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Tales from the Cemetery: FAQs

By SUE HUNTER WEIR

Frequently Asked Questions

The answers to most, if not all of these questions have appeared in one of the Cemetery Tales that have been published over the last almost-20 years. Here they are all in one place.

When was the first burial? Who was it?

The first burial took place in September 1853. The funeral was for 10-month old Carlton Keith Cressey. His father was the minister of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis.

Who owned the cemetery?

The cemetery was privately owned by Martin and Elizabeth Layman, transplanted New Yorkers. They arrived in Minnesota in the 1850s and built the sixth house in what would become Minneapolis. They had 13 children, all of whom survived to adulthood. Although the cemetery was commonly referred to as “Layman’s Cemetery,” its legal name in its early days was Minneapolis Cemetery.

Who owns the cemetery now?

Between 1853 and 1919, more than 27,000 people were buried in the cemetery. It was full and no longer profitable. It was poorly maintained and local residents and merchants petitioned the City Council to close the cemetery. They voted to close it to future burials. Although they were not required to, families disinterred the remains of about 5,000 relatives and moved them to other cemeteries. In 1925, concerned citizens began a letter writing campaign and the state legislature approved a bonding bill that enabled the City of Minneapolis to buy out the interests of the Layman family heirs. When that transaction was completed, the name was changed from Layman’s or Minneapolis Cemetery to Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. The City currently maintains the cemetery and owns the 5,000 empty graves and the physical structures (cottage, flagpole, fence, etc.). Occupied graves remain the property of family members.

When was the most recent burial?

The most recent burial is John Walter (Jack) Ferman). Jack was a member of Friends of the Cemetery’s Board and one of our most active volunteers. He died on July 13, 2021, and was buried on November 20, 2021. His was the first burial in 21 years. He was a good friend and is greatly missed by all of us who knew and worked with him.

Do you know where everyone is buried?

Yes, the Layman family kept excellent burial records for such an early cemetery. During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration created a plat book showing where people were buried. Though there are some inaccuracies, it was a remarkable (and beautiful) achievement. A digital version is kept in the caretaker’s cottage.

How big is the cemetery?

A little more than 22 acres. It extends from Lake Street to the Midtown Greenway and from Cedar Avenue to 21st Avenue South.

How many people are buried here?

Slightly more than 22,000. More than half are children under the age of ten. There are about 200 veterans buried here: 4 War of 1812 vets, 2 Mexican-American War vets, approximately 180 Civil War vets, and about 15 Spanish-American War vets. There is one World War I vet and one Korean-War era veteran.

Why are there so few markers?

Only about one in ten graves is currently marked. Many never were marked. Some markers were made of wood or iron and have not survived. Marble markers are very fragile and many are broken. There have been acts of vandalism, though none recently, where markers were destroyed. We are working on replacing broken and illegible military markers. Families add about six to 12 new markers every year.

Can people still be buried here?

It’s possible, though not likely. You have to already own a plot (not sold since 1919), have a relative buried here, and have the burial approved by the City of Minneapolis. So, it’s possible, though not likely, that people meet all of those conditions.

Is the cemetery an historic landmark?

Yes! It was listed in the National Register in June 2002 and has also been designated a City of Minneapolis landmark.

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