Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Feeling unsettled in a rural Minnesota cemetery June 12, 2014

A TIME EXISTED when I avoided cemeteries. I was young then, unappreciative of their value from an artistic, historical and personal perspectives. And, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I felt a bit afraid walking atop graves.

My thoughts have changed. Whenever my husband and I happen across a rural cemetery, we’ll often stop and wander.

The aged Eklund Cemetery sits among farm fields in Walcott Township.

The aged Eklund Cemetery sits among farm fields in Walcott Township.

We did just that recently while in section 25 of Walcott Township in southeastern Rice County. This Minnesota township was named in honor of Samuel Walcott, an early, enthusiastic settler from Massachusetts. He returned to the East “after…his mind became distraught and he found an abiding place in an insane retreat in his native State.”

Randy, whose vision far surpasses mine, spotted the small final resting place along County Road 90, headed toward it and pulled into a field drive as no other parking exists.

The unassuming entry to the Eklund Cemetery.

The entry to the Eklund Cemetery, which sits almost on top of the road.

Now I’ve explored many a country cemetery. But I’ve never had to step over a double stretch of chains to enter. That should have been my first clue that the Eklund Cemetery would trouble me.

The old dates impressed me.

The old dates impressed me.

I felt almost instantly uncomfortable here as I meandered among aged tombstones marking the graves of early settlers like Hans Flom, born in 1826. There are 143 people buried at Eklund, including five with the Eklund surname.

The first burial here, of one-month-old Annie B.O. Sam, occurred after her February 28, 1884, death, according to the Dalby Database (a remarkable online collection of cemetery and other historical info compiled by Faribault residents John and Jan Dalby). A few months later, the 17-month-old daughter (listed only as “baby”) of Christ and Julie Davidson was buried here.

Such long ago dates impress me.

Weeds flourish among the weathered tombstones.

Weeds flourish among the weathered tombstones.

But I was unimpressed by the condition of the cemetery where dandelions and creeping Charlie and other weeds flourish in the too tall grass. Perhaps frequent rains have kept the caretaker away.

A fence separates graveyard from fields.

A fence separates graveyard from fields.

No matter, it was not the unkempt lawn that bothered me as much as the sunken graves, the marked depressions in the earth that show the precise spots of burials. When my husband remarked that vaults were not used back in the day, my concern increased. As foolish as it seems, I worried about suddenly sinking into a grave. And I’ve seldom felt that way before in a cemetery.

Eklund Cemetery, Ingeborg's gravestone

Eklund Cemetery, Nels Nelson gravestone

Eklund Cemetery, Palrud gravestone

I hurried my tour, distracting myself by noticing the abundance of Norwegians names like Hans, Ingeborge, Nels and Erik, middle name Ole.

The most unusual name I noticed.

The most unusual name I noticed.

This cemetery once served Eklund (or Egelund) Evangelical Norwegian Lutheran Church, disbanded in 1957. That steepleless church building now sits off Minnesota State Highway 60 on Faribault’s east side, according to information written by Helga Sam Thompson. Its current use is that of a chiropractic office.

A close-up of a time-worn, weathered tombstone.

A close-up of a time-worn, weathered tombstone.

In one particular spot in the cemetery, I noticed a patch of black earth the size of a grave. Just dirt, unheaped, no grass, with weeds beginning to edge into the soil. No marker marked the spot. Again, that uncomfortable feeling settled upon me. The last burial here, of Bernard C. Sam, happened in 2011. Prior to that, the most recent burial, of 22-year-old Matthew David Caron, occurred in 1997.

Someone still cares about a loved one buried here.

Someone still cares about a loved one buried here.

Shortly thereafter, Randy plucked an errant plastic flower petal from the ground, fallen from a gravestone cross. I advised him to leave the orchid colored bloom there. He did.

Nature leaves her signature on an in-ground grave marker.

Nature leaves her signature on an in-ground grave marker.

I wanted nothing from this cemetery. Nothing.

FYI: If you are into genealogy and/or history, visit the Dalby Database which includes a remarkable collection of 2.5 million records and increasing daily. Click here to read a summary of what you can find on this website. And then click here to reach the Dalby Database. John and Jan Dalby of Faribault were given the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s Pioneer Explorer Award in 2010.

Special thanks to John Dalby for providing me with links to information about Eklund Cemetery and church and Walcott Township histories.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “Feeling unsettled in a rural Minnesota cemetery”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Very interesting, Audrey. You already know of my love of walking through cemeteries. This one definitely would have drawn me in—such stories could be told around these markers and the people represented there. The floral cross is certainly a sign that someone still cares…..I suspect many of the families of the loved ones no longer live close enough to visit regularly.

    • Probably true about the families.

      • Deborah Nelson Says:

        I found this cemetery after doing geneology on my family. They were Swedish. Anders Eklund and Gustav Eklund..father son came to Minnesota in 1850s.
        Daughter Kristne and husband Peter Otto Andersson came later with 4/5 children. The youngest Andersson is Antntven on the southeast side away from his parents He died at only six years. My grandfather Albert is buried at Maple Lawn in Faribault.

      • I’m so glad you found these family members. It sounds like you’ve been busy with genealogy.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    I love to wander around in these old cemeteries. People used to place very ornate and unique headstones. I suppose that practice ceased due to cost. They are usually very well maintained by the community. Every once in a while I see one full of weeds or whatever reason. I guess I have never considered what would happen if a church/community disbanded. I suppose this happens more than one might think.

  3. Ken Wedding Says:

    As for caretakers of these rural cemeteries, they’re usually volunteers with family connections to the cemetery. I just mailed off a yearly contribution to the people who mow and clean up Mason Cemetery in Bureau Co., IL where my great grandparents (and many other distant relatives) are buried. It’s not just time that’s needed, it’s gas, mower blades, and other things that require cash.

  4. I like cemeteries. I often walk Alfie in a couple of cemeteries here in town. I love the old cemeteries the best. How odd that you would feel so unsettled by this particular one. The only place in a cemetery that has ever bothered me is one spot in an old cemetery a couple of blocks from my house. There is one corner where quite a number of babies and young children are buried. I don’t look at the stones in that corner anymore; it makes me too sad. You have some wonderful images here.

  5. That weathered tombstone close-up is really interesting for its texture and color. A great metaphor….

  6. I enjoy exploring old cemeteries too – Great Captures! This one makes me want to get out the lawnmower and weed wacker and give it some TLC. Thanks for sharing – Happy Thursday 🙂

  7. Jackie Says:

    I used to think it was only me who loved to wander around cemeteries wondering about those who lay beneath the grave markers. The older the cemetery the better, although I’m always saddened when I see grave stones that are aging and unkept to the point of barely being able to read the name. What a great find Audrey, These country cemeteries are my favorite, out in the middle of nowhere…so peaceful!

  8. Deborah Nelson Says:

    My great great grandfather Anders Eklund and his family left the poorhouse in Sweden for this land. This is their cemetary. I Love this history.

  9. Deborah Nelson Says:

    I was just there and new flowers for Antntven our mystery great aunt or uncle.

  10. Karen Anderson Says:

    I stopped this summer and cleaned off the graves of the Wang family members, my great-grandparents Olaues and Johanne, their childre, the Eklunds and the Andersons. These are all my relatives. Someone had removed the fence near the Wang’s and the headstones were covered with dirt and rocks . Deborah, I hope that has been repaired by the time you visited.

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