes.
- Official Prospect Hill Cemetery website
- Prospect Hill Cemetery article on Wikipedia
- Graveyards Of Omaha: Prospect Hill Cemetery
- Official walking tour of the cemetery
- African American burials at Prospect Hill Cemetery
- Michael Young’s Prospect Hill Cemetery bibliography
- Baumann, L. B.; Martin, C. W.; and Simpson, S. J. (1990) Omaha’s Historic Prospect Hill Cemetery: A history of Prospect Hill Cemetery with biographical notes on over 1,400 people interred therein. Omaha: Prospect Hill Cemetery Historical Development Foundation