Reporting Bill Hudson
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Many drive past the rusty fences and leaning limestone pillars without giving much thought to the oldest cemetery in the state.
At the corner of Cedar Avenue and Lake Street South in Minneapolis sits a cemetery that was laid down in 1853. It was named after the family that once farmed its land, but now it’s called the Minneapolis Pioneer and Soldier’s Memorial Cemetery.
Sue Hunter-Weir, chairperson of the Friends of the Cemetery, says the historic cemetery needs some extra care.
“There are people who are worth caring about whether you are related to them or not,” she said.
Faded monuments and fragile marble mark the graves of the 21,000 Minneapolis pioneers buried in the cemetery. The cemetery’s occupants range from Civil War veterans, to the first settlers of the Minnesota territory. As their graves testify, when they passed, a lifetime wasn’t so long.
“Ten thousand are children, under the age of 10,” Hunter-Weir said.
But time hasn’t been kind to Minneapolis’ oldest cemetery. Preserving its history will take $100,000 to fully restore dignity to the old steel and limestone walls.
“It’s a very big job, because this is not a replacement. It is an official restoration. This is the only cemetery in Minnesota on the National Registry of Historic Places, ” Hunter-Weir said.
Dan Elias and his friends tried to help raise funds for the cemetery Saturday by laying down blankets, listening to music and throwing in some cash.
“Hopefully we can help make a little bit of a dent in it,” Elias said.
Organizers staged a concert featuring the Minnesota indie bands — Jeremy Messersmith and Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. The music was both a joy for the living and a benefit for the dead. At $10 – $15 a person, the concert is expected to raise up to $10,000 toward the restoration project.
Amy Krautbauer, who attended the concert, said the idea of the show made sense to her.
“We’re reclaiming [the cemeteries] as entertainment and open space to use,” she said.
The venue may have been odd for a concert, but it proves that preserving Minneapolis’ history doesn’t have to be dull.
“These people deserve to be remembered, and this is how you do it,” Hunter-Weir said.