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By Mike Wheeler
I first heard about the “old Mammoth cemetery on the hill” and its mysterious graves while reading Yellowstone National Park historian Lee Whittlesey’s book, Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park.
The cemetery sits atop a hill behind the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and was first used in 1883. Now known as Kite Hill because Mammoth residents have often climbed it to fly kites with their children, it was previously known as Sepulcher Hill, because it lies on the eastern flank of Sepulcher Mountain. Though “sepulcher” means a crypt-like burial place, the mountain was not named for the cemetery. It was named in 1871 by U.S. Army Capt. John W. Barlow, according to the Yellowstone Wiki.
The Kite Hill Cemetery is not to be confused with a separate military cemetery in Mammoth near horse corrals. Kite Hill is a civilian cemetery for early park workers and non-military residents. It has 14 graves, but only one monument still stands, marking two graves. The identities of at least three people buried remain a mystery.
The inscription on the lone remaining tombstone shows that Mary J. Foster, 33, was the first person buried at the cemetery, on June 10, 1883. Whittlesey writes that “she hailed from Madison County, North Carolina and was probably an employee of the hotel which was then being built.” But nothing else is known about Foster.
Sarry E. Bolding, who died of unknown causes, is buried next to Foster and her name appears on a common headstone marking both graves, even though she was buried four years after Foster.
Kite Hill Cemetery also contains the bodies of two people who committed suicide, one who was murdered and another who died in an avalanche, according to Death in Yellowstone.
I had tried to find Kite Hill Cemetery before, and once when my children were with me, they stumbled across it. I finally emailed Lee Whittlesey for directions and he was gracious enough to point me in the right direction.
Some people prefer to hike up a trail next to the Old Gardiner Road directly behind the Mammoth Hotel that leads up the hill. For me, the easiest way to find Kite Hill Cemetery is to:
- Hike up the Old Gardiner Road behind the Mammoth Hotel to the first plateau, until you see the service road on the left.
- Follow the service road to the left across the hill.
- The service road will start up the side of the hill and you will see two fenced-in utility areas. At the second of the two, head toward the top of the hill.
- At the top of that hill, look around for the headstone of Mary Foster. You’ll also see other unmarked graves nearby, as well as panoramic views of the hills around Mammoth Hot Springs.
The hike is short but steep, climbing more than 300 feet in about a half-mile, so take your time. A camera and bear spray are always good ideas on any hike in Yellowstone.
Mike Wheeler is a frequent Yellowstone Park visitor who enjoys photographing and exploring the park.