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Could There Still Be Graves Beneath Lake Of The Ozarks?

From the Spooky, Eerie, Creepy! Halloween-Worthy Stories From The Ozarks series
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Don’t read this if you are squeamish about cemeteries. Especially don’t read this if you dread the thought that there might be burial sites under the Lake of the Ozarks directly in front of your property. You see, there is a fair chance that a long-forgotten cemetery site is out there, at the bottom of the Lake, within sight of your home or favorite resort. And that cemetery may still be… well, occupied.

The portion of Osage River valley that we now call Lake of the Ozarks was settled by pioneers a full century before the Lake existed. Those pioneers buried their dead in scores of cemetery plots—usually on their farms. And those farms tended to be in the valleys where the land was more fertile—land that would be covered by the Lake in 1931.

Historical Photos Of The Lake Area

From 1929 to 1931, while Bagnell Dam was under construction, Union Electric, the company that developed the Lake, did all it could to remove human remains if a known cemetery fell below the projected shoreline of the Lake. But it was a monumental job. The official count from UE documentation lists 60 cemeteries of various sizes—encompassing approximately 2,800 individual gravesites.

But only 1,121 burial sites were clearly identified with tombstones, according to records from Missouri State Archives, collected by area genealogist Patti Calton. The rest were marked in whatever fashion the families could afford—most often a rough-hewn stone with initials carved into it—or nothing at all. The grave diggers had to rely on word of mouth as to the exact location of many burial places. Often the next of kin had moved away, and no one was left who could point out a certain spot as the resting place of an ancestor. If 2,800 gravesites were known about, but only 1,121 were found, that means there could easily be 1,600 or more graves underneath the Lake that were never relocated...

lake mist_photo by Jim Fleming.jpg

Stories persisted among the old-timers that even when a gravesite was identified, there was no purpose in looking for the remains. The unembalmed dead were buried in wooden caskets. Fifty or seventy-five years in the ground left little to find: moisture, time, and underground varmints can speed up the process of “from dust… to dust.”

“I heard the old men talking about this years ago,” said Calton, whose father-in-law was part of the UE crew that moved the graves. “They said they just took a shovel of dirt from the old graves and took it to the new cemeteries. Because they had been buried so long, there wasn’t anything left.”

As if the job of relocating the remains of the dead wasn’t challenging—and eerie—enough, the caskets, or what was left of them, were moved under cover of darkness. But the reason for the nighttime move was more courteous than ominous: Union Electric wanted to spare families the emotional difficulty of actually seeing the relocation.

The workers were quarantined for the entire process, which took two years, for fears that some of the graves may still be carrying the diseases like smallpox or cholera that put their hosts in the ground. Calton says her husband’s family tree even tells that story: his mother birthed a child every other year for more than two decades, except for a longer gap when his father was away for more than two years, relocating graves.

Eight new cemeteries were created by Union Electric to receive the disinterred. If the old burial site was marked with a tombstone, it was moved with the remains. The new gravesite was assigned a number—along with the tombstone, if there was one—and a metal plate bearing that number was placed over the grave. Written records commissioned by the company listed hundreds of gravesites with nothing but a simple notation: “unmarked.”

Genealogist Johnna Quick, who also has documented many area cemeteries, said that the process of moving the graves—marked and unmarked—from low ground to new burial sites was piecemeal, at best. “It was a big mess,” Quick said. “And I know that in some of the places they didn’t even get the names right.”

The process of finding the tombstones was difficult and rife with human error. Calton said in cross-referencing records from the State Archives, she found discrepancies that back up Quick’s assertion: some grave numbers may have been accidentally altered during the relocation process.

But apart from getting the names right, did they actually move all the graves? Opinions differ.

Janet Foley, who has volunteered at the Camden County Museum for years, doubts the claim that there could be hundreds of unmarked or unidentified graves under the Lake. “If Union Electric could find the grave, they dug it up,” she explained. Her concern is that family members may come to the museum looking for the spot where great-great-aunt Wilma was buried, and wind up disappointed. That said, the books of documented gravesites and where the remains of the dead were relocated are available to be viewed at the museum.

“I think absolutely there were graves that never were moved,” Quick surmised. “I don’t know how they went about figuring out where the graves were. In some of the areas they put ads in the paper. If no one spoke up about it, I’m sure it didn’t get moved. I still come across things in old family histories that say a person was buried on the family homestead, and the homestead is under the Lake, and you don’t find any listing for them being reburied.”

Calton tells a story well-known to her husband’s family, the Hibdons, who lived in Morgan County long before the dam was built. Next to the old Rastorfer schoolhouse, there was a cemetery used by the little community. But one of the Hibdon men had lived a rather unsavory life, such that he was buried outside the cemetery, at the edge of the schoolyard, alongside the graves of two slaves. When the Union Electric relocation crew showed up, the graves inside the cemetery were moved to a new site that wouldn’t be flooded by the Lake. But some members of the Hibdon family stood at the graves of their outcast relative, shotgun in hand, and dared the men to dig him up. Needless to say those three graves were never moved, and are now covered by water.

So where are these flooded cemeteries that lie under Lake of the Ozarks? What follows is a partial list based on an index of inundated cemeteries compiled by Union Electric in 1931, and on surveys of the future Lake bed made in 1930. I have included modern Lake references, and mile markers, to better pinpoint the locations.

Underwater Gravesites

Grave Sites Beneath Lake Of The Ozarks

·  MM 0.1, Thornsberry Farm Cemetery, in the second cove from Bagnell Dam on the south side of the Lake, in front of the former Edgewater Beach Resort.

·  MM 2, Muskrat Pond and West Muskrat Pond Cemeteries, in five foot of water on the first point west of Duckhead Point, south shore.

·  MM 2, Ed Vann Farm Cemetery, in the middle of McCoy Branch Cove, in front of Point Randall Resort.

·  MM 3, Birdsong Cemetery, near the mouth of Birdsong Hollow Cove just off Hidden Valley Road, on the north shore.

·  MM 4, Wooley Cemetery, in Jackson Branch Cove in front of Lake Road W-12O, on the north shore.

·  MM 8.5, Stevens Cemetery on Stevens Point, across the channel from Twin Islands and one point over from Alhonna Resort. Much of this cemetery still exists in a wooded patch along the shore, but fifteen graves supposedly were moved from the shoreline area.

·  MM 11, Degraffenreid Cemetery, on the north side of the channel opposite the former Ozark Bar-B-Que, in front of Palisades Drive.

·  MM 12, Wallace Cemetery, on the north shore at the mouth of the unnamed cove in front of Southwood Shores Condos.

·  MM 26, John McCrory Cemetery, in front of Tan-Tar-A Resort, in shallow water between the shoreline and the resort’s boat dock.

·  MM 26.5, Crabtree Cemetery, opposite Tan-Tar-A Island, on the southwest shore in shallow water.

·  MM 26.5, Garrison Farm Cemetery, in the center of the channel.

·  MM 27, Shoup’s Bluff Cemetery, in deep water just off the north tip of the rock ledge called The Palisades, also known as Lyon’s Bluff, which is the very recognizable bluff just north (downstream) of the Glaize Arm. Google Maps depicts the nearby cove as “Shoop Hollow”

·  MM 31, Crane Cemetery, in mid-Lake at the mouth of the Niangua Arm.

·  MM 31, Ferry Cemetery, in Linn Creek Cove in ten feet of water near Myers Road.

·  MM 31, Groom Cemetery, near the southern end of Linn Creek Cove, opposite Linn Creek Campground, in front of Lake Road 54-73.

·  MM 31, Roach Cemetery, in Linn Creek Cove at the mouth of Possum Hollow.

·  MM 35.5, Laurie Cemetery, in the center of Laurie Hollow Cove (the first deep cove upstream of the Hurricane Deck Bridge).

·  MM 41, Davidson Cemetery, directly opposite Alcorn Hollow Cove, close off the shoreline in front of Lake Road 5-25S.

·  MM 41, Jack Purvis Cemetery, just off the shoreline on the east side of the mouth of Staley Cove.

·  MM 41.5, Houseworth Cemetery, north side of channel, in deep water.

·  MM 42, Tombs Cemetery, on the north side of the channel in twenty feet of water.

·  Gravois Arm, MM3, Gladstone Cemetery, north side of Gladstone Cove. This cove was the site of the village of Gladstone.

·  Gravois Arm MM 3, Kays Cemetery, in the center of the Lake between Gladstone Cove and Coffman Beach Public Access.

·  Gravois Arm MM 3, Sheledy Hill Cemetery. This cemetery site was partially above the shoreline and is now under the boat ramp and rock fill at Coffman Beach Public Access. In earlier Lake days, this was also the site of Coffman Beach Resort.

The complete records of cemeteries inundated by the Lake are in the possession of the Camden County Historical Society Museum in Linn Creek. These are but 25 of the 60 known cemeteries that now lie under the Lake.

From the archives! This article was republished from the 2019 issue of Shore Magazine. Read Shore online and order the newest issue at

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