Hearing the phrase “Zebra cemetery” is probably more likely to conjure up images of something like the elephant graveyard in the Lion King than anything else in the minds of most people here at the Lake— and for good reason. The actual Zebra cemetery in question is a small, overgrown, and out-of-the-way cemetery that languishes in obscurity atop the hill upon which the old Osage Beach Elementary School, now Old School Commons, sits.
Although the old school has been around in one form or another since 1938, the cemetery on the grounds predates even that. The Zebra cemetery gets its name not from the African mammal, but rather from the small town of Zebra that was once situated along the Osage River prior to the completion of Bagnell Dam in 1931. Zebra, like the original location of Linn Creek and many other small communities along the Osage River, was all but lost when the encroaching waters of the burgeoning Lake of the Ozarks slowly consumed everything in the river’s basin. The cemetery survived thanks to its location high on the ridge above the Lake and local residents continued to follow the instructions, as noted in Victoria Hubbell’s book on the history of Osage Beach “A Town on Two Rivers”, to “bury your loved ones between the three post oaks.”
For decades, these three oaks were all that defined the boundaries of the Zebra cemetery as its historical significance faded from the memory of the local residents and it fell into a dilapidated state. It was not until spring of 1997 that an effort led by Hubbell, while working on her book, to draw attention to and restore the cemetery culminated in the addition of a proper fence, retaining wall, and new grave markers. According to contemporaneous reporting in the Eldon Advertiser, the restoration project garnered support from the Osage Beach board of alderman, the Camdenton R-3 School District, and the business community in order to accomplish the preservation of the Zebra Cemetery.
At the time, the restoration and preservation effort was an impressive feat that guaranteed the survival of this culturally and historically significant Lake-area site for another generation when so many other cemeteries fall out of the public consciousness and wind up disappearing into the surrounding countryside or being razed in favor of some new development. However, as consequential as this initial preservation effort may have been, time wore on and over the succeeding two decades the Zebra cemetery appears to be well into the process of regression.
The grounds are unkempt and trash collects among the overgrown grass and weeds that crowd out the smaller headstones. The metal fencing is in poor condition and sections of the fence swing about in the wind. The native shrubs and other plants that were planted as part of the 1997 restoration are untamed and obscure not only the cemetery itself but also the plaque put in place to give visitors a brief history of the background of the cemetery and its importance-- the plaque too is now so thoroughly weathered that the bottom portion is virtually illegible.
With 1967 being the most recent year of burial on any of the headstones, it’s unlikely that many people still visit the old cemetery and have a personal interest in maintaining it, and the lack of things like flowers at the vast majority of the gravesites only further reinforces this notion. When a cemetery doesn’t have regular visitors to care about the maintenance of the final resting places of their loved ones it’s understandable to see how it can be forgotten and fall into disrepair, as appears to be the case with the Zebra cemetery. But even being detached from the immediate impact of having a friend or family member buried at a certain cemetery, from the perspective of civic duty as citizens of the Lake and the United States more broadly, the fact that two local veterans are buried at the Zebra cemetery makes the matter of its current state all the more noteworthy.
The older of the two veterans is Joseph Titter, Nov. 12, 1839- Sept. 14, 1917, who served in the 47th Illinois Infantry for the Union during the Civil War. The 47th Illinois came through this area when marching from Jefferson City to Otterville, located about halfway between Tipton and Sedalia, before joining the Army of the Mississippi as the North began their push down the Mississippi River. The other veteran buried there just so happens to be the last person interred at Zebra cemetery in 1967. Walter W. Arnold, Oct. 22, 1872- Mach 15, 1967, served in the 2nd Missouri Infantry during the oft-forgotten Spanish-American War of 1898, where he was stationed at various camps in Georgia during the war. Although his unit was nearly shipped off to fight the Spanish in Cuba or the Philippines on more than one occasion, last minute changes were made in each of those cases that prevented Arnold from ever seeing combat. He lived to be 94 years old.
With Veterans Day having just passed, the question of whether or not either of these two men were included in any of the many local remembrance ceremonies is one that should be addressed since we take special care to honor all those who have served and should make a concerted effort to include those who may have been forgotten with the inexorable march of time. The cases of these two men in particular are important parts of not only the history of the Lake but the history of America, considering the outsized impact the two wars they fought in had on the development of, at the time, the yet young and developing United States.
For now, Titter and Arnold rest peacefully in the Zebra Cemetery along with about 30 other local residents buried there, although many of the graves remain unmarked, and they will continue to rest there peacefully regardless of the state of the neglected cemetery. Whether or not the rest of us continue to remember them and work to ensure that future generations will be able to do the same, however, remains to be seen.