Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.

 

THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”

 

This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.

 

And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.

 

Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.

 

I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.

 

A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.

 

Rhody Yule’s grave marker.

 

The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.

 

I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.

 

Birds chirped.

 

One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.

 

Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.

 

Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.

 

A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.

 

A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.

 

Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.

 

And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

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