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  • Writer's pictureIvy Boyd

Does a Former Priest Haunt Elmwood Cemetery?

Statue in Elmwood Cemetery. Photo taken by Ivy Boyd, 2024

Kansas City is home to the stunning (and reportedly haunted) Elmwood Cemetery. First opened in 1872, Elmwood Cemetery has gone on to be the burial site for some of Kansas Cities most prominent names, and has since been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first known burial was that of a 6-month-old Sallie Ayers who passed away from summer complaint; a condition effecting the nervous system and bowels.

Elmwood Cemetery is now the final resting place for over 30,000 souls, some of which reportedly still wonder the grounds in their ghostly form. Arguably the most famous spirit here is that of a priest...

Father Henry D. Jardine

A young Protestant Episcopal priest, Father Henry D. Jardine, moved to Kansas City where he was appointed rector at St. Lukes Mission in 1879. Jardine had more progressive doctrines than many cared for, and he introduced the church to the growing Anglo-Catholic movement. This included the burning of incense and candles, the position of alter boys, and the use of a confessional booth for sin. As if their distain for these changes wasn't enough, rumors began to spread about Jardine which included his apparent “popularity” with the ladies in church. Jardine also used chloroform to treat a painful nerve condition, but some felt that the use of this drug was inappropriate for a man of his position.

A public pamphlet was printed as an attack on his character and outing his criminal past. At 16 years old, Jardine took part in a robbery at his brother-in-laws trunk factory. After being found guilty, Jardine was sentenced to serve two years in prison. However, this brief run-in with the law is what put Jardine on a path to religion, leading to his eventual priesthood. But the spread of these pamphlets (and their re-print in a local newspaper) would lead to the cartoon series and nickname "Jailbird Jardine".

Cartoon printed June 10, 1885 in the Kansas City Times.

Jardine would also be accused of having spanked a young woman in a state of undress with a slipper as a form of penance, leading to the creating of another cartoon of the "Jardine's Jollities". These printings would later lead to Jardine being defrocked.

Cartoon printed June 16, 1885 in the Kansas City Times.

In September of 1885, an ecclesiastical court was held at the Grace Episcopal Church where they found Jardine guilty of the habitual use of chloroform and inappropriate behaviors with female parishioners. He was immediately removed, but the verdict had not been made public yet. Jardine responded by traveling to St. Louis on January 5, 1886 to prove his innocence to the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. It is here that he learned that his recent conviction would be made public in Kansas City on January 9th, giving him mere days to fix his reputation for good. Before Jardine could do so, he would be found dead in his bed at the Trinity Church where he was staying. The cause of death appeared to be his handkerchief with chloroform laying next to him. Jardine also had a chain welded around his waist - possibly to represent an eternal act of penance. The question remained: was this an accidental overdose, or intentional?

Jardine was returned to Kansas City on January 29 where he was put on view at St. Mary's Church. It was undecided where to bury him...if he committed suicide, as per the beliefs of the time, he could not be buried on consecrated ground. Until a decision could be made on his final resting place, his remains were taken to Union Cemetery to be held in their storage vault.

Stained glass window at Elmwood Cemetery. Photo taken by Ivy Boyd, 2024

In 1890, Jardine was quietly buried in Elmwood Cemetery as it was assumed his death was an act of suicide. As controversial as a figure he was, he did maintain a group of supporters. During his time in Kansas City, Jardine helped set up a school for children in downtown Kansas City, obtained land for a new St. Mary's Church, and founded the All Saints Hospital, the forerunner to Saint Luke's Health System. These supporters would continue to lobby in his name and maintain that he did not intend on taking his own life. One piece of evidence being a letter he wrote just before his death which showed how ready he was to continue fighting for his innocence. In 1921, Jardine and his supporters won when he was interred at the consecrated St. Luke’s Burial Ground at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Today, many believe that his restless spirit wandered Elmwood Cemetery as he waited to be buried on consecrated ground, perhaps angry at his ruined name and reputation over rumors which may have been exaggerated or misconstrued. And although his remains are no longer at Elmwood, some claim to still see his spirit wandering about, but his spirit isn't alone. Other ghostly sightings here include unexplainable shadow figures and phantom voices. Lee Prosser, author of Missouri Hauntings, stated in his book "Walking through Elmwood Cemetery is like walking through an active landmine of spirits."

Elmwood Cemetery. Photo taken by Ivy Boyd, 2024.

Elmwood Extras:

Want to help preserve Elmwood Cemetery? Once a month, members of the public can volunteer to help pick up trash and tree debris from the cemetery grounds. Elmwood also hosts an annual Graveyard 5k run to raise funds for the cemetery. Other means of supporting Elmwood includes attending a public tour free of charge, but donations are much appreciated. You can also download a guide on their website for a self-guided tour, or book a private tour.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Elmwood and how to join in on the cemetery fun!

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