110 years ago this week
Topeka Cemetery’s signature monument honors James E. Hurley, general manager of the eastern lines for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.
Hurley died Aug. 16, 1910, in Karlsbad, Austria, where he had traveled in the hope of improving his health. He had a chronic case of dyspepsia (indigestion), and the Austrian spa was well known for its healing regimen.
Family and friends were stunned by the news of his death. He was just 50 years old.
The funds for the marker came from donations made mostly by employees, along with friends and family of Hurley.
The city commission discussed creating a park named for Hurley and mounting the obelisk there. No follow up was made, though, and it was decided to place the monument in Topeka Cemetery.
Plans for the monument’s design were submitted by firms in Chicago, Kansas City and Topeka. Hurley’s widow chose the design from Chicago. It consists of an obelisk 38 feet tall resting on a granite and concrete platform 21 by 14 feet. Two steps lead up to the platform, and walls line the north and south sides.
The 140 by 80 foot oval in which the monument stands is called Hurley Park. Trees flank the monument, and flowerbeds – one triangular and the other oval – were made in the surrounding road between the Hurley oval and Mausoleum Row. Hurley is buried on the east side of the platform with his wife beside him.
The obelisk’s weight was estimated at 60,000 pounds. The slab for its base was another 10,000 pounds. W.G. Tandy, a house mover, took charge of getting the shaft from the train yard to the cemetery. Two viaducts in between were reinforced to handle the weight.
Construction was completed in January 1912, 15 months after Hurley’s death. The dedication followed on Memorial Day that year.
For Hurley’s funeral, the Santa Fe offices were draped in black crepe. The Topeka State Journal also reported: “Every employee of the vast Santa Fe railroad system, extending more than 9,000 miles across this country, will bow his head in reverence and grief at 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon, September 3. For five minutes, these thousands and hundreds of thousands of heads will be bowed and the memories of the late James E. Hurley, general manager, will be freshened for the last time while his body is on earth. … (E)very train, every locomotive, every wheel and every movement of any kind on the big railway systems will stop.”
The time later was changed to 5:30, to coincide with the time the body was being lowered into the grave.
Hurley started his career in transportation driving a horse-drawn bus to ferry passengers from the train station around Cottonwood Falls, Kan., to Strong City. His next job was as a station agent and telegrapher, then a bigger station, then a position as a train dispatcher. In 1894, he was tapped to take charge of the mountain division, where the Santa Fe was increasing its lines. He was sent to Las Vegas, “a town that was considerably given over to tempestuous hilarity,” according to the Mail and Breeze. (The paper likely was referring to Las Vegas in New Mexico, just east of the capital of Santa Fe. Hurley’s wife, Belle, and daughter were vacationing there when they received news of his death.)
Under his supervision as general manager were 6,065 miles of track and 35,000 employees. It was said he could call at least 6,000 of them by name. His territory went from Chicago to El Paso on the Rio Grande and west to Denver.
It took two weeks for his body to arrive from Germany, first on a ship out of Bremen, then on a trains from New York. He had been accompanied on the trip only by his secretary, Charles Krammes.
His funeral was at the First Baptist Church, which he could see from the window in his office at the new Santa Fe headquarters at 9th and Jackson. All top Santa Fe executives, including president of the line E.P. Ripley, were in attendance. A contingent of 4,000 Topeka employees marched in his honor, and the Topeka offices closed at noon that day.
Historic Topeka Cemetery is a setting unlike any other in Topeka. The grounds offer an eternal view for those who shaped Topeka and Kansas from territorial days into the 21st century. The city skyline, with the Statehouse standing prominently in the center, can be seen from nearly every part of Topeka Cemetery.
On a rolling hillside east of downtown, Topeka Cemetery is an outdoor museum of stunning monuments that help tell the stories of the more than 35,000 people in our care.
We encourage you to visit, to take a stroll among the names familiar to you from street signs and businesses, and from family and friends, to reflect on the beauty of this spot and the lives of those who came before you.
Finding your loved ones
Topeka Cemetery has 80 acres that stretch from SE 10th Avenue to Interstate 70 and from Lafayette Street to California Avenue. Finding family members among the 35,000 souls who rest here can be a challenge.
Whether on your first visit or your 10th, it can sometimes be difficult to get to the right spot.
Enter Walk-to-Site. You can use your smart phone to guide you. Start by clicking on Search Records. Enter the name of the person you wish to find. On some phones, you may need to move the screen left to find the place to enter the last name.
If the person you seek doesn’t come up first, hit the “Next” button. That will scroll through the names that are similar.
If you get no results, try a different spelling or use just a first initial on the first name.
The large map will show you where you need to be, so you can drive to the general area before beginning your walk.
Please keep in mind that not every grave has a headstone. If you find no memorial, Topeka Cemetery is happy to assist you in finding the perfect tribute to your loved one.
More instruction is available on YouTube.
Points of interest
We consider ourselves an outdoor museum with hundreds of beautiful and interesting monuments! EXPLORE!
Friends of Historic Topeka Cemetery
The Friends have a mission to support Historic Topeka Cemetery in its efforts to preserve its grounds and buildings, promote Topeka and Kansas history, and educate Topekans on the legacies created by their forebears – the extraordinary and the ordinary, the famous and the infamous, the entrepreneur and the artist.
The Friends offer tours, including Ghost Tours in October; put on events such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs; and offer opportunities to remember your loved ones in unique ways.