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‘Tales from Pioneers & Soldiers Cemetery’ Archives

Lawrence Wenell, a superior soldier and civilian, remembered.

Lawrence Wenell, a superior soldier and civilian, remembered.

By SUE HUNTER WEIR Lawrence Wenell had an elementary-school education. He loved baseball, and according to his mother, he was very good at it. Private Carl Wenell laying flowers at the grave of his brother Lawrence Wenell.: Courtesy Wenell family Lawrence was born on July 5, 1893, the oldest of August and Laura Wenell’s fourteen children. He attended Irving School, which has since been demolished, but which was located on the corner of 17th Avenue and 28th Street. By the time that he was 17 years old he was working as a “shirt cutter,” for the Wyman-Partridge Company. In June 1917, he enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to the Battery C 151st Field Artillery, also known as the Gopher Gunners, part of the Rainbow Division. His unit sailed from New York on October 18, 1917, aboard the President Lincoln. Less than five months later, on March 9, 1918, his parents received a telegram from the War Department notifying them that their son had been seriously wounded. By the time that the telegram reached them Lawrence had already died. He suffered a skull fracture and broken neck when a shell near him exploded. He was the first young man from Minneapolis to die from injuries received during World War I. The French government honored him with a Croix de Guerre. The Wenell family were active members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (located at the corner of 15th Avenue and 28th Street). During a memorial service for Lawrence, Emmanuel O. Stone, the church’s pastor “spoke highly of Wenell’s superior qualities as both a soldier and a civilian” More than 800 mourners attended the service. Lawrence was initially interred in Baccarat, France shortly after he died. He was disinterred and reburied in a second soldiers’ cemetery in France on February 7, 1921. The French government was initially reluctant to share responsibility for sending the bodies of the estimated 100,000 Americans who died in France [...]

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

190th in a series For Want of Breath and Blood By SUE HUNTER WEIR “For want of breath and blood.” With those words Dr. John Cockburn, the city’s Health Officer, painted a heartbreaking picture of the death of a fragile infant born in 19th century Minneapolis. He wrote those words on the burial permit for Baby Girl Weeks who died on April 3, 1883. She was only two days old. She was not the first of her father’s children to die. John Warren Weeks and his first wife, Martha, had lost three children. Martha died in childbirth in 1877. John’s second wife, Elizabeth, was the mother of the unnamed baby girl who died in 1883. John Weeks died from consumption (tuberculosis) five months after his infant daughter died. He was only 39 years old and had outlived four of his children. The marker for six members of the Weeks family--John and Martha Weeks and four infants. Photo by Tim McCall Before the late 19th and early 20th centuries, infant and childhood deaths were so common that families had no expectation that all of the children would survive to adulthood. Approximately 100 out of every 1,000 babies did not live until their first birthday. (Infant mortality refers to children who died before their first birthdays and child mortality refers to children who died between the ages of one and five). The more than 10,000 children who are buried in the cemetery who died before their tenth birthdays died at a time when the causes of childhood illnesses were poorly understood and when treatments and preventive measures did not yet exist. Doctors had no answers or explanations to offer their parents, and there was nothing to be done to save their children. Advances in medical and scientific knowledge during the late 1800s began to provide answers about the causes of some childhood diseases. In some cases that led to treatments, but preventing children from getting sick in the first place played an even larger role in keeping them [...]

Three Lives Lost Over $20

Three Lives Lost Over $20

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery 189th in a series By SUE HUNTER WEIR The St. Paul Globe characterized it as a story that began and ended in a graveyard. It was the murder of Thomas Tollefson, a streetcar conductor, on the night of July 26, 1887. Tollefson's murder was, as many crimes are, senseless and poorly planned. When all was said and done, three men died--one man murdered and two men hanged for having killed him. The two murderers netted a total of $20 (worth a little more than $430 in today's currency). 1880-1886. Horse-drawn streetcar, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tollefson was a 28-year-old Norwegian immigrant who earned his living driving the Cedar Avenue streetcar line. He and Christina Nelson were married on February 10, 1887, a little more than five months before he was murdered. Tollefson was described as "a handsome fellow, and as brave and as generous as a man can be." The night that Tollefson was killed there was a big fire downtown and streetcars were running a couple of hours behind schedule. Tollefson's 10 o'clock car didn't reach its last stop at Cedar Avenue and Lake Street until midnight. Ten minutes earlier another streetcar driver, whose car had been derailed by planks obstructing the lines, warned Tollefson that he might run into trouble. Outside of the cemetery's gates Tollefson encountered Tim, Henry, and Peter Barrett. Tim and Peter were both armed, and it was Tim who shot Tollefson twice, once in the thigh and once in the chest. Tollefson died instantly. The three brothers spent an hour wandering in the cemetery before going to their sister's house and hiding the cashbox containing the stolen money in a hole they dug in the basement. The Globe's reporter described the Barrett family as a "peculiar one," which didn't quite capture the extent of their lawlessness. Before the murder at least two of the Barretts had served time in prison. At the time of the investigation, Henry was in jail for operating a [...]

Thanks to Vaccines, the Golden Age for Children’s Health is Now

Thanks to Vaccines, the Golden Age for Children’s Health is Now

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery 188th in a series By SUE HUNTER WEIR A grandmother tends the graves of two of her grandchildren. Two year-old Freda Aubele died on December 2, 1915. Her six-year-old sister, Annie, died the following day. Their wooden cross is gone but family members placed a new marker on their grave in 2009.Photo credit: Aubele Family The Washington Post recently ran the following headline: “Coronavirus infections dropping where people are vaccinated and rising where they are not.” The story was news only because it specifically referred to the novel coronavirus.  We have known for a long time that the numbers of illnesses and deaths decrease when people, especially children, are vaccinated. There are several  diseases that were once among the leading killers of young children, which have been either nearly or entirely eradicated in the United States. Since the arrival of vaccines, we no longer have to worry about measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, or smallpox. We have much to be thankful for, but the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued some alarming warnings about the current state of those diseases. According to The Washington Post, in 2019, the number of people who died from measles was at a 23-year-high, having increased 50 percent in only three years. There has been a 60 percent decrease in the number of two- to six-year-olds who receive the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine, and a decrease of 63 percent in the number of two- to eight-year-olds who receive the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. How alarmed should we be? Looking back at the number of deaths caused by just one of the diseases mentioned above, in only one of the city’s cemeteries, the answer is: very. Among the people buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery between 1862 and 1918, 812 of them died of [...]

Cemeteries: The Modern Day Urban Park

Cemeteries: The Modern Day Urban Park

TALES FROM PIONEERS AND SOLDIERS MEMORIAL CEMETERY 187th IN A SERIES By OLGA ACUNA Photo by Megan Voorhees What began as a class project addressing environmental injustice in the East Phillips neighborhood steadily flourished into an Arbor Day celebration at the notable Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery on the intersection of Cedar Ave and Lake St. On Saturday May 1st, over 60 volunteers from the surrounding community gathered at the cemetery to aid in the planting of over 50 trees throughout the 27 acres of green space.  On one of the warmest days of the Spring season, this resilient intergenerational group of volunteers worked through the heat together to nurture the Earth by planting trees with help from arborists from the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation. Volunteers later gathered around for an ethereal blessing of the tree performance which included two deer puppets, bells, and poetry all done by the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts. The event rounded off with the enjoyment of a collective meal in the shade with food from Pham’s Rice Bowl. Volunteers mingled with one another, took photos with Elmer the Elm Tree, and watched out for an appearance from Fern and Lily, the local cemetery deer. One participant commented on the event saying, “It was powerful to be in this neighborhood that was so impacted by the uprising after George Floyd's murder and to do something meaningful. When I visit these trees in the future, it will help me remember the awfulness of police brutality in our state but also help me connect to the hope there is in the community.” Another, an 11-year-old, stated, “I'm scared of climate change and I know planting trees helps. Thank you!”  Photo by Megan Voorhees Open Spaces and Healing Initiative arose from the grand challenge course offered at the University of Minnesota, Innovation for the Public Good: Design for a Disrupted World. In this project-based course, [...]

The Forgotten Residents of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

The Forgotten Residents of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery  By SUE HUNTER WEIR 1st in a Series(reprint)  Editor’s Note: Tales from the Cemetery is on hiatus this month, so this month is a reprint of the very first Tale. Reprinted from the alley July/August 2003; from alley Archives 186 Tales of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery  Every day tens of thousands of commuters pass through the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Lake Street. Most of them are unaware of the fact that they are within several feet of a major historic site. In June 2002, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery is the oldest existing cemetery in Minneapolis, that was not sufficient reason for its inclusion on the Register. In fact, federal historic designation is an honor that is rarely awarded to cemeteries since any cemetery is, by definition, “historic.” So why does this Cemetery merit such an honor?  For this photo, taken in 2003, a Park Board employee raised photographer Paul Weir to “bird’s view” height in a “cherry picker” tractor.  The Cemetery was awarded its historic designation because of the role that those buried in the Cemetery played in the early days of Minneapolis’ history.  As its name suggests there are a number of Minnesota territorial pioneers buried there, as well as approximately 200 military veterans. Three veterans of the War of 1812 are buried at Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, as are approximately 150 Civil War veterans. Other veterans served in the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars. The Cemetery has strong ties to Minneapolis’ abolitionist movement of the 1850’s and 60’s and has been racially integrated since at least the 1860’s, a practice that was not common at the time.  However, [...]

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetary

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetary

By Sue Hunter Weir 186th in a Series Annie Erwin: She Loved Not Wisely Annie Erwin is one of the more intriguing stories in the cemetery although it’s hard to judge how much of it is true. The source of much of the information about her was an unnamed man who claimed to have been told about Annie by her former lover.  This unnamed man, in turn, shared that story with the press. His third-hand account was picked up by the Chicago Tribune on October 21, 1866, two weeks after Annie died.  Pollinator alert! Spring is just around the corner. Watch for the cemetery’sannual opening (weather permitting) around April 15th. Themarker in the forefront of the photo belongs to Magnus Norquist (1822-1901) and his wife Kiasa (1822-1910).PHOTO BY: TIM MCCALL According to Annie’s lover she was born in England where her family had become members of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Annie appeared to be losing faith in her religion so her family sent her to the United States with another Mormon family which was headed to Salt Lake City.  Annie reportedly told her lover that when she reached Utah she was “compelled to marry a hoary-headed old saint, who had already seven wives.” Since newspapers at the time were openly hostile to Mormons it’s hard to judge how accurate that characterization was but Annie decided to leave Salt Lake City and “being a woman of remarkable intelligence and shrewdness” planned an escape. There were army troops stationed in the area and Annie, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, returned to the Midwest in the company of one of the soldiers. They stayed together for a while but eventually parted. Following that, Annie became “the mistress of a fast young man, engaged in the mercantile business, but proved a little too fast…” It was believed that it was while she was living in Logansport, Indiana, that she met Louis Cohen, a traveling salesman for a [...]

Betsy Putnam (1777-1860): I Am Not Afraid to Go Into the Woods

Betsy Putnam (1777-1860): I Am Not Afraid to Go Into the Woods

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery By SUE HUNTER WEIR185th in a Series Joshua Putnam is buried in Holton, Maine. His wife, twosons, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren are buriedin Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. Betsyand Sterne Putnam’s graves were marked at one time butthe tablets have disappeared and all that remains are thebases. Elizabeth “Betsy” Putnam lived to the ripe old age of 83 years and ten months. This might not seem unusually old by 21 st -century standards but Betsy was born in 1777. Bearing in mind that averages are simply that—averages—the average life expectancy for someone born around the time of the American Revolution was 36 years old.In 1796, when she was 19 years old, Betsy married Joshua Putnam, a man who could trace his family’s beginnings in what was to become the United States back to the arrival of John Putnam in 1634. Two of John’s sons played prominent and deeply troubling roles in the Salem witchcraft trials. They were both accusers and witnesses against some of the town’s women including Rebecca Nurse who had been a family friend for more than forty years. Although Nathaniel Putnam recanted his testimony, his remorse came too late. Rebecca Nurse was hanged on July 19, 1692. Whether Joshua and Betsy knew about this dark chapter in his family’s history and what they might have thought about it is not known.In a history of the Putnam family, Joshua was described as being “a thick set, strongly built man, with large broad features.” In contrast Betsy was described as being small, “somewhat less than average stature.” Despite her small size Betsy must have been very robust. Between the ages of 21 and 40, she gave birth to nine children, the first seven spaced roughly two years apart. She outlived at least four, and perhaps as many as six, of her children. (The dates and places when two of her children died have [...]

Early African American Barbers in Minneapolis

Early African American Barbers in Minneapolis

 William Goodridge (photo credit John Vincent Jezierski)  Tales of Pioneer and Soldiers Cemetery By SUE HUNTER WEIR 184th in a series Barbershops have long played a key role in African- American communities. In addition to providing gathering places, they have often provided a path to economic independence for African- American entrepreneurs. In “Cutting Across the Color Lines,” historian Quincy Mills noted that: “Barbers were members of the black middle class in the nineteenth century, and their shops were among the most numerous of black businesses in the 20th century.” Barbers were among the more prominent and most well respected members of the community.  In the 1859 City Directory, Ralph T. Grey was listed as one of only six barbers in Minneapolis. He was the father of Toussaint L’Ouverture Grey, the first African-American child born in St. Anthony, and the son-in-law of William Goodridge, a barber and entrepreneur, who ran the Underground Railroad between York Pennsylvania and Philadelphia before the Civil War.  Goodridge was one of the most successful African- American businessmen of his time. He used the knowledge that he gained as a barber to invest in real estate as well as a number of other business ventures and to use the profits from his businesses to further the cause of social justice.  His involvement with the Underground Railroad is documented as early the Christiana Riots in 1851. Several of the fugitive slaves who were involved in that riot were smuggled across Pennsylvania on railroad cars owned by Mr. Goodridge during the first leg of their flight to Canada and freedom. Eight years later, Oliver Perry Anderson, a member of John Brown’s raiding party, hid in Goodridge’s home and office building until abolitionists thought it safe to move him to Philadelphia. Although Mr. Goodridge was very discrete about his activities, pro-slavery forces suspected his [...]

A Good Time to Be Born

A Good Time to Be Born

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery  By SUE HUNTER WEIR  182th in a Series John Wesley and Elinor Lockwood lost three children between 1881 and 1889. Five-year-old Lottie died from typhoid in 1881. Eight-month old Harry died from cholera infantum in 1885, and seven-month-old Lawrence died from pneumonia in 1889. Each of those diseases is treatable or preventable today. It’s a good time to be born. Photo: Tim McCall Despite being bombarded daily with alarming news stories about the novel coronavirus, there is good news about health. In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Perri Klass declared this to be a good time to be born. Children born in the United States today are likely to live longer than their parents and the diseases that killed so many children in the past are very much relics of the past. It is, she wrote, “A good time to be born.”  In the early 20th century, that was not the case. As many as 20% of American children did not live until their fifth birthdays. And those who did were still vulnerable. There are 227 children who died at the age of five buried in the cemetery. How did these children who were seemingly healthy and who had survived many of the diseases that took younger children die?  There were a small number, about ten, accidental deaths but most deaths were caused by diseases or infections that are preventable or treatable in our day. Common causes of death were membrane croup, spinal meningitis, scarlet fever and typhoid. But perhaps the biggest threat posed to children was diphtheria. It claimed the lives of 71 of the 227 children—31% of them. Young children and adults over the age 40 were the hardest hit by the disease.  There are many superficial similarities between typhoid and novel coronavirus. In their early stages, they look much like colds—fever, sore throat, and loss of appetite—but those early symptoms eventually lead to [...]

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