Tower of Memories

The Tower of Memories in Cape County’s Memorial Park Cemetery was dedicated in 1934. I ran across a clipping about the 57-foot monument while looking for something else and was surprised that it was so old.

A Kansas City man, Hugo Felix, bought 30 acres of land that had once been part of the County Farm for $3,000 in 1932.

County Farm Home

There’s a curious monument “IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED IN OUR COUNTY FARM HOME” across the street in Cape County’s North Park.

I know it was common in some areas to have “poor farm” where the indigent, particularly the elderly, would go when they were down on their luck before Social Security and other entitlement programs provided a safety net.

I did a story in Athens, Ohio, in the 60s about that county’s “poor farm.”

I’m not sure if Cape Girardeau county had something similar at this location. It’s something I’m going to have to research.

1933 Tower of Memories rendering

Newspaper accounts say the 57-foot tall, 16′ x 16′ structure would have three stories: the bottom floor would contain an office and the second and third floors would house the Celesta-Vox, touted as “The Voice from the Heavens.”  The amplified chimes and “vibraharp” supposedly could be heard a mile away. I don’t know that I ever heard it or if it’s still in use. The tower was built of native limestone.

Ford and Sons buy cemetery from Strom Family

Raymond Strom bought the cemetery in 1951, and it was run by the Strom family until Walter Joe Ford and his wife, Iris, bought it in 1958. At that time, Ford said there was enough room in the cemetery to handle the needs of the community for the next 50 years.

That’s probably been extended since the cemetery has added mausoleums and memorial plots for “residents” who have been cremated.  That will allow for greater population density.

I don’t know what plots are going for now, but there was a notice in The Missourian in February, 1934, that the prices for six-space burial lots in Section 1 (Lutheran), Section 2 (Masonic) and Section 7 (non-sectarian) were increasing from $125 to $150. Section 6 (non-sectarian) was going to jump from $175 to 200.

Peacocks were exotic attraction

No visit to the cemetery would have been complete without stopping to see the peacocks when you were a kid. If you were lucky, you might go home with one of the bright-colored feathers. I used some for fishing flies in my pre-teen years.

I wish I had a better peacock photo, but the sun (and the temperature) were going down fast and there was a brisk, chill wind blowing. My interest in peacocks diminishes in direct proportion to how cold I am.

Some purist will probably point out that the picture is actually of a peahen and a peacock, but I didn’t ask for them for gender identification in my rush to get back into the warm car. If THEY know the difference, that’s all that counts.


33 Replies to “Tower of Memories”

  1. The stonework on the tower at Memorial Park was laid by my grandfather Louis Brinkopf who was a stone mason. I wish that I had known him but he died in 1945, a year before I was born. He and his two brothers (who both died in the 1920’s) also laid some of the stonework on some of the original buildings at SEMO and the “boathouse” of Eddy Ehlrbacher just east of Capaha Park

    1. Thanks for sharing that. It’s neat when we can look at something that’s a landmark and know that we have a direct connection to it.

      When I worked construction for my Dad one summer, we paved a section of road in Dexter. It always gave me great pleasure to say, “I helped build that” when we drove over it.

      It’s all about how you see things, though. I remember the story of a man who went to a building under construction and asked, “What are you doing?”

      The first worker said, “I’m laying brick.”

      The second said, “I’m making $X a day.”

      The last said, “I am building a great cathedral.”

  2. I can remember visiting the county farm with our youth group from church….can’t remember the reason we went but it was a devotional evening. It really made an impression on me regarding the poor in their need.
    Also since many of my relatives, including my dad, is buried in the Memorial Park, I can distinctly remember the peacocks in their beauty but the chilling shriek that was heard from them caused an uncomfortable feeling in me.
    Thank you for the brief history of the Memorial Tower.

  3. What an interesting story! My parents and a number of my aunts and uncles are buried in that cemetery, but I never knew the history of the cemetery. Thanks.

  4. A postscript note on the comment about the less than comforting “cry of the peacocks”: Wallace Stevens uses that line in his poem “Domination of Black.”

  5. Well, and very nice story on the tower…all I got form my Dad was a…”Yeah, some guy for Kansas City Built it”. I guess that was right, but now I have the whole story… maybe “The rest of the story”.
    I would bet a shiny new dime that everyone of your reader knows at least one person buried in that memorial park. My Mom is buried there and I know at least 5 others that are from Mike Young’s dad and so on..
    Cemeteries are the collection spots for all our memories while we live and the home of the physical parts we leave here after our tour on planet earth. I think I will re-visit this one when I am in Cape next week

  6. My grandfather bought 6 lots at Memorial Park a very long time ago. These were for him, my grandmother and there 4 sons. These were prime lots between the road and the Memorial tower. Shortley before my dad died he gave me the deed to the lots. I don’t remember the purchase date but the price was 6 lots $6.00. Martha, I remember the Lutheran kids going out to see the Peacocks. Wayne, Billy, Bob and Marlin would poke sticks at the birds to make them shriek. I bet the grounds keeper were glad to see us leave. Ray Boren

  7. Well, this explains why my Daddy always used to tease us by saying we would end up at the Poor Farm one day. Little did I know that he and Mother would end up there along with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends. This is one of my must visit places when we go to Cape. I was fascinated by the tower when I was a child.

  8. Ken,
    I remember visiting Memorial Park as a very young child to visit the gravesite of my brother Howard Lee “Bo” who was hit by a car on Bloomfield Road after getting off a city bus, November 7, 1947. I was too young to understand the tears & somber voices when we visited & Mom & Dad would end our visit with nickels to feed the peacocks. Many family members before him & many after his death are resting in the beautiful park…& the peacocks & their nickel feed help me to gather myself together after I visit my Mother’s & Brother’s graves. He is in the area North of the tree carved Angel & Mama’s looks to the tower & the peacocks to the rear of her grave. She died December 1994, & after unsuccessfully trying to find a place close to Bo, we purchased her lot centrally located because she was at the center of all our lives. It was in an area that had at one time been roadway I believe. Those were the only lots available in the older section & brought the premium price of $1000.00! Howard Lee’s grave was given to Mom & Dad by my Dad’s Aunt & Uncle, Emil & Grace Kaempfer. Ken, the park in Spring, when the flowering trees are in bloom, is amazing & a photographer’s dream, although still cold…I can’t ever remember being warm there, no matter what time of year, but then I always take with me the warmth of memories of those left behind the stone pillars…thanks you for another great story.

  9. Ken, I have the rules and regulations when Mom and Dad bought 6 Plots out there in 1950 r 51. It told you who could be buried there.

  10. I was there in August this year while attending the CHS reunion, and yes, like most of us, visiting family graves. We went to check Mr. and Mrs. Peacock and what? There were some eggs in the cage with them. Wondering if they ever hatched. Not being up on my egg hatching, am not sure if that was the right environment for them to hatch.

  11. Ken, I recently ran across several articles in some old Missourians I have about the Poor Farm. It evidently had a long history. One article in particular mentioned the poor conditions and how they were trying to improve things.

    1. I’ll have to do some reading up on this when I get a chance. It’s funny that I have no recollection of seeing a building like that. Maybe it was torn down long before I was old enough to know about it.

  12. I hope I don’t offend anyone, but in the rules and regulations no blacks could be buried there in Cape County Cemetery

    1. That was a fairly common deed restriction in the old days. When we bought our house, it contained similar language (except that we could have non-white servants, I think). When I questioned it, I was told that it was moot: such discrimination was against the law these days.

      If you’re curious, I could call Ford and Sons and ask if they know of any non-white burials. Since Jerry Ford’s book said they were the first white funeral home in Cape to have a black funeral, I would suspect that Memorial Park is integrated.

  13. No one should be offended by a reminder that Cape’s past includes the practice of racial segregation. I remember the fall of 1954, when I was still in elementary school, and the schools in Cape integrated relatively peacefully, although there were apparently some incidents at Central High. So it’s not surprising that the cemetery was segregated in the past. I hope it isn’t segregated now. Is it?

  14. Mom, Dad, Carl and Quinn and my aunt and uncle are buried right below the tower. It’s a very peaceful place and nice to see the tower.

  15. My Shy Reader friend chimed in with lots of good info about the County Farm:

    After the poor farm was closed, the county converted the land into Cape County Park. It also served, in between the poor farm and the county farm,as a school for mentally handicapped (then retarded) children. If I’m not mistaken, the Senior Center also got its start at the poor farm.

    In any event, the poor farm took in the poor, transients, mental patients, basically life’s refuse. In most cases, before nursing homes, families took care of their old and infirm. But there were always those who had no family, or whose family didn’t have the means to care for them. They would end up at the poor farm.

    There were also those unfortunates who would enter the poor farm when the weather turned chilly and left when it got warm again.

    With the advent of nursing homes, the poor farm was no longer necessary. Despite various attempts to sell off the land for a quick buck, the county held on to the property and it eventually was transformed into the county park system we have today.

    The monument that you pictured is a memorial to those who died at the home and are buried in unmarked graves there.

    If you want to read about the ins and outs of the Home for the Friendless, the County Genealogical Society has published a book about it. It includes a history of the home and an enumeration of those who checked in, why they were there and whether they died there or left. It’s a very interesting read. I would recommend it.

    Here’s a link to the website for the society.


  17. As usual, Ken your photos and comments are very informative. I always wondered about the Tower. Our family bought 8 lots in the late 40s. Five of my relatives are buried there now. It is part of my ritual to visit there when I visit Cape. It seems like half of the people I remember when growing up in Cape are now there. It always brings back such wonderful, warm memories of them when I wander amoug the graves.

  18. My grandmother had a Negro maid/nanny/housekeeper for her family and 10 children. She worked for room and board. When Lucy got too old to work, she went to the “poor farm”. With 10 children, Grandmother couldn’t afford to keep her at home.

    I’d love to go to the site you mentioned from your shy reader and see if I can find out where Lucy was buried.

    I have been to the County Park many times but have never noticed the sign that said “in memory of”. Again, thanks for the info.

  19. Jean, there’s a link at the bottom of the comment I posted from the Shy Reader. You might also check with the Cape County Archives in Jackson diagonally behind the Courthouse.

  20. Thank you so much for all of the history on Memorial Park Cemetery. I have lived in Cape all my life and have eight relatives buried there so I visit often. When my father, Charles Harris passed in 1983, I remember the “help, help” of the peacocks and have to smile every time I visit his grave. Both my mother and father are interred just below where they are penned. It is a beautiful cemetery.The Fords have done an excellent job in keeping things well landscaped.
    Now for a question, my daughter is looking for someone to interview who has knowledge of the County Poor Farm and would appreciate any help or guidance you could give her.

    1. If you read back through the comments (you might have to press Ctrl-F5 to bring up any new ones), you’ll see some information from someone I call my Shy Reader.

      In it, she mentions that the County Genealogical Society has published a book on it. I bet someone there can help her.

      Good luck. Let us know what you find out.

  21. Ken,
    You’ve done some great photography. I think you must have more stories of Cape during our generation than anyone

    1. Jim,

      Are you the skinny Jim Kirkwood, who was Big Jimmy’s son at Steinhoff and Kirkwood?

      If so, I I’ll never forget the summer our dads put us to work as laborers to convince us that going to college was better than humping 4×8 sheets of 3.4″ plywood soaked in form oil and concrete.

  22. need to find out about my familys business, was located on sprigg across from piggly wiggly- the Haman Family Funeral Home

  23. This is an older thread, but I wanted to say there is a presentation at Kent Library at noon tomorrow – Sept. 28, 2016 – about poor farm history including the “Cape County Home for the Friendless,” in operation from 1874-1956. It is open to the public! (:

  24. Thank you for sharing. I have always had a big interest in poor farms and areas like that. I grew up in Bloomfield MO And live in Jackson now. Would love to know where the poor farms were located and the cemeteries attached. Thanks

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