For four years of my career I managed a funeral home and cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska called WYUKA.
Wyuka cemetery was chartered by the state of Nebraska in March of 1869. The name Wyuka comes from the Lakota Sioux and means “where he lays down” or “where he rests.” It was originally laid out in the model of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts est. in 1831 and was to be located three miles from the state capital building.
There is a lot of interesting history within the gates of this cemetery. Many famous and a few infamous people are laid to rest in this beautiful botanical landscape of well over 200 acres. The cemetery is on the National Historic Register and is a National Arboretum. There is a full service funeral home, historical foundation and state of the art grounds department. The operations were governed by a board of trustees that were appointed by the Governor of Nebraska, the caveat is that the entity never received any state funding. It was to operate on its own.
In the early days of the cemetery there was actually a street car that went out to the cemetery. Families would go to the parklike oasis and have gatherings and picnics on the grounds. Very few of the original buildings are still in tact. There are two ponds, one with a swan house and there is a nearby stables that has just been renovated as a community resource building and meeting area. The stables for many years has been home to Shakespearian plays during the summers.
Wyuka has over 22,000 statuary monuments on its grounds. There are all shapes and sizes including a handicap accessible triple collinade in pinkish/orange granite and a 40-foot obelisk. There is a propeller that belonged to a friend of Charles Lindberg that serves as a headstone for a grave with a note from Lindberg to the deceased.
There are over 900 civil war veterans buried there, Union of course, but there are three confederates that we knew of, as one of them had a confederate flag placed next to it every Memorial day by someone. One of the veterans is James Bush. In the movie Glory, actor Morgan Freeman played his character. There is the grave of an escaped slave that joined up with the North and his master came to get him and the Union troops refused to give him back. And then there is the Union officer that was a double agent for the confederacy. Every time there was to be a major battle, he would disappear and then show up again after it was over. He was sharing secrets and positions with the other side.
One of the first serial killers is also buried there, but if you go and ask where the cemetery will not share that information with you. His name was Charlie Starkweather killed 11 people in Nebraska in 1957-58. He was apprehended, tried, convicted and executed in less than 9 months. His original headstone was stolen and never has been recovered. When Martin Sheen came and played him in the movie “Badlands” he paid for a new one.
Another famed person buried in the cemetery is Gordon McCrae. Gordon MacRae was an American actor and singer, best known for his appearances in the film versions of two Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Oklahoma! and Carousel, and playing Bill Sherman in On Moonlight Bay and By The Light of the Silvery Moon.
There are several Senators, Representatives, ambassadors and famous Nebraskans that lie in repose within those gates. The gates even have a story. Many years before the gates to the cemetery were around a building at the University of Nebraska. The building caught on fire on night and no one seemed to be able to find a key to unlock them so they could fight the fire. By the time the gates were finally opened the building had burned to the ground. The gates were removed and given to the cemetery.
There are over 55,000 people buried there and there are three to four hundred years worth of burial remaining. It is a huge history book in stone.