Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In a Minnesota cemetery: Oh, sweet baby, who were you? June 16, 2016

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 169 baby grave marker

 

I’VE TOURED MANY RURAL CEMETERIES. But never have I seen a grave marker that so saddened me as the one I spotted on the edge of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Cemetery in Aspelund on Sunday afternoon.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund, 172 baby grave & flip flop

 

Smaller than the length of my size eight flip flop, the simple slab of concrete tilted barely above the earth. Inscribed thereon, in cursive, was a single word—Baby.

 

Emmanuel Cemetery, Aspelund 170 baby grave marker close-up

 

Certainly I’ve seen grave markers of many babies. But this one, because of its minimal size and placement under trees along the cemetery boundary and its simplicity of design, caused me to pause. I am a mother and a new grandmother. And I suppose in the humanity of that, thinking of my own love for my daughters, son and granddaughter, I empathized with the grief of such a loss.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and next to a field.

A section of the cemetery that lies next to Emmanuel Lutheran Church and a field.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

Aged tombstones, which I assume once stood vertically, are now cemented flat into the ground.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

The names reflect the ethnicity of the immigrant families who settled in the Aspelund area.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

Dates are missing from the in-ground marker of Hans, whom I believe to be an early immigrant.

A beautiful sheltered gravesite

A beautiful sheltered gravesite for John and Maren.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

Love the immigrant names of Johannes and Engeborg. So poetic.

As I further explored the cemetery—reading the Scandinavian names, studying tombstones and admiring the meticulously kept grounds—I couldn’t shake the image of that baby’s gravestone. Who was he/she? Who were the parents? Why did he/she die?

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn't decipher.

Next to this list of rules is a graveyard directory, which we couldn’t decipher.

Hoping to find answers on a posted cemetery directory, neither my husband or I could figure out how to match names with platted marker locations. So I left, still wondering about this precious baby buried here beneath trees in rural Goodhue County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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26 Responses to “In a Minnesota cemetery: Oh, sweet baby, who were you?”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I always like to walk the cemeteries as well and I remember especially in Australia I noticed graves marked “Bub” which is their term of endearment for Baby. It does make one pause , doesn’t it?

  2. Bryn Marlow Says:

    Thanks for an interesting post. When I wander old cemeteries I often conjecture what the lives were like, grieve the brevity of being. I looked on findagrave.com for the gravestone of “Baby.” According to the site the 100% of the gravestones in the Aspelund cemetery are photographed and included on the website. Among others, I find this one for the Berg infants: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSfn=infant&GSiman=1&GScid=2206014&GRid=62006519& but I don’t find a listing for the one that caught your eye. From the photo you took, it looks to me there’s a date of 1888 carved on Baby’s stone. His or her parents are long dead and their grief buried with them, yet their loss and their memorializing it touches something in me. Thanks for posting.

  3. That precious baby and it does leave you wondering and wanting to know more. I have walked through my fair share of cemetaries – Virigina City, NV, Bodie State Park, Ireland, etc. I like reading the names and the inscriptions and sometimes the markers stand out to get your attention. Thanks for sharing – Enjoy your day 🙂

  4. I’m thinking that perhaps the baby died in child birth and therefore would not have been christened and would have not yet been named. Just a supposition on my part of course.

  5. Don Says:

    For me walking through a cemetery brings into focus how truly short our lives really are. Whether it’s a babies short time on earth or an elderly persons full life it is still a short time in the overall scheme of things. After my personal episode last year of returning back to life I have a new found appreciation of it along with less apprehension of things to come. I must tell you about it sometime.

  6. Dan Traun Says:

    Rural cemeteries are great to explore. They dot the countrysides in Minnesota and Wisconsin; often out in the middle of nowhere. The ornate headstones are wonderful to photograph.

  7. Jackie Says:

    I … like you appreciate a country cemetery, and frequent them often with the same questions in mind. I’m always sad to see the small baby markers, but more sad when there is no name… We all deserve a name! My sister delivered a baby boy almost 12 years ago who died shortly after birth…. hardest funeral I’ve ever had to attend. He is buried at the feet of my Aunt and Uncle (my dad’s twin) who died in a tragic accident 9 months prior to my nephews death…. It was a very sad and traumatic year for our family.

  8. This is so beautiful. I always loved wandering around cemeteries, places of so many stories. And the gravestones for babies were always particularly poignant. But after our twin daughters died shortly after their births, I am even more drawn to the love and beauty of this small stone. Somehow it brings me a hopeful connection today. Thank you for this gift.

    • Oh, dear Laura, you are causing me to cry with gratitude that I could somehow help you today. That I could offer you a hopeful connection via my words and images means a lot to me. I am deeply sorry for the loss of your twin daughters. I cannot imagine such grief.

  9. The baby markers are the hardest to see. Love the roses.

  10. Sue Ready Says:

    Thanks for making the art, history and personal stories of a local cemetery come alive for the readers.

  11. Dave Says:

    I visited the Aspelund cemetery today. The directory lists that marker as “Tolvimine Baby stone 1887-1888”. I created a memorial on Find A Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=165546919

  12. Kayla Berg Says:

    Just happened to stumble upon this. It’s so wonderful to see others feel how I do when wandering or exploring through a cemetery. Aspelund Cemetery however is my maternal grandfather’s cemetery. The Berg’s only lived a hop, skip, and jump away in any direction, and still do. John (Johannes) and Maren Berg are my 2nd great grandparents. All the Berg’s and some extented family with other surnames that rest here I share blood and family with. The Berg family has four generations there alone. While there yesterday oddly enough I decided to examine some of the surrounding names of the family, I saw the little baby marker all alone. breaks my heart everytime I see baby markers. I can only hope my generation (I’m 22) and future generations can keep the memory of the deceased alive.

    • Kayla, thanks for commenting and sharing your interest in cemeteries and your family connection to Aspelund. With your attitude, I foresee a generation that does care. I am impressed with your interest, especially at such a young age.


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