River Hills Memorial Park Cemetery


River Hills Cemetery is a historic landmark located in Kansas City, Missouri. With over 55,000 burials, it holds the remains of notable figures such as Tom Pendergast and Buck O’Neil. This article explores the history, famous burials, unique features, and community events of River Hills Cemetery.

1. History of River Hills Cemetery

River Hills Cemetery was founded in the late 19th century and covers over 100 acres of land. It was designed by George Kessler, a renowned landscape architect who also designed Kansas City’s parks and boulevard system. The cemetery features rolling hills, winding roads, and beautiful landscaping that make it a peaceful and serene final resting place for its thousands of interred individuals.

The cemetery has a storied past, including a time when it was known as the “Mafia Cemetery” due to its connections to organized crime figures like Tom Pendergast. In the 1980s, the cemetery fell into disrepair and became overrun with weeds and vandalized. Residents and local officials eventually came together to restore the cemetery to its former glory, and it is now a respected and well-maintained landmark in the community.

Today, River Hills Cemetery is owned and operated by an association of lot owners and is overseen by a volunteer board of directors. Its gates are open to visitors daily from sunrise to sunset.

2. Famous Burials at River Hills Cemetery

River Hills Cemetery is the final resting place of many notable individuals from Kansas City and beyond. One of the most well-known is Tom Pendergast, a notorious political boss who controlled Kansas City during the Prohibition era. His grave site is marked by a simple headstone with his name and dates, but it remains a popular destination for visitors who are intrigued by his story.

Buck O’Neil, a legendary baseball player and coach who played for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues, is also buried at River Hills Cemetery. His grave marker includes a touching tribute to his legacy in the form of a baseball that reads “Forever Royal.” Other notable figures interred here include several former mayors of Kansas City, veterans from conflicts ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War, and prominent business leaders.

Despite its many famous burials, the cemetery remains a place of quiet reflection and remembrance. Its lush greenery and peaceful atmosphere make it an ideal spot for visitors seeking to pay their respects to loved ones or simply enjoy a moment of solace.

3. Unique Features of River Hills Cemetery

River Hills Cemetery has a number of unique features that set it apart from other cemeteries in the area. One of the most striking is its large mausoleum, which contains dozens of crypts for families to use as a final resting place. The mausoleum’s circular design allows natural light to filter in through a large skylight, creating a peaceful and uplifting atmosphere inside.

The cemetery is also home to a scattering garden, where cremated remains can be scattered in a lovely and serene location overlooking a small pond and fountain. This feature provides an affordable and beautiful option for families who wish to scatter their loved ones’ ashes in a meaningful and memorable way.

In addition to traditional burial options, River Hills Cemetery also offers several alternative options for those seeking a more unique and personalized final resting place. These include custom-designed cremation benches and monuments, as well as cremation urns made from various materials like glass and ceramic.

4. Community Events at River Hills Cemetery

While many people think of cemeteries as somber and serious places, River Hills Cemetery hosts a number of community events throughout the year that celebrate life and bring together friends, families, and neighbors. One of the most popular events is the annual Memorial Day celebration featuring patriotic music, speeches, and a wreath-laying ceremony to honor veterans.

The cemetery also hosts a holiday luminary event each December, during which hundreds of luminaries are placed throughout the grounds in honor of those who have passed away. Visitors can purchase a luminary in memory of their loved one and take part in a candlelight vigil as they pay their respects.

Other events include guided historical tours, genealogy workshops, and community clean-up days where volunteers come together to keep the cemetery beautiful and well-maintained.


River Hills Cemetery is more than just a final resting place – it is a vital part of the Kansas City community with a rich history and many unique features. Its dedication to honoring the lives of those who have passed away is evident in its well-maintained facilities, famous burials, and community events. Whether you are visiting to pay your respects to a loved one or simply to enjoy the stunning beauty of the grounds, River Hills Cemetery is a peaceful and memorable destination that is sure to stay with you long after you leave.

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