About Our Project
Much of Ritchie Cemetery's past is undocumented, and will remain forever hidden. Important, basic questions may never be answered. Yet, there is a surprising amount of information to be had in bits and pieces, widely scattered among countless sources. The main purpose of our project is to gather as many of those pieces as possible, and to organize them in a way that both adds to the history of the Topeka community and honors the memory of the people buried at Ritchie.
From the beginning, however, an important focus of our attention has also been the place itself—the physical environment, its attributes, the life it supports, and how to best preserve its unique combination of dignity of purpose, historical significance, and biodiversity.
We have created this website not only to share our research findings, but also as a means of connecting with people or organizations who might have information to contribute.
...and how it started
In the spring of 2019, Jeff Hansen and Jan Johnson knew each other, but only slightly. Both are members of a Facebook group on native plants in Kansas. Jeff founded the group and has in-depth command of the subject; Jan is an interested neophyte.
In late April 2019, Jan posted a photograph of a flowering American vetch she had seen at Skyline Park in Topeka. A commenter reported also seeing the species at Ritchie Cemetery, so Jeff went there to look for it.
He didn't find the American vetch at Ritchie, but Jeff found plenty of other things there to interest an avid naturalist. He also started wondering about the cemetery itself, curious because it is so atypical for a cemetery in an urban setting. Only a sign and a few grave markers reveal its purpose.
Intrigued, Jeff started researching the cemetery's history. Finding that no burial records exist, he expanded his efforts to include identifying as many of the people buried there as possible. He began adding entries on Find-a-Grave. More information led to more questions. Before long, he was hooked.
When Jan saw through Jeff's posts how serious he was about unraveling Ritchie's mysteries, she thought of a way to help. Through volunteer activities at the Kansas
The photo that started the project
American Vetch, Skyline Park, April 26, 2019
Historical Society, she knew local researchers who had done extensive work in both cemetery research and Find-a-Grave postings. She offered to set up a meeting.
The meeting was held in mid-June 2019. Information was shared, advice given, and suggestions made about lines of inquiry to pursue. Besides Jeff and Jan, attendees included local researchers Jill Herzog and Cheryl White, State Archeologist Bob Hoard, and Liz Leech, a descendant of John Ritchie, after whom the cemetery is named.
Subsequent project interactions between Jeff and Jan evolved into an ongoing collaboration.