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Cemetery: Flagpole cost $271.55, is still up 90 years later

Tales from
Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

By Sue Hunter Weir

166th in a Series

The 1920s was the age of flappers and speakeasies, of dance marathons and flagpole-sitting contests.  

The national mood was upbeat and there seemed to be enough money to do whatever needed to be done.  While members of the recently formed Minneapolis Cemetery Protective Association (MCPA) would never have been mistaken for flappers or bootleggers, they had big plans and in 1928 they began their work in earnest. 

Their plans included a flagpole.

In May 1927 the Minneapolis City Council had voted to issue $50,000 in bonds to be sold to buy out the remaining interests of Layman family members (the third generation of Minneapolis Layman family members) and to make some much-needed improvements. The grounds were a mess.In some places wooden coffins had disintegrated, creating large craters, and in other places dirt was mounded around the emptied graves of the approximately 5,000 people whose remains were disinterred and relocated to other cemeteries.  

The cemetery needed a fence and the MCPA wanted to erect monuments that celebrated the achievements of some of the city’s pioneers and soldiers.

Photo Tim McCall
Memorial Day keynote speaker Lt. Col. Lori J. Allert was the first woman in 151 years.

In January 1928, the city council granted the MCPA’s Auxiliary (women) exclusive rights for selling flowers and plants in the cemetery.  That may sound insignificant but at the time the number of visitors to the cemetery on Memorial Day weekend numbered not in the dozens or even hundreds, but in the thousands.

On Feb. 10, 1928, the city council voted to rename the cemetery. Although the cemetery’s official name in its early days was Minneapolis Cemetery, it was (and still is) commonly referred to as Layman’s Cemetery after its original owners.  The cemetery’s official name is Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

Photo Tim McCall
Students from the Minnesota Transitions Charter School participate in the 2019 Memorial Day events at the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

In June 1928. the MCPA announced that they had set up a trust fund and had already raised $1,000 to supplement the city’s $4,000 budget for operating and maintaining the cemetery. With an eye toward raising additional revenue, in July 1928 the MCPA asked the city council to amend an earlier ordinance and allow new burials in the cemetery. They argued that the cemetery was no longer (if, indeed, it had ever been) a threat to the city’s health and safety.  Their request was not immediately accepted and was referred to the council’s Committee on Public Welfare where it seems to have disappeared.  

On July 31, the city council voted to accept $160 from the Auxiliary for repairs to the caretaker’s cottage. What those repairs were is not clear.

Earlier, in May 1928, the Auxiliary had made an even bigger gift to the city. They donated $256.80 to raise a new 50-foot steel flagpole set on top of a limestone base.Andrew Skoberg and Sam Walsen, two stonemasons, constructed the flagpole’s base using three tons of stone and 15-cubic feet of mortar. They each spent 17 hours on the job and were paid $1.38 an hour for their labor. The MCPA bought them lunch on May 2 at a cost of 50 cents each.  The steel flag staff cost $135 and the plaque cost $70. The city supplied $14.75 worth of materials bringing the total cost to $271.55. 

Photo Tim McCall
American Red Cross volunteers huddle under umbrellas during the 2019 Memorial Day events at the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

It was a good investment since more than 90 years later the flagpole is still the focal point of the cemetery.

The flagpole was the first of six monuments donated to the city by the MCPA in honor of the city’s soldiers and territorial pioneers.  Those structures, along with the 1871 caretaker’s cottage, are considered part of the cemetery’s “built environment” and contributed to its being the first cemetery in Minnesota to be designated as an individual landmark in the National Register and later as a city of Minneapolis landmark. 

The efforts of the MCPA also were an important factor in the designation:  their work was considered to be among the city’s early preservation efforts. They worked tirelessly to preserve the cemetery.

Photo Tim McCall
A little guy makes the best of a very soggy event on Memorial Day 2019 at the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. It was 151st Memorial Day Observance at the cemetery.

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