Buried History

Minneapolis's past lies forgotten at the Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery

Perhaps the cemetery's most well known resident is Harry Hayward, hanged in 1895 for masterminding the murder of his girlfriend, local seamstress Kitty Ging. Hayward was a popular icon of the day, even after being convicted of hiring a man to kill Ging in order to reap $10,000 in insurance money.

During and directly after the Civil War, Minneapolis grew exponentially, as African Americans and New Englanders flocked to the Midwest. (According to an August 2000 report by the Minneapolis Heritage Commission, the population of the city grew from 200 in 1855 to 46,887 in 1880.) One notable African American to arrive in Minneapolis during this time was William Goodridge. Born in Baltimore, Goodridge spent most of his life in York, Pennsylvania, working first as a barber and then a businessman. Prior to the Civil War, Goodridge was closely tied to the Underground Railroad, allowing a number of fugitive slaves to stay in his home. During the war, he and his family fled to Minnesota. When Goodridge died in 1873, he was laid to rest at Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery, which, since its inception, was one of few cemeteries to be racially integrated.

The latter decades of the 19th century brought several waves of immigrants to Minneapolis. The city was billed as a healthy place with a robust economy and plenty of jobs in the sawmills and lumber mills and along the railroad. First came the Scandinavians, who, as they died, were buried in Pioneers and Soldiers. Next came the Eastern Europeans. The cemetery's close proximity to Bohemian Flats, a mainly Slovakian tenement district under the Washington Avenue Bridge along the Mississippi River, meant that it was the chosen final destination for many Bohemians. The cemetery became dotted with iron crosses, a traditional grave marker common in Eastern Europe. Only a few of these markers survive today.

John Effert was typical of these immigrants, the laborers who performed the dirty work of building the city. Effert was a Russian who had come to the United States in 1906, at age 21. At some point after that, he traveled to Minnesota, lured by the prospect of finding work on the railroad. In 1911, he was crushed to death while laying pipe.

Many of those buried in Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery--by some estimates, up to 60 percent--are infants or children under the age of 10, evidence of the high infant mortality rates. Among the infants buried there were the Wonderland babies. From 1905 to 1914 an amusement park existed just south of the cemetery. Called Twin Cities Wonderland, this Coney Island-style park brought the marvels of modernity and electricity to Minneapolis. One of the attractions was an "Infant Incubator." For 50 cents, visitors could see the technological innovation that kept premature babies alive. In the end, however, many of them did not survive. (See "The Child Hatchery," p. 31.)

And then there are the women, who, at the turn of the century, were a very vulnerable population. Causes of death, as recorded in the cemetery's files, include self-abortion and domestic violence and instances where women were left alone and destitute in the days before the state offered a support network. Take Anna Clark. In 1905, her husband, Frederick, died of a heart attack. The couple had eight children, mostly grown by then, but Anna possessed no job or way of earning a living. She was forced to rely on her adult children, but they didn't help much. One evening in 1909, she took a streetcar to the cemetery, stood over Frederick's grave, and shot herself. "I am tired and the sorrow and agony in my heart is too great to bear," she wrote in a note. "Bury me beside Papa, if you think I am worthy of it."

 

Martin Layman himself died in 1886, and the cemetery business passed on to his heirs. By the early 1910s, the third generation was at the helm, and they were concerned about the graveyard's future. The Laymans had not conceptualized "perpetual care" by paid groundskeepers; families tended the graves of their loved ones. As a result, once all the plots were sold, there wasn't a way to generate additional revenue, yet the cost of maintaining the property was growing. Already some 27,000 bodies were buried in the cemetery, filling all available space, some even crammed into aisles. By 1914 or so, there was barely a pretense of upkeep at the cemetery. Pioneers and Soldiers became the place you buried your relatives only if you had nowhere else to go.

In 1919, the city of Minneapolis closed the cemetery to new burials, and the Layman heirs announced that it was condemned. "Layman being dead and the heirs looking for returns and not expenditures, the grounds were allowed to get into a lamentable condition," reads a 1936 pamphlet on the cemetery. "So bad that removal commenced and many bodies were taken elsewhere. Removal of bodies became a means of revenue to the operators, and every effort was made to effect this," the pamphlet continues. "And the grounds went from bad to worse."

In all, an estimated 9,000 bodies were removed from Pioneers and Soldiers and transported to Crystal and Lakewood and Hillside--including that of the Civil War veteran John Hoblitt. A few years later, the state passed a bill saying that any cemetery where there had been no burial for five years, or where the city had outlawed burial for more than one year, could be closed for good. Many scenarios arose for use of the cemetery, as is documented by these headlines: "Milwaukee Plans Lake Street Station"; "Ford Plant to Oust Cemetery"; "Layman's Cemetery as Market Proposed"; "Moving Graves for Park Splits Board; Ball Field Urged."

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