NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
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22,000+ Rest, Undisturbed

Tales of Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

By SUE HUNTER WEIR

In the cemetery’s early days, the cost of maintenance and repair was paid for voluntarily by the families of those buried there. By 1919, the cemetery was filled to capacity. Many families had moved away and some were simply too poor to continue to pay an annual maintenance fee. The cemetery fell into serious disrepair.

On May 23, 1919, the Minneapolis City Council, at the request of some South Minneapolis residents and merchants, voted to close Layman’s Cemetery to further burials. The ordinance did not condemn the cemetery, which would have required the removal and relocation of more than 27,000 people. The ordinance simply stated that no burials would be allowed after August 1, 1919. Nonetheless, there were rumors that the cemetery had to be vacated and the remains of 5,000 to 6,000 people were removed. The deeds to the graves for those removals were returned to the Layman Land Trust, and became the property of the City of Minneapolis when it assumed responsibility for maintaining the cemetery in 1928. The remaining 22,000+ occupied graves remain the property of the families.

Confusion about what was to happen to the cemetery and to the remains of those buried there was no doubt fed by Martin G. Layman, grandson of the original owners, who was serving as caretaker of the cemetery. In the cemetery office there are several letters that he wrote to family members asking for more information about what would happen to their loved ones. As he correctly pointed out, when the city council voted to close it, the cemetery still belonged to members of the Layman family. In 1920, he answered one letter by stating that the “ordinance shut off all income therefore the grounds are not kept up any more…” He went on to suggest that “people who care for there [sic] dead prefer to remove their dead to some place where it is kept up…” He incorrectly added that “Eventually all bodies will be removed but when and where I cannot say at present.”

Many descendants of those buried in the cemetery were angry. Caroline Clemans, daughter of Civil War veteran Edwin Barnum, was one of them. Edwin Barnum died in 1911. Her mother died when Caroline was very young and she was raised by her father and stepmother, Mary Hodgon Barnum. In September 1922, her mother (Mary Henry) received a letter from the cemetery’s caretaker asking her what she wished to do about the remains of her first husband and their infant daughter. She asked how much it would cost to have them removed to a family plot in Faribault. She said that she was not interested in moving her mother-in-law Hannah Barnum, and her brother-in-law, George Barnum (another Civil War veteran). She was gravely ill and had referred that matter to her daughter, Caroline.

On October 10, 1922, Caroline made her views known in a sternly-worded letter to the Layman Cemetery Association: “Under no circumstances will I permit the moving of my father’s body or any of the bodies to the pauper lot in Crystal Lake Cemetery.” Although her understanding that the bodies would be in a “pauper lot” was not accurate, she clearly understood the distinction between the cemetery being closed to future burials, rather than having been condemned: “You have no legal right to move a single body and will have no such right until the cemetery has been reglary [sic] condemned by the City of Minneapolis.” When the City notified her that they had taken that action, she would take steps to move the bodies. In the meantime: “I forbid you to touch the bodies.”

As it turned out, there was no need to remove any of the four Barnum family members (Edwin, his mother Hannah, his brother George, and Ella, a half-sister of Caroline’s who died in infancy). In 1925, an editorial titled “Let Them Rest Undisturbed” appeared in the Minneapolis Journal, which resulted in a number of citizens protesting the removal of those buried in the cemetery and demanding that the cemetery be maintained in a more respectful manner. The State Legislature granted the city permission to issue a $50,000 bond. The largest share ($35,000) was used to buy out the interests of the Layman heirs, and the remaining money went to fund improvements. The City assumed responsibility for maintaining the grounds and the cemetery’s name was changed from Minneapolis Cemetery (although it was almost always referred to as Layman’s Cemetery) to Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. George Barnum and his family continue to rest undisturbed.

Caroline Cleman’s father, Edwin Barnum, gets a new military marker. 2017.

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