Since 1869, Wyuka Cemetery has been a serene place for many Lincoln people to mourn, come together and remember the past.
Cemeteries can sometimes get a bad rap — perhaps it’s the eerie quiet or their association with death and ghouls. Regardless of the occasional negativity surrounding the final resting place for many, Wyuka Cemetery aims to offer more than just a quiet place for the dead to rest.
According to the Wyuka Cemetery tour book, the original plot of land the cemetery sits on was intended to be a memorial cemetery for Union soldiers who fought under the Grand Army of the Republic during the Civil War. Over time, it was expanded to allow locals to be buried as well as other veterans who fought in many wars including World War I and the Gulf War.
Mary Spencer, a board member of the Wyuka Historical Foundation, said that there are approximately 1800 veterans buried in what is known as the Soldiers’ Circle. This section of the cemetery is styled differently, with traditional white headstones on each grave found in similar places like Arlington National Cemetery.
“There's something about that section of the cemetery.” Spencer said. “They space the soldiers headstones very appropriately, and we've got beautiful trees around with the grass. The Soldiers’ Circle is by far my favorite place to visit.”
According to Vice President of Wyuka Historical Foundation Diane Bartels, the actual design of the landscape for Wyuka followed a very popular trend for cemeteries at the time. The style — known as the rural cemetery design — accentuated the lay of the land and created a more inviting atmosphere for locals to meander around.
“The cemetery follows the curve of the land, and because of all the trees and the flowers, and shrubs we are also a Nebraska statewide arboretum,” Bartels said.
The 140 acres of land between Vine and O Streets that comprise Wyuka are separated into different sections, intermixed with a variety of mausoleums, memorials and even a pond two swans call home.
According to Bartels, the graves are divided into sections. In one part of the cemetery, veterans are buried. Another is dedicated to children who died in an orphanage known as the Home of the Friendless. There are mausoleums and commemorative memorials for a myriad of different causes, as well as an amphitheater where local groups can reserve the space for outdoor Shakespearean plays.
Bartels said the cemetery also features many monuments commemorating public service workers, firefighters and even those who died on 9/11. Each monument is designed differently with stylistic distinctions for each structure. Some feature older gothic architecture while others are more modern and ornate.
“We have so many of the early days Lincoln people, like governors, who are buried there,” Bartels said. “And you find that they have such unique monuments. They just don't build monuments like that anymore.”
Despite pop culture’s portrayal of cemeteries as ghostly gathering places with decrepit atmospheres, both Spencer and Bartles agreed that Lincoln’s Wyuka Cemetery is much more than just an eerie resting place for the dead.
“The structure of it being like you were in a country lane — it's peaceful, and you feel like you are kind of away from the city,” Spencer said. “You're in this whole different area, and it's neat. It's a neat place to gather.”