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Wednesday August 23rd 2017

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Hundreds of Scouts and Friends are Cemetery’s Caretakers throughout the year

190 Girl Scouts along with Friends of the Cemetery continuing their caretaking helped prepare this sacred place for winter during the 159th Fall season since the Cemetery’s first burial. Photos by Tim McCall

By Sue Hunter Weir

Another season at Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery has ended—its 159th to be exact. With the exception of Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11th, the cemetery will be closed until April 15th, 2013. That doesn’t mean that work on the cemetery will stop. The next phase of the fence restoration is due to begin shortly—more sections will be removed, restored and returned in the late fall.

Over 190 Girl Scouts and their parents volunteered to help put the cemetery to bed for the season. The occasion was the Centennial Day Year of Service by the Mississippi River Valley’s Minnesota-Wisconsin Chapter of Girl Scouts. Beth Hart, longtime Phillips community activist, organized the event; the girls spent the morning of October 13th raking and bagging leaves. And there were a lot of leaves to be raked. Lack of rain meant spectacular fall colors but it also meant that the trees dropped their leaves a few weeks earlier than usual.

Volunteers from Friends of the Cemetery spent Saturday, October 6th, cleaning markers in Block E of the cemetery (the block right outside of the caretaker’s cottage door). It’s a painstaking task—it takes approximately two hours to clean one small marker, four hours to clean a four-foot tall obelisk. The only cleaning materials that we use are plain water, toothbrushes and wooden craft sticks. It requires great patience but it’s a very satisfying experience to watch a name that has been hidden by lichen for who-knows-how long be legible again.

There are 104 stone markers, three metal urns and assorted marker fragments in Block E. Many of the markers are granite and do not need to be cleaned, but the marble and sandstone ones do. Once lichen starts to grow on a marble marker it begins to obliterate the carving. Lichen may give a cemetery an appealing old-fashioned look that’s fitting around Halloween but it is extremely destructive and left unchecked will eventually destroy the markers. It doesn’t take long: markers that were legible as recently as 2006 no longer are.

The nine markers that we cleaned ranged in age from 98 to 127 years old. Some were ornately carved and some were plain. The oldest, and one of the most ornate, was for Gus Harry Johnson, who was born on November 9, 1884, and who died less a year later. It’s a beautiful stone but one of seven in Block E that guards an empty grave. Gus Harry was removed and reburied at Hillside many years ago. Why his marker was left behind is something of a mystery.

There are a lot of mini-mysteries in Block E. Mildred Margarette Restad, who died in 1911 has a four-foot obelisk marking her grave. A baby girl, identified only as the Babe of Robert Restad, died one year earlier and is buried next to Mildred, but doesn’t have a stone, and she is not mentioned on Mildred’s marker even though they must have been related. Likewise, Eva Bogren, who died in 1897, has a beautiful marker but the three family members buried near her have none. Rodney Hurlburt, a Civil War veteran, has a marker; his wife, Eleanor, buried right next to him, doesn’t.

It makes sense that a veteran would have a marker and that his wife might not—the government provides them for veterans, though not their spouses, at no cost. But the reasons for some of the other “missing” markers aren’t clear. Did the family’s financial fortunes change? Was the person who died the one who would normally have taken care of family business like ordering grave markers? Did a couple’s children grow up and move on? Was there a marker at one time that has since disappeared? Over the winter we’ll continue to work on finding the stories of people (with or without markers) who are buried in the cemetery. In the spring we’ll be looking again for volunteers to help us clean markers. We hope you’ll join us.

To see more photos of the Girl Scouts at work plus lots of other cemetery photos, visit us on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PioneersandSoldiersCemetery 

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