Believed tо be the oldest pioneer cemetery іn Omaha, Prospect Hill Cemetery is located between North 31st and 33rd Streets and Parker and Grant Streets in North Omaha, Nebraska. The original 10 acres were thought to be where Native Americans and Mormons had reportedly been buried earlier. The first mayor of Omaha, Jesse Lowe, set aside those 10 acres of land for burial purposes in 1858.
Prospect Hill Cemetery received its name from Byron Reed, an Omaha real estate broker, who in 1860 had purchased 15 acres of the ground from Jesse Lowe. Mr. Reed operated the cemetery for 20 years at a loss, then turned it over to the Forest Lawn Cemetery Association. In 1890, the lot owners of Prospect Hill organized an association of their own, taking over the cemetery’s management from Forest Lawn and acquiring additional ground.
Alonzo F. Salisbury was the first burial at Prospect Hill Cemetery was in 1858. Salisbury was at one time the Douglas County representative to the Territorial Legislature. According to an old receipt found in the Douglas County files, the funeral director, A. F. Vischer, certified that Salisbury paid $25 for the coffin and the service. His widow, Lydia, certified that she paid $8 to the gravedigger, John Ryan, for his services.
Perhaps the most notorious burial at Prospect Hill was that of Madame Anna Wilson. Wilson was the owner and proprietor of a popular brothel in downtown Omaha, and the long-time partner of a famous gambler named Dan Allen. Dying wealthy in her 70s, Wilson left her mansion and former brothel to the City of Omaha when she passed, and had made arrangements for a unique monument for her grave, which was installed at her death in 1911.
Being a madame tied with the city’s seamier side, Wilson was not popular among the upper class women of Omaha. So much so that when she died, Wilson Wilson left distinct directions in her will that ensured that she and Dan Allen, who died 20 years earlier, were be left in Prospect Hill Cemetery forever.
Today, a polished stone in the dimensions of a king-size bed with four posts rests over their double graves. But the secret of the bed in the cemetery is that the concrete slab below the polished stone is nine feet deep. Wilson did this to ensure that the society women wouldn’t dig her up and move her to another cemetery.
Anyone familiar with Omaha will undoubtedly recognize the majority of the names on the monuments in Prospect Hill. The streets and neighborhoods in Omaha are named after the people buried in Prospect Hill. These pioneers shaped the city in its earliest days. Approximately 15,000 burials were recorded at Prospect Hill, including influential developers, religious leaders, mayors, judges, and benefactors, for whom these streets, parks and schools were named.
Additionally, there are veterans from every American war beginning with the War of 1812. Also interred here are nearly 100 soldiers who died on active duty during the Civil War or while serving at Omaha Barracks (Fort Omaha) from 1863-1887.
It would have been a travesty to have lost this rich slice of history to vandals and neglect. This nearly happened until the Greater Omaha Genealogical Society, in 1976 as part of the Bi-Centennial, began to reclaim the land from waist high weeds and garbage, and the cemetery began its most recent rise from neglect.
The cemetery today comprises 359 acres. It was laid out by Ernshaw of Cleveland, with winding avenues which even in the horse-and-buggy days were to prove adequate for today’s auto traffic.
Prospect Hill was designated a landmark by the City of Omaha in 1979. While the cemetery is actively maintained today by the Prospect Hill Cemetery Historic Site Development Foundation , it hasn’t accepted burials in many years.
Here is a video tribute to madam and benefactor to the city, Anna Wilson, produced by Prospect Hill Cemetery Foundation: