How to Get Buried at the Texas State Cemetery
By Axel Gerdau
The Texas State Cemetery on East Seventh Street in Austin is the final resting place of many famous Texans, politicians and Confederate War veterans. But it may not be as hard as you think to get a spot in the city’s most elite burial ground.
In a city that cherishes its history, parks and quiet places, the Texas State Cemetery is bit of a secret. Especially at rush hour. Commuters zip by on East Seventh, oblivious to the world on the other side of the metal fence between Navasota and Comal.
The cemetery’s 18 acres are marked by beauty and tranquility. Bubbling water fountains. Lush lawns. Tall live oak trees.
“People don’t realize what a jewel we have here in Austin behind these gates,” said Scott Sayers, chairman of the Texas State Cemetery Committee. He oversees daily operations at the cemetery, which was established in 1851.
Today, the cemetery holds 2,000 Confederate War veterans and 900 Texans who have shaped the state’s political and civic life. But this may be the best-kept secret at the Texas State Cemetery: Since 1997, any Texan can be buried there.
“Anybody is welcome to apply,” Sayers said. “We have about 3,000 plots that are not spoken for at this time, which we estimate will last about maybe 40 or 50 years.”
There are a couple of ways in, according to cemetery superintendent Harry Bradley.
“The automatic way is basically to be a state of Texas official,” Bradley said. “Statewide elected officials, members of the Legislature, district judges. Now the other way is to submit an application to the Texas cemetery committee.”
To illustrate how that application process works, KUT News went through it with Austin American-Statesman columnist John Kelso, who is 68. Years ago he was invited to apply to be buried at the Texas State Cemetery, but he didn’t complete the two-page application until we asked him to.
Elected office? “I was the president of my fraternity right before it folded at Missouri,” Kelso said.
Civic activities or significant achievements? “I used to have an event called the ‘ugly truck contest.’ That was one civic event. And the other one, I was instrumental in having the North Austin against South Austin tug-of-war in the ’80s.”
Then there’s the “special contribution” section, with 17 categories where you can claim you’ve made an impact on Texas, from art and design to science and medicine. Oil and gas is one of the areas, too. And then there’s writing.
“I have been writing for the Statesman for 35 years and bringing a little levity into people’s lives,” Kelso said. “I get letters pretty regularly from people thanking me for brightening their day. I have written a lot about Texas issues, not all of them that serious, but, ahem … I have written several articles about Rick Perry. I have been making fun of him from the beginning, even before he was governor.”
That’s where things could get tricky for Kelso. You see, when you’re done filling out the application it goes off to the Texas State Cemetery Committee.
The committee members are appointed by the speaker of the Texas House, the lieutenant governor — and the governor. The governor signs off on all the members.
One of Kelso’s columns last year was called “Somebody needs to goose Anita Perry to get a smile out of her.”
“Oh, yeah, that one caused a big flap,” he said.
Did he hear from Perry on this one?
“Not exactly. Though he did during a speech give me kind of a shout-out without using my name, by saying that his wife had a lovely smile, a beautiful smile.”
The same people who now need to approve him were approved and appointed by Perry. “Yeah, I might wait until Perry is out of office sometime in 2045,” Kelso said, laughing.
In all, 119 Texans have been admitted that way since the rules changed in 1997. Sayers welcomes all future applications, with one caveat.
“Anybody is welcome to apply, we would just hope that anybody who did apply would have reason to apply, so it doesn’t have staff spend time where it is not necessary,” he said.
Since 1997, 20 applications have been tabled, which officially means the applicants’ résumés were not strong enough yet.