ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Under the shade of a large maple tree, the Riehle family cousins reunited on Friday morning to right a troubling wrong.
The cousin’s grandmother, Frances Riehle, had taken two of her children Christmas shopping on Dec. 20, 1921. She was holding each child by their hands while the three had just stepped off the University Avenue trolley and onto the busy street.
John Riehle says suddenly, and sadly, the story took a tragic turn.
“When she got to the other side of the street she only had one kid in one hand,” John said. “Hildegard had been hit by a car.”
Five-year-old Hildegard Justine Riehle died a short time later in a St. Paul hospital.
The large, immigrant family couldn’t afford the cost of a gravestone, and the passage of time gradually erased all memories of where little Hilda was buried.
David Riehle spent this past spring searching through death and burial records and eventually traced his Aunt Hilda to the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in St. Paul.
“Why is a family important? A family is everybody that’s included,” David said.
He informed his cousins of his discovery and the mission to properly identify Hilda’s grave took flight.
“There just needed to be some closure with this, I thought,” David said.
Hilda’s unmarked final resting spot was located in the children’s section of the cemetery, near other stones dated “1921.” The cousins got out of their vehicles and quickly lugged a heavy granite marker to right a decades old wrong.
On a beautiful Friday morning, nine decades later, Hilda’s nieces and nephews gathered in quiet reverence.
With the help of cemetery operations manager, Jon Louris, the sod and soil was scraped away sod on the very spot where they would place the granite stone.
After a prayer, they sang a fitting refrain to a mystery no more, as the words to “Amazing Grace” cut through the peaceful setting.
Hildegard Justine Riehle was an aunt who died much too young – but is now forever remember by a granite marker in the grass.
“We’ve sort of closed a chapter after almost 100 years,” David said.