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Remembering old graves in Omaha & city's most famous figures

Old graves at Forest Lawn Cemetery

There are thousands of old gravestones in the Omaha metro and buried beneath are some pretty interesting people.

So what's being done to preserve their graves and stories?

FOX 42 News went to find that answer and uncovered answers about some of the city’s most famous figures.

"There's a lot of history underground."

Barb Naughtin is talking about Prospect Hill Cemetery. It’s a place that isn't just filled with gravestones, but stories as well.

Naughtin said, "It's the oldest cemetery in Omaha and that means that Omaha's founding fathers are buried here."

One of them is Byron Reed who founded Prospect Hill.

Naughtin said, "He knew that there needed to be a place to bury the people that were going to be living in this new city."

She’s talking about people like Sidney Buffett, an ancestor of Warren Buffett.

Naughtin said, "He's the Omaha Buffett that came and his son stayed and opened a grocery store."

Meanwhile, Anna Wilson opened up the most famous brothel in Omaha.

Naughtin said, "Anna Wilson was one of the most famous madams in Omaha in the 1800's...she requested that a marble slab be placed over the grave itself because there were stories that the fine ladies of Omaha did not want her buried in this cemetery and that maybe her grave would be disturbed."

Stories like this aren't the only reasons Naughtin loves the cemetery.

Naughtin said, "The sense of heritage, the sense of deep roots in Omaha kind of grabbed me because I have these ancestors that are here...Charles Karbach was my great-great grandfather. He was one of the first blacksmiths in Omaha."

His grave and others mean something to Naughtin and other people on the cemetery's board of trustees.

Naughtin said, "We meet on a monthly basis to discuss what needs the cemetery has and what activities we want to do to help preserve it. We have at least one, sometimes two or three cleanup days throughout the year.”

She says they could always use more help.

"We don't have the funds to be able to re-erect a lopsided grave that's sinking."

It's why the board is starting a new program called "Adopt-a-Plot” for volunteer groups to adopt a certain area of the cemetery.

It’s all to keep history alive, something that's also important to Randy Crawford. He takes care of the grounds at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

"It's kind of fun, really. I mean it's humbling for sure."

As he says, to walk by graves that have names like Swanson, Doorly, Hitchcock, and Joslyn engraved on them.

Some were people who helped Omaha grow and others who Crawford says were known for being rough characters such as Tom Dennison.

Crawford said, “He was the Al Capone of Omaha. He controlled the government and the police station.”

Lilly McIntyre was also an interesting character.

Crawford said, “She was a panhandler by day and at night she dressed up in fancy dresses and went out on the town...it's history. There's heritage here."

It’s something that's not always easy to preserve.

Crawford said, "The markers that are out of line we don't have time to line them up all up, but we do the best we can."

Crawford says he sometimes finds old graves that are broken. Due to bad weather cracks show up, water gets into those cracks and if it freezes the grave can break.

It's usually something Crawford can fix, but he says for illegible graves there's really not much that can be done.

Names may be fading from stones at both Prospect Hill and Forest Lawn, but as Naughtin says "that's really part of the enchantment."

If you'd like more information about Forest Lawn Cemetery click here.

For information on Prospect Hill Cemetery click here.

Prospect Hill's "Adopt-a-Plot" program kicks off this month.

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