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Friday August 18th 2017

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Remarkable progress update: 74% fencing is restored, obelisk gravestone found, gravesite a mystery & marker upgrade continues

This 3-foot obelisk gravestone found at a dump was for Mrs.    Fred Eaton & her baby, dates      and gravesite are a mystery.

This 3-foot obelisk gravestone found at a dump was for Mrs. Fred Eaton & her baby, dates and gravesite are a mystery.

By Sue Hunter Weir

They’re back. The 42 sections of steel picket fencing that border the Lake Street side of the cemetery have been straightened, sandblasted, galvanized, repainted and reset. The remaining fifteen sections along Cedar Avenue will be repaired this fall. This project has not been cheap; each section of the fence has cost about $14,000 to repair. The stone pillars still need to be straightened, tuck-pointed and capped to prevent water from dripping down inside the pillars and eroding them from the inside out.

The fence serves many purposes but perhaps none more important than protecting the markers, especially the oldest markers. New markers, with the exception of military markers, are usually made of granite. While they’re not indestructible, they are considerably more durable that the oldest markers many of which were made of marble. It took a while for transplanted New Englanders to figure it out, but marble is not really hardy enough to withstand the extremes of Minnesota weather.

And the fence is a deterrent to vandals. There hasn’t been a major episode of vandalism in many years—probably since the 1970s. We’re lucky. Almost every day a cemetery somewhere in the United States is vandalized. Sometimes the motive is financial: people stealing bronze vases, urns and plaques that they sell for scrap to dealers who will melt them down into unrecognizable forms. In 1906 two 15-year-old boys, David Curtis and Charles Carlin, went on a crime spree; one of their misdeeds was stealing flowers from graves in the cemetery and reselling them in saloons around town. They were caught and sent to reform school. Occasionally vandalism is a hate crime—thugs desecrating the burial place of particular ethnic and cultural groups. But for the most part vandals have no real motive. They are almost always young men in the their teens and twenties. They’re bored, often drunk, and they’re invariably caught.

The financial costs of vandalism can range as high as tens of thousands of dollars. That assumes that the markers were not damaged beyond repair. But often the loss is irreplaceable. Some markers are too old or too fragile to be repaired and returned to their proper spaces. Sometimes they are illegible and there is no way of knowing whom they belonged to and where they should be placed. There are several piled up under a shrub near the garage in the cemetery.

A few weeks ago, employees from the city’s Department of Public Works found an old marker at one of the city’s dumping grounds. They brought it to the cemetery thinking that it must have come from Pioneers and Soldiers. The 3-foot obelisk belongs to a Mrs. Fred F. Eaton and her baby. The names are clearly legible but the date of their deaths is not, although they appear to have died in the 1890s. A bigger mystery is where the stone came from. There is no indication that Mrs. Eaton is, or ever was, buried in this cemetery. It is likely that her husband is the Fred F. Eaton who was listed in the Minneapolis City Directories during the 1890s. He lived in North Minneapolis and worked as a cutter for Brown and Haywood. His name is not on the marker and he is not listed on Minnesota’s Death Certificate Index so he may have moved out of state after his wife and baby died. We’ll do our best to find out where Mrs. Eaton and her baby are buried and get the marker back where it belongs.

In the meantime, we’ll be working on ordering replacement markers for several of our military veterans. Five new markers have arrived in the past two weeks. Four are for Civil War veterans, only one who has previously had a marker, and another is a Spanish-American War veteran whose grave has been unmarked since he died in 1909.

When the markers are all in place, probably sometime next spring, we will have a dedication ceremony.

Correction: In last month’s Alley, the name of the baby was incorrect. He was Carlton Keith Cressey, not Carlton John Cressey.

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