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157th Cemetery Season Ends as Picket Restoration Begins

By Sue Hunter Weir

Another cemetery season (the 157th) has drawn to a close:  the Cemetery officially closed for the year on Friday, October 15th.  You will still see plenty of signs of life during the next few months, though.

On September 20th, restoration work began on the Cemetery’s fence and gates.  The thirteen sections of the fence that are in the worst shape have been removed and have been temporarily replaced by 8-foot chain link. The gates, which weigh roughly 300 pounds apiece, have been removed.  The restoration process involves many steps:  sandblasting, filling, galvanizing, and painting before they will be reinstalled in late November or early December.  Most of the kickbacks (the braces that support each fence section by extending at an angle into the ground and anchored in concrete) are too badly damaged to be restored and will be replaced.  The stone where the gates and picket sections attach to the masonry columns will need to be repaired by some replacement and tuck-pointing.  All in all, it is a very big job, but one that seems to be going quite smoothly.

Family members and friends have installed six new markers this year and two more are scheduled to be set before the snow flies.  Old markers have been receiving their share of attention as well.  Tim McCall, a Friends of the Cemetery volunteer, has photographed all of the existing markers (2,000 or thereabouts) and is in the process of creating maps that show their locations.  He’s taken about 20,000 photographs in the cemetery over the past four years—an amazing feat and contribution to the Cemetery’s history.

We’ve started washing the old marker and sandstone markers.  Lichen and moss may add a romantic touch to the Cemetery, but over time they destroy the markers by burrowing into cracks and crevices and obliterating the carving.  Plain water and soft-bristled brushes are the tools of choice since detergents and hard-bristled brushes can scratch and chip the stone.

Next year promises to be a busy one as well.  We will begin the process of replacing markers for some of the Cemetery’s military veterans.  The federal government provides free markers for veterans but cannot assume responsibility for installing them.  The first veteran to be recognized next year will be Asa Clark Brown, one of the Cemetery’s four War of 1812 veterans (we found a fourth one this year).  The Minnesota Chapter of the Daughters of the War of 1812 has been a generous supporter of the fence restoration project; this year they dedicated the marker of Sergeant James Nettle Glover on Memorial Day and plan to do the same for Asa Clark Brown next year.

And, the benefit of one of our past projects has really paid off.  In 2003, the Cemetery was the regional Arbor Day planting site for Hennepin County.  Volunteers planted 150 trees that year, one for each year of the cemetery’s existence.  One of the goals was to increase biodiversity in the cemetery by planting varieties of trees that would attract birds and other wildlife.  This past year, an adult brown-tailed hawk and two juvenile hawks settled in.  On the Cemetery’s last day, a fox came up from the Midtown Greenway to do a little hunting—not a good omen for the Cemetery’s squirrels and rabbits, perhaps, but a beautiful sight for the rest of us.

So, much was accomplished this season but much remains to be done.  The Cemetery will reopen on April 15, 2011, just in time for Earth Day.  If you are interested in volunteering for one of our projects, please feel free to contact me at s-hunt1@umn.edu or (612)874-9233.

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