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Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum has a rich history filled with memories to hold and stories to tell. Our grounds are the final resting places for many historical figures, including some athletes and those with ties to professional sports teams. One of those individuals is Christian Friedrich (or Frederick) Wilhelm von der Ahe, who was a German-American entrepreneur. He is best known as the owner of the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the American Association, now known as the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1882, he bought the St. Louis Brown Stockings baseball franchise for $1,800 and joined the American Association baseball league. He named the team the Browns and hired future Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to play first base and eventually manage the team.
The Browns dominated the American Association, winning four straight league championships starting in 1885. The baseball, beer, and other investments made von der Ahe wealthy. He set the ticket price at $0.25, hoping fans would spend money on beer. As a result, the Browns led the league in attendance and soon had to expand his ballpark. The term fan (from fanatic) is sometimes attributed to von der Ahe.
In 1885, von der Ahe erected a larger-than-life statue outside of Sportsman’s Park, not of any of his star players, but of himself. In 1887, after a poor showing in the World Series, the ill-tempered von der Ahe threatened to withhold his players’ share of the earnings. In 1892 the team joined the National League after the American Association folded. By this time, Comiskey had lost patience with von der Ahe and left for the Cincinnati Reds. Without Comiskey, the Browns quickly became a last-place team.
Legal problems plagued von der Ahe’s ownership, especially in the later years. In an effort to recoup his losses, in 1892 he moved to a larger ballpark (Robison Field), which he surrounded with an amusement park, complete with beer garden, a horse track in the outfield, a “shoot-the-shoots” water flume ride, and an artificial lake (used for ice skating in winter). The league, which prohibited gambling on its grounds, disapproved of the race track and so did von der Ahe’s outfielders.
With losses still piling up, von der Ahe resorted to selling off his best players, mostly to Brooklyn. In 1898, part of the ballpark burned down during an April game with Chicago; his second wife divorced him; and his bondsman kidnapped him for not paying his debts. In a highly publicized trial connected with the fire, von der Ahe lost his baseball team. The Browns changed hands twice and changed their name twice, first to the Perfectos (1899) and then to the Cardinals (1900).
Von der Ahe soon lost his other wealth as well and was reduced to tending bar in a small saloon. Comiskey frequently sent von der Ahe money to help make ends meet. In April 1908, the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns played each other in a benefit game for him. He died in 1913 and is buried here in Bellefontaine Cemetery with the statue that once stood in front of Sportsman’s Park adorning his grave.
We encourage you to take a tour of Bellefontaine Cemetery and hear the fascinating stories of those who rest here in our beautiful cemetery.
Take a tour of Bellefontaine Cemetery
Bellefontaine offers a variety of public tours led by a Master Guide as well as private tours. If you would like to learn more about tours, events and other services offered at Bellefontaine, please provide your information and we will send you informational emails and keep you up to date on our latest news and events. You can also check our events calendar.
Free Public Tours led by a Master Guide
March through November Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum offers free bus/trolley tours. These tours take place on select Saturdays and you may register to attend by reviewing our events calendar. Tours are led by a Bellefontaine Master Guide.
We also offer free Master Guide led walking tours. The tour is a three-mile walk exploring the flora, fauna, and history of the cemetery. Reservations must be made in advance. Times and dates vary, so please see our events calendar for more details. .
Periodically throughout the year, we offer specialty tours such as Notable Women or the Civil War. Please see our events calendar for details on when these are offered.
Private Bus Tour
Private bus tours, led by one of our Master Guides can be arranged for a fee between $180 and $250. The tour must be scheduled a minimum of two weeks in advance, and there is a maximum of 25 people per tour. Cost is based upon whether a bus or trolley is reserved for a period of two hours. To schedule a tour, please contact our office at 314-402-3606 or email Dan Fuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bellefontaine offers private tours by foot, car, or caravan. These are also led by one of our Master Guides. Plans must be scheduled a minimum of two weeks in advance. Tours can be customized to accommodate 4-25 people. To schedule a tour, please contact our office at 314-402-3606 or email Dan Fuller at email@example.com.