Franklin Loomis Crane -Cemetery Founder

In 1883, Franklin Loomis Crane celebrated his 75th birthday. The Copeland Hotel hosted the party, and later accounts rmarked that the guest list read like a Topeka street map--Gage, Huntoon, Oakley, Mulvane, Kline, as well as Cyrus K. Holliday, for whom Holliday Square Shopping Center is named. In fact, newspaper accounts of the time asserted that Crane and Holliday were the two most important people in Topeka's early history.

crane franklinCrane had come with Holliday to Kansas in 1854 and had returned to the East to make arrangements for the move. However, he was not among the nine men who met on the bank of the Kansas River in 1854 to form the original Topeka Township Association. He joined the group in April, 1855. In comparison to the other members of the organization, Crane was already an old man. Holliday was 26 years old when he came to the Kansas Territory; Crane was 46 when he gave up the practice of dentistry in Easton, Pennsylvania, and came west with his four sons. His wife had "moved into another sphere of existence" in 1845.

Crane had grown up in Connecticut. He worked as a grocer until he was 20 years old and his uncle offered to teach him dentistry. The ambitious young man studied some, bought some instruments and decided to put his knowledge into practice. He arrived in Easton in 1832 with 31 and 1/4 cents in his pocket and pawned his pocket watch for money to live.

His first patient, according to his diary, was a Mr. Batt for whom Crane filled three front teeth for the sum of three dollars. That three dollars, wrote Crane, "looked most beautiful and I laid it upon the bureau and stood and admired it for a few moments. . . to show that I was fully entitled to it. I will state that I saw Mr. Batt's teeth thirteen years afterwards and his front teeth were good."

Dentistry proved successful for Crane and he wrote that he might have put aside a considerable fortune if he had not committed so many errors in judgment. What he termed "errors" are a real insight into his personality. First, he said, he took too many students. Second, he spent too much time with the ladies, taking them to cotillions and ice cream parlors (prior to his marriage). Third, he loaned money without asking for security and contributed to too many charities. Would that more men were similarly flawed!

By 1854 he had begun looking westward with many other Pennsylvanians. He travelled first to New York City, then to Chicago, St. Louis and finally Fort Leavenworth. It was on this trip that Crane met Holliday on a riverboat, and thus resolved to return to Kansas.

After settling in Kansas, Crane was indeed involved in nearly every significant event in creating a town from the wilderness. He believed without reservation that Topeka would some day be a bustling city, and it was Crane who decided the old burying ground at 10th and Kansas was inappropriate and would not accomodate a growing city.

"If we can have a cemetery by no other means, I will start one myself," Crane told Holliday.

He did precisely that. In 1856, he built the stone house that still stands and serves as the cemetery office and soon built the carriage house next to it. By 1859 the cemetery was incorporated and the relocation of bodies began. The process took several months.

Many of Crane's plans were soon interupted by the outbreak of Civil War. No sooner than Kansas becme a state than half the nation seceded and the bloody war began. Crane wrote in his diary:

". . . James H. Lane lectured in Topeka disclosing the country to be in a desperate condition, and that its salvation depended upon a general enlisting of all true patriots. My age at the time was fifty-four but if I could do anything to save the country I felt impelled to try and do it. I therefore enlisted as a private on the 19th day of August, 1862, and took the required oath."

Despite operating a cemetery, Crane was far from being a morbid or morose man. He remained active in many facets of the growth of Topeka. He bred racehorses and there was a racetrack joining the cemetery. (Jockeys slept upstairs in the stable, the most notable being future vice president Charles Curtis.)

Crane served as president of the Topeka Board of Education following the Civil War, and many schools were built during his tenure. He helped in the overall design of the town and was involved in real estate. Several accounts mentioned that he often recommended property owned by someone else if his own did not fit the bill.

One of the most moving tributes was a letter to his Franklin's son, George, from J. P. Root, written on November 22, 1884, the day after the elder Crane's death. It was published in Topeka Pen and Camera Sketches:

"I well remember in '56, when many men of prominence left the Territory for various purposes, your father remained to lend his efficient aid in saving Kansas to freedom. I have now a little pocket compass that I obtained from him to assist in laying out the road from Topeka to Nebraska City, for the purpose of allowing Free State settlers -- forbidden to come up the Missouri River -- to enter Kansas from the north through Iowa and Nebraska. Topeka can never properly appreciate teh heroic, active efforts of your father and his associates. . . ."

Root also commented on Crane's willingness to serve in the army as a nurse:

"Though in age far beyond the years of draft, and exempt from military service, when his country was fired upon his only thought was , Here I am, send me. As I saw him in the fifties to the front saving Kansas, I again saw him, in the sixities, to the front serving the Union. Many a smiling 'God bless you!' followed your now-sainted father as I often saw him pass kindly and gently from one to another of the sick and wounded Kansas soldiers -- fortunately under his skillful nursing and care during the war -- while thousands of younger and more vigorous men remained in their Kansas homes, intent only on making for themselves financial and political fortunes -- which though they succeeded in doing, they will not last in coming ordeals; while your father, 'mid the crush of the battle, the miasm of the bivouac and march, of the wounded, dead, and dying, of hospital and camp, was laying up his treasures in heaven, where he is now enjoying their rich and glorious fruition."

While many people are elevated in esteem after their death, it appeared that Crane enjoyed that respect and good will during his lifetime.

About  Historic Topeka Cemetery

Historic Topeka Cemetery is operated by its lot owners, each of whom is a member of the Topeka Cemetery Association. Day-to-day operations are overseen by the association’s nine member board of directors and conducted by the superintendent.

As you walk the grounds or visit the website, know that your loved ones rest with ours. As they have been since its founding in 1859, Historic Topeka Cemetery’s caretakers are committed to respectful maintenance and preserving memories for generations to come.

Thank you for your support and patronage of Historic Topeka Cemetery, the oldest chartered cemetery in Kansas.


Historic Topeka Cemetery

1601 SE 10th Avenue . Topeka, Kansas 66607

(785) 233-4132