Best Cemetery - 2013
Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery
Located at Cedar Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood, Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery is truly notable, but not because you'll find stones labeled Ramsey, Sibley, Pillsbury, and Rice, as you might at Lakewood Cemetery to the west or Oakland to the east. Here, only about one in nine graves still has a marker, and many of the markers remaining have barely stood the test of time, falling victim to vandalism and the effects of pollution and the weather. Established in 1853, it's the oldest surviving cemetery in the city, the only one in the state assigned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and the home to prominent territorial pioneers, veterans of wars ranging from the War of 1812 to World War I, and many of the city's early African-American settlers and those with ties to the local abolitionist movement. Over half of the cemetery's 20,000-plus residents are children (some of whom were preemies cared for in nearby Wonderland Park's "Infant Incubator"), and while the cemetery is about as Scandinavian as was the city at the time, unlike most resting grounds of its era it was never racially segregated — its founder, Martin Layman, was associated with an abolitionist church. But its role in Minneapolis history doesn't mean money has poured in to help with upkeep, a barrier that comes with maintaining an old cemetery that lacks a steady stream of income from new burials or an attached church. Enter the Friends of the Cemetery. This nonprofit group has worked to supplement meager city funds and raise historical awareness by hosting fundraising concerts within its gated walls to raise money for upkeep. Jeremy Messersmith performed in the first year, after finding inspiration in the cemetery for his 2010 album The Reluctant Graveyard, and raised some $30,000 in the process. And last summer, Duluth-based superstars Low performed in front of the circa-1871 caretaker's cottage. At the time it was established, this plot of land was situated outside the city's boundaries, and folks would take day trips to laze with family members dead and alive in the prairie landscape. It's wonderful that community members can gather here in the boneyard still today, though now it sits amid the urban bustle.