Laurel Hill Cemetery, located at 21st and Polk Street in Omaha, is squarely in the old South Omaha city limits. It's also known as Sautter's Cemetery and the Old German Cemetery.
I'm currently documenting Laurel Hill, and am working on plot maps to help people find their family's plots. Click here to see the progress.
Walking around it you can see the influence of the Victorian graveyard ideal of stately plots with imposing fenceposts and well-kept park-like vistas, but Laurel Hill has been hard hit by the weight of time and the elements. If you spend any time in it today, you can see what the cemetery once looked like and how charming it still is.
Today you can see the cemetery from the Kennedy Freeway, just before the first Bellevue exit at Chandler Street. They had been attempting to clear out some of the trees at the bottom of the cemetery over the past few years, and the view from the interstate was much less obstructed; you can see how close the Interstate is to the cemetery at the bottom of the aerial picture. However, the trees have grown again and it's harder to get a good view of Laurel Hill now.
If you have Microsoft Excel, click here to see the layout of the cemetery. In the photo below, the main gates are at the top of the picture, a little right of center. The map at the link above has the same orientation.
This picture has the rough outline of the block numbers that the cemetery is split into, which are marked by poles with the numbers on them, at the cemetery. Margie Sobotka's book has all the known burials listed, with their block, lot and grave number. There are a large amount of unknown burials here, I suspect, given that the records were destroyed in a fire fairly early on, and reconstructed from memory.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps
According to the Greater Omaha Genealogical Society book, "Graveyards of Douglas County," the cemetery was begun in 1866 by Christian Sautter on his farm in South Omaha. Mrs. Sautter gave the cemetery to the lot owners in 1936. All the early records were destroyed by fire in 1910. Mr. Sautter attempted to reconstruct the records from memory.
Helen Zentz, the past-President of the Laurel Hill Cemetery Association, was working to put together a card file of all extant records in the 1970's-80's. These were eventually collected into book form in 1990 by Margie Sobotka, called, appropriately enough, "The Laurel Hill Cemetery Book." At this time the book is out-of-print, but if there is enough demand it's possible they might do another printing. The Omaha Public Library Main Branch has all the known records on microfilm, as well as a copy of the book.
Laurel Hill is fighting a battle with time, vandalism and the elements. Helen Zentz passed away in 2008 and there is a new group of people working with the cemetery, asking for volunteers to help keep the cemetery in good shape and donations to restore or replace some of the older, unreadable headstones.
Lack of funds is still threatening to close this historic cemetery down for good. Relatives of the people interred there contribute what they can, but with rising costs it's not enough. It is an important part of Omaha's heritage (Fred Astaire's grandmother is buried here!), and needs everyone's help. If you would like to help in any way, please write or send a donation (this is a non-profit group) to:
The Laurel Hill Cemetery Association
P O Box 7053 - South Omaha Station
Omaha, Nebraska 68107