Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring the aged Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault April 27, 2017

Aged tombstones are often spotted with growth like this on a stone at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Faribault.

Aged tombstones are often spotted with growth like this on a stone at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Faribault.

 

A TIME EXISTED when I disliked cemeteries. I thought of bones, of coffins, of creepy, scary stuff that wings through the imagination of a child. I thought of my grandfather buried beneath the cold earth. The grandpa with the shock of white hair. The grandpa who loved iced tea and pruning raspberries and raising honeybees. Decades later I would stand in that same southwestern Minnesota cemetery on a bone-chilling April morning to bury my father. By then I’d long overcome my fear of cemeteries.

 

I recognize several early Faribault names on the Oak Ridge Cemetery sign.

I recognize several early Faribault names on the Oak Ridge Cemetery sign.

 

Today I purposely walk cemeteries to discover the history, the art and the stories therein. I’ve meandered among the tombstones of countless Minnesota graveyards. But not until recently did I explore one right in my own backyard—Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault. The cemetery sits atop a hill along Minnesota State Highway 3 on the north edge of town. I always thought it was the Catholic cemetery, an error corrected by my husband who pointed to an adjacent burial grounds.

 

Oh, the oaks and the limestone.

Oh, the oaks and the limestone.

 

Oak Ridge is unlike any cemetery I’ve toured. Narrow roadways wind up this historic burial site appropriately named for its ridge-top location and many oak trees. It’s a beautiful location overlooking the city. I made a mental memo to visit in the fall. I noted also two limestone buildings—a crypt and a pumphouse. And I noted the natural state of the unmanicured grounds.

 

Four Nutting headstones in a row grabbed my attention. The Nutting family built a manufacturing company in Faribault.

Four Nutting headstones in a row grabbed my attention. The Nutting family built a manufacturing company in Faribault. On the left is the marker of the Rev. Freeman Nutting, who married Mary Spencer. After he died in December 1853, Mary married Freeman’s older brother, Truman, in 1854. Truman’s first wife, Lucinda Graves, died in 1851.

 

Truman Nutting was born in 1807 and died in 1891.

Truman Nutting was born in 1807 and died in 1891.

 

Mary Spencer Nutting was born in 1814 and died in 1904.

Mary Spencer Nutting was born in 1814 and died in 1904. Have you ever noticed how aged graves read “wife of,” but not “husband of?”

 

When I began reading tombstones, I recognized names of early Faribault residents, of individuals prominent in the community. This is an old cemetery, laid out in 1857, a year before Minnesota became a state.

 

A Google search revealed that stones atop a headstone indicate a visitor stopped to pay respects to the deceased.

A Google search revealed that stones atop a headstone indicate a visitor stopped to pay respects to the deceased.

 

A penny on a headstone also marks a visit and is often a practice of those of Jewish faith. I spotted this coin on a headstone that includes a Star of David.

A penny on a headstone also marks a visit and is often practiced by those of Jewish faith, according to Google sources. I spotted this coin on a headstone with a Star of David.

 

As I paused at markers, I considered the personal stories that I will never know of these men, women, teens, children and babies once loved. I saw evidence of that love in objects left atop gravestones. I’ve seen the usual flowers, flags, garden art and stuffed animals at other cemeteries. But not until Oak Ridge had I seen a penny and stones left as signs of a grave site visit.

 

There's so much history in cemeteries. This sign led me to visit the Dalby Database to learn more about the woman buried beneath this marker.

There’s so much history in cemeteries. This sign led me to visit the Dalby Database to learn more about the woman buried beneath this marker. The broken marker is held together by a plate and bolts.

 

She is Sarah...

She is Sarah Benedict, born on July 29, 1793, died on December 3, 1872…

 

...daughter of William Brewster, soldier of the Revolution.

…daughter of William Brewster, soldier of the Revolution.

 

I am determined now to revisit Oak Ridge—termed by another visitor as “the horse and buggy cemetery.” His tag seems fitting for a burial site that traces back to the early days of Faribault, of Minnesota as a state.

 

I've visited many rural Minnesota cemeteries. This is the first Star of David I've found on a tombstone.

I’ve visited many rural Minnesota cemeteries. This is the first Star of David I’ve found on a tombstone.

 

TELL ME: Do you explore cemeteries? If yes, why?

 

A tombstone inscribed in German.

A tombstone inscribed in German.

 

FYI: Click here to read an unofficial Facebook page for Oak Ridge Cemetery. It offers lots of information on those buried here.

The Dalby Database is also an excellent source of information for those buried in cemeteries throughout Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rest in peace, Ole, Sophia, Amelie… May 4, 2015

THERE WAS A TIME when I stayed away from cemeteries. Walking among tombstones, atop burial sites, creeped me out.

But I’ve since matured, realized that a cemetery holds history and art, life stories and loss, and serves as a place to grieve, to honor and to remember loved ones.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

My most recent cemetery tour took me to North Grove Church and Cemetery just north of Faribault along Minnesota Highway 3. I’ve passed this site hundreds of times in 30-plus years, never once stopping to investigate.

North Grove Church, closed in 1931.

North Grove Church closed in 1931.

Here I discovered a quaint church, long closed.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

Peering through curtained windows, I glimpsed pews and wished I could get inside the locked building.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

On a quick perusal of grave markers, where the name “Ole” is chiseled in stone many times, I determined that Norwegian immigrants built this house of worship and established this cemetery.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

John Dalby of Faribault, who runs the Dalby Database along with wife, Jan, confirmed the ethnicity of North Grove Church. The Norwegian church was started in 1869 and likely closed in 1931, when First English Lutheran Church in Faribault formed, Dalby says.

Too many babies died.

Too many babies died.

Wander this burial grounds and you begin to understand the losses and grief endured by early Minnesota settlers. Babies dead. Wives and husbands gone too young. Immigrants who left Norway for a new, but not always better, life in America.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Then scroll through obituaries on the Dalby Database, which includes 2.5 million records from cemeteries, birth and death certificates and more, and names morph into people. Ole Christiansen is no longer simply a Norwegian name inscribed on a tombstone, but a man who was born in Alerude Odemark, Norway. Husband of Sophia. Then Caroline.

June's first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June’s first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June Carver-Zillgitt lived in a jailhouse with her husband-sheriff and cooked for inmates.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

Audrey Saufferrer had five grandchildren.

Grocer O.A. Brekke was termed a man of “sterling character.”

Mathilda Lund was a pioneer resident of the North Grove community.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Those buried at North Grove are 326 individuals who lived and loved and labored, although some were dead at birth, or lived too few days or months or years.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields with a woods just a bit beyond as shown here.

I knew none of them. But, after walking among their gravestones, I am reminded that a cemetery holds life stories, if only we pause to read them.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth's water. The pump is located behind the church.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth’s water. The pump is behind the church.

FYI: Click here to access the Dalby Database, a great resource for anyone doing family history research in Minnesota.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there  for watering flowers and plants.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there for watering flowers and plants.

FYI: Janice Uggen Johnson recently published a book, Faith of our Fathers: History of Markers Norwegian Lutheran Church and North Grove Church and Cemetery, Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota (2014). She is an associate member of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. I have not seen or read the book.

The Norwegian-American Historical Association, based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is “a private membership organization dedicated to locating, collecting, preserving and interpreting the Norwegian-American experience with accuracy, integrity and liveliness.” It was founded in 1925.

Check back for a close-up look at a memorial in the North Grove Cemetery honoring a young Faribault woman.

© Copyright 2015 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