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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery, Seoul Mapo-gu: The Foreigners' Final Voyage in Korea

Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery (Hanja: 楊花津外國人宣敎師墓園), also known as the Hapjeong-dong International Cemetery, is a cemetery overlooking the Han River, located at 46 Yanghwajin Lane/Yanghwajin-gil, Hapjeong-dong 144-beonji, Seoul Mapo-gu. Designated in 1890 as a site for foreign missionaries by Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu, the site is currently open to the public from 9:00am to 6:00pm and is located next to Jeoldusan Martyr's Shrine. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 Koreans and 500 foreigners visit every year.

The first person buried in Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery was Dr. John Heron, the second director of Gwanghyewon Hospital. He passed away at the age of 34 from dysentery while treating patients in 1890. Due to the time of his death in late July, it proved impossible to move Heron's body to Jemulpo Foreigners' Cemetery in present-day Incheon Metropole, so it was decided to bury him in Yanghwajin. After Dr. Heron, other foreign missionaries and educators who passed away in Korea were also laid to rest in the Yanghwajin cemetery.

Dr. Horace Allen obtained the land rights of the bluff overlooking the Han River and called it Yanghwajin; so named for an old ferry crossing that once existed nearby. The site for the cemetery already had historical significance: in 1839, a number of French Catholic missionaries were put to death there and in 1866, a number of Korean Catholics were also killed in a mass execution on the nearby riverbank at Saenamteo.

The cemetery was also a victim of close quarters combat during the Korean War and war damage to many of the grave markers is quite evident. Attempts to repair the fractured markers are minimal at the request of community members.

Officially maintained by members of the Kyungsung European-American Cemetery Association, the 14,000 square meter (4000 Pyeong) grounds have been unofficially taken care by foreign diplomats, businessmen, volunteer groundskeepers and missionaries since its founding.

The “100th Anniversary Memorial Church” was established in Yanghwajin by the “Council for the 100th Anniversary of the Korean Church” to commemorate a century of missionary work in Korea. The church was built in a shape and style which reflects and blends well with the style of the cemetery.

Many of the foreigners who have contributed to the story of modern Korean history are buried in the Yanghwajin cemetery, such as Thomas Bethell, the founder of Daehan Maeil Sinbo (Newspaper); Mary Scranton, the founder of Ewha Hakdang (a mission school for girls, now Ewha Women’s University); and Henry Appenzeller, the founder of Chungdong First Methodist Church. Each grave and headstone has a unique appearance creating a distinctive and foreign atmosphere. Over 500 foreigners are buried here including Homer Hulbert, a supporter of Korean independence from Japan and highly respected among Koreans. The epitaph of Hulbert shows his great affection for Korea. It reads, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.” Strolling around the path between the graves gives a feeling of solemnity. 

Originally built for the members of the foreign missionary community in Seoul, the Kyungsung European-American Cemetery Association maintained the grounds until a 1961 decree by President Park Chung-hee stating that foreigners were not allowed to own land. The grounds technically belonged to no one until the city of Seoul designated it a public park in 1965. In 1968, when the South Korean government passed a law requiring foreigners to register all land, the cemetery was curiously never officially registered. In 1985, a committee called the Council for the 100th Anniversary of the Korean Church was asked by Horace Grant Underwood III to register the cemetery on behalf of the Seoul Union Church with the understanding that the Seoul Union Church would be the unofficial caretakers. The committee agreed and a year later built a joint-use chapel nearby called the Memorial Chapel.

In 2005, the predominantly foreign congregation of the Seoul Union Church began sharing the Memorial Chapel with a Korean congregation composed of the former 100th Anniversary Memorial Church Committee. The two congregations coexisted amicably until the death of Dr. Horace Grant Underwood III in 2004. However, the two congregations then began to disagree about proper caretaking responsibilities as well as who officially takes care of the grounds. On August 5, 2007, the Seoul Union Church was officially removed from the grounds including the chapel. The church, cemetery and adjacent museum are since the property of the Memorial Church.

Conflicting reports from the Memorial Church further claim that some interments would be disinterred in the future Memorial church leader Lee Jae-chul referred to the change in cemetery caretakership similar to the "Chinese retaking Hong Kong".

Notable Foreigners who interred there:
  • Homer Hulbert (1863–1949) American missionary and journalist whose headstone proclaims "I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey."
  • Ernest Bethell (1872–1909) founder of Daehan Maeil Sinbo who died after being imprisoned by the Japanese army for exposing abuses against Korean civilians. Years after soldiers erased a defiant challenge to the Imperial Army on Bethell's grave marker, the words were replaced by officials from the Seoul Union Church.
  • Horace Grant Underwood (1859–1916) founder of the Seoul YMCA, Saemunan Presbyterian Church and what eventually became Yonsei University
  • Henry Gerhard Appenzeller (1858–1902) (cenotaph) who greatly contributed to the foundation of Pai Chai University
  • Douglas B. Avison (1893–1952) who was a founder of Severance Hospital.
  • Clarence Ridgeby Greathouse (1843–1899) supervisor to 1895 trial of the murder of Empress Myeongseong of Yeoheung Min Clan
  • Brevet Brigadier General Charles W. Le Gendre (1830–1899) French-born American general, diplomat and advisor to Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu from 1890 to 1899.
  • Albert Wilder "Bruce" Taylor (1875–1948) American gold mining executive and UPA (later UPI) correspondent, lived in Korea for the majority of his life with his wife, Mary Linley Taylor. He was actively involved in the Korean independence movement and infamously photographed Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu's funeral procession.