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Laurel Hill Cemetery is a small burial ground located along 21st and Polk street, Omaha. Its eastern side borders Highway 75, Kennedy Freeway, just north of the exit to Chandler Road. The site has a wide variety of grave markers both large and small, some dating as far back as the 1800s. Among the notable burials at this cemetery are the maternal grandmothers of Peter Kiewit and Fred Astaire as well as African American settlers and Civil War veterans.


  • A Photograph of James Adams's unit the 4th U.S.C.T. Infantry Regiment Company E taken at Fort Lincoln, Washington D.C. from U.S. Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Full Valley Archive.
  • Entrance to Laurel Hill Cemetery along 21st Street.
  • The grave of Margaret Sautter who donated the cemetery to lot owners in 1936.
  • View of cemetery overlooking lot 8 and 7 with Highway 75, Kennedy Freeway, beyond the treeline.
  • Grave of Wilhelmine Geilus, the maternal grandmother of Fred Astaire. Located in lot 2 of the cemetery.
  • The monument marker which honors those buried in row 19 of the cemetery whose original grave became unrecognizable because of natural erosion and tree overgrowth.
  • View overlooking lot 9.
  • Grave stone of Edward Jones located on the eastern edge of lot 9.
  • View of lot 1 where the graves of Anna Schleicher and Wilhelmina Geilus are located.
  • View of lot 4 which is mid section of the cemetery.
  • View of lot 2 where the Sautter family graves are located.
  • Example of an infant grave.
  • Example of a newer marker commissioned to continually honor the deceased as the original marker fades away with time.
  • Grave of Anna Schleicher, the maternal grandmother of Peter Kiewit which is also located in lot 2. The grave stone is surrounded by flower plants and is not far from the grave of Wilhelmina Geilus.
  • Resting place of James O. Adams located on the eastern edge of Lot 9.
  • Grave marker of Christian Sautter and other immediate family members buried in the same plot.
  • Grave marker of Christian Sautter and other immediate family members buried in the same plot.
  • Grave marker of Christian Sautter and other immediate family members buried in the same plot.
  • Grave marker of Christian Sautter and other immediate family members buried in the same plot.
  • The angel statue dedicated to Helen Zentz.

Laurel Hill Cemetery originated as a private burial ground that was laid out within the farm owned by Christian Sautter in 1866.[1] Christian and Elizabeth Sautter were from Germany and had made their way to the United States in 1865. They settled their 250 acre farm along the Douglas-Sarpy county border.[2] At that time the cemetery was officially called Sautter’s Cemetery and was also referred to as the Old German Cemetery by the local community.[3] The burial ground received its current name when the Sautter farm was purchased by W.G. Albright in 1886.[4] He mapped out additional plots of land for future burials totaling twelve-and-a-half acres for the entire cemetery.[5] During this time a family burial plot sold for about $20, and a single grave sold for $3.[6] Ownership of the cemetery changed again when Margaret Sautter turned it over to the lot owners in 1936.[7] Over time Laurel Hill Cemetery went into a state of neglect as the families who once operated the burial site passed on or moved elsewhere. In 1967, Helen Zentz, who had family members buried within the cemetery, organized a volunteer group called the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association to clean out the overgrowth of vegetation and restore the cemetery to a condition suitable for visitors again.[8]


Laurel Hill Cemetery contains around 7000 graves, some of which have suffered natural erosion and possible acts of vandalism.[9] Properly identifying some of the graves has become more difficult with the fact that the cemetery’s early records were destroyed in a fire in 1910.[10] Following the event John Sautter did what he could to restore those records from memory, but some laid to rest in the cemetery still remain unknown.[11] There is a section referred to as “potter’s field” which contains individuals, from the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, of Chinese, Greek, Korean and African-American descent.[12] A potter’s field was term for a section within a cemetery for the burial of individuals who had no family members available to manage their burial or the deceased’s family was too poor to afford the standard burial service provided by the cemetery.[13] Most of those buried in this section of Laurel Hill Cemetery were railroad workers during their lifetimes.[14] There are also many first generation Germans, Czechs, and Scandinavians laid to rest in the cemetery who can be identified by their native language etched on their grave stones.[15] To this day the burial ground is still maintained by the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association, which relies on volunteers and donations to keep this piece of Omaha’s history alive. The most recent volunteer work at Laurel Hill Cemetery includes the rediscovery of the graves of black settlers and Civil War veterans, which were located in row 19 within lot 9, during an Eagle Scout project in 2005.[16] During this project, volunteers noted that some of the grave makers in this area had disappeared or became unrecognizable because of erosion and the overgrown vegetation.[17] Later Creola Woodall and Jeannie Mill set out to honor those rediscovered graves, both known and unknown, by commissioning a large monument marker which received its dedication ceremony on Veterans Day in 2010.[18]


Among the most notable burials at Laurel Hill Cemetery are the American Civil War veterans James Adams and Edward Jones. James Adams was a free man living in Magnolia, Maryland, in 1860.[19] During the Civil War he enlisted in the 4th United States Colored Troops Infantry Regiment in July of 1863 at age 25.[20] The Civil War Draft Registration Records also included his two brothers who were John W. Adams and Samuel H. Adams who were 28 and 25 years old, respectively.[21] At the Battle of Chaffin’s farm, Virginia, he was wounded in the arm and lost it as a result of amputation.[22] After the war, Adams along with his wife, H. Adams, and four children moved to Omaha, Nebraska.[23] The 1880 census listed him as Jas. O. Adams who was a farmer at 40 years old and was mistakenly listed as single according to the 1885 Nebraska state census.[24] The 1885 state census only listed his wife as H. Adams who was 47 years old from Maryland.[25] The children of James Adams were listed as J. W.(son, age 21), L. (son, age 20), Mary (age 17), and Kate (age 15) all of whom were born in Virginia.[26] The census also indicated that he worked at a grocery store and his lost arm was noted under the disability section.[27] He died in 1900 at age 60 and was buried row 19 plot 9 of Laurel Hill Cemetery.[28] Edward Jones, who was also laid to rest in the same row, was born in Virginia in 1848 as a slave.[29] In 1864 he traveled to Marietta, Georgia and enlisted in the 13th U.S.C.T. Infantry.[30] Edward Jones’s military career was comparably calmer than James Adam’s, with Jones serving as a guard for various railroads.[31] Sometime after the war he too moved to Omaha and lived in South Omaha until his death on May 7, 1905 at age 57.[32] According his obituary Edward Jones had a wife and six children all of whom inherited his property.[33] Other burials of note at the cemetery include Anna Schleicher, the maternal grandmother of Peter Kiewit, and Wilhelmina Geilus who is the maternal grandmother of American dancer, singer, and actor Fred Astaire.[34] According to the Omaha Daily Bee obituary section, Anna Schleicher was born in Russia on August 17, 1857 and died in Lincoln County, Nebraska, in February of 1915.[35] Wilhelmina Geilus was born in Germany on August 22, 1847, and she along with her husband David and two children departed Hamburg, Germany, on May 1, 1878, emigrating to the United States.[36] She would be laid to rest in Laurel Hill Cemetery after her death which was on May 7, 1905.[37]


For her contribution in revitalizing the cemetery, Helen Zentz has been honored with a statue of an angel as “The Angel of Laurel Hill Cemetery.” Before her passing in 2008, Helen Zentz made this statement in an article of the October 1988 issue of HORIZONS, “Cemeteries are the roots of the nation. They are the caretakers of tender sympathies. They are no longer just a place for memories, but a source of information for families to trace their own personal roots.”[38]

Footnotes:

1. Kevin Cole, “Memorial Marker to Fulfill Duty to History,” (World-Herald News Service, May 16, 2010), accessed March 6, 2017, http://www.nptelegraph.com/news/state/memorial-marker-to-fulfill-duty-to-history/article_fe7ea3dc-1065-5c9b-86ac-ebefcaa0fb37.html.

2. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990 (1990), iii.

3. Kevin Cole, “Memorial Marker to Fulfill Duty to History.”

4. Marta Dawes, “Laurel Hill,” last modified January 1, 2017, accessed March 6, 2017, http://graveyardsofomaha.com/laurel_hill/laurel_main.html

5. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990, iii.

6. Ibid.

7. Louise Bloom Baumann, Nebraska, Douglas Co. Cemeteries (Greater Omaha Genealogical Society, 1981), 242.

8. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990. iii.

9. Ibid., ii.

10. Louise Bloom Baumann, Nebraska, Douglas Co. Cemeteries, 242.

11. Marta Dawes, “Laurel Hill.”

12. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990, iv.

13. Pamela Bannos, “Hidden Truths: Potter’s Field,” accessed May 3, 2017, http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/potter_field.html.

14. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990, iv.

15. Ibid.

16. Kevin Cole, “Memorial Marker to Fulfill Duty to History.”

17. Marta Dawes, “Laurel Hill.”

18. Kevin Cole, “Memorial Marker to Fulfill Duty to History.”

19. William G. Thomas, “History Harvest in North Omaha: A Report on Digital Harvesting,” (WordPress, October 25, 2011), accessed April 2, 2017, http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=630

20. "United States Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865." FamilySearch, last modified December 12, 2014, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JWYL-NLH.

21. Ibid.

22. William G. Thomas, “History Harvest in North Omaha: A Report on Digital Harvesting.”

23. "Nebraska State Census, 1885,"(Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1885); FHL microfilm 499,544. Family Search, last modified April 2, 2016, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X3XG-2NV.

24. "United States Census, 1880," (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1880), roll 0747; FHL microfilm 1,254,747. Family Search, last modified July 15, 2016, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M8YZ-W2J

25. "Nebraska State Census, 1885," Family Search.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. “Laurel Hill Cemetery Index: Burial Cards: Unknown – A to Stramek, J.,” microfilm roll 1, W. Dale Clark Library.

29. "Find A Grave Index, Edward Jones" database, Family Search, last modified December 13, 2015, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV7-DRD7

30. William G. Thomas, “History Harvest in North Omaha: A Report on Digital Harvesting.”

31. Ibid.

32. "Find A Grave Index, Edward Jones" FamilySearch.

33. Omaha Daily Bee, May 8, 1905, NewsBank inc.

34. Marta Dawes, “Laurel Hill.”

35. Omaha Daily Bee, February 20, 1915, NewsBank inc.

36. "Find A Grave Index, Wilhelmina Geilus" FamilySearch, last modified December 13, 2015, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV7-D5FK

37. Ibid.

38. Margie Sobtka, Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990, iv.



Sources:

Bannos, Pamela. “Hidden Truths: Potter’s Field.” Accessed May 3, 2017. http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/potter_field.html.

Baumann, Louise Bloom. Nebraska, Douglas Co. Cemeteries. Greater Omaha Genealogical Society, 1981.

Cole, Kevin. “Memorial Marker to Fulfill Duty to History,” The North Platte Telegraph. last modified May 16, 2010. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://www.nptelegraph.com/news/state/memorial-marker-to-fulfill-duty-to-history/article_fe7ea3dc-1065-5c9b-86ac-ebefcaa0fb37.html.

Dawes, Marta. “Laurel Hill,” last modified January 1, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://graveyardsofomaha.com/laurel_hill/laurel_main.html.

"Find A Grave Index," FamilySearch. last modified July 11, 2016. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV7-DB8K. Anna Elizabeth Yost Schleicher, 1915; Burial, Omaha, Douglas, Nebraska, United States of America, Laurel Hill Cemetery; citing record ID 7187725. Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.

"Find A Grave Index," database, FamilySearch. last modified December 13, 2015. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV7-D5FK, Wilhelmina Geilus, 1905; Burial, Omaha, Douglas, Nebraska, United States of America, Laurel Hill Cemetery; citing record ID 7091800, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.

"Find A Grave Index," FamilySearch. last modified December 13, 2015. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV7-DRD7, Edward Jones, 1905; Burial, Omaha, Douglas, Nebraska, United States of America, Laurel Hill Cemetery; citing record ID 7156341, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.

"Laurel Hill Cemetery Index: Burial Cards: Unknown – A to Stramek, J.” Microfilm. W. Dale Clark Library.

“Laurel Hill Cemetery Index: Burial Cards: Stacy, Anna J. - Z.” Microfilm. W. Dale Clark Library.

"Nebraska State Census, 1885," FamilySearch. last modified April 2, 2016. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X3XG-2NV. J. O. Adams, 1885; citing NARA microfilm publication M352 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 499,544.

“Omaha City Directory 1880-81-1886,” 1886. Microfilm. University of Omaha Criss Library.

Omaha Daily Bee, May 8, 1905. NewsBank inc.

Omaha Daily Bee, February 20, 1915. NewsBank inc.

Sobtka, Margie. Laurel Hill Cemetery Records, Omaha, Nebraska, 1867-1990, 1990.

Thomas, William. 2017. “History Harvest in North Omaha: A Report on Digital Harvesting.” last modified October 25, 2011. accessed April 12, 2017. http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=630.

"United States Census, 1880." FamilySearch. last modified July 15, 2016. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M8YZ-W2J. Jas O. Adams, Omaha, Douglas, Nebraska, United States; citing enumeration district ED 16, sheet 167A, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0747; FHL microfilm 1,254,747.

"United States Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865." FamilySearch. last modifed December 12, 2014. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JWYL-NLH. James O. Adams, 1863; from "Civil War Soldiers - Union - Colored Troops." Fold3.com. http://www.fold3.com.; citing military unit 4th US Colored Infantry, Ab-Bas, NARA microfilm publication M1820, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., roll 31.

"United States Civil War and Later Pension Index, 1861-1917." FamilySearch. last modified March 24, 2016. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N41D-42P. Edward Jones, 1895.

WOWT. “Black Settlers,” last modified November 12, 2005. Accessed April 12, 2017. http://www.wowt.com/news/headlines/1856056.html.