Can someone buy a cemetery, and then turn around and use it for a ballpark, or a factory, or an office building?
In our time, that sounds outrageous. Almost 100 years ago, people didn't like the idea either. Someone, though, was actually buying back the deeds to cemetery lots already in use, thereby making progress toward owning it. Around 7,000 bodies had been dug up and moved to other cemeteries. But the public outrage was so strong that in 1927 Minneapolis stepped in and bought the whole cemetery.
It's still a cemetery: the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, commonly called Layman's Cemetery, at the corner of Cedar Avenue and Lake St.
In the early 1900s, during the "buy back period," the cemetery was in poor repair. Over many decades, though, citizens groups have fixed it up. In 2002 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some cemeteries are very pretty. Layman's Cemetery's beauty is "subtle." It has plenty of interesting history though. What I know of it's history came from the Hennepin History magazine, Summer 2003. Here are a few things of interest.
Ordinary people are buried here, not the rich and famous. That probably explains why there are few large or elaborate gravestones or monuments.
It is estimated that 27,000 people were buried here between 1853 and 1919. Since then, only a few have - those who can prove they have relatives already there.
The majority of those buried in the cemetery died of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, or pneumonia. Children, who make up half of those in the cemetery, often died of cholera, diphtheria, pneumonia and enterocolitis.
The Hennepin History publication tells heartbreaking stories, tales of notorious characters, and plenty of good history.
I visited the cemetery on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012 - the 144th Memorial Day observance held there. For photos of my visit, click here.
I'm have mixed feelings about publishing the Memorial Day photos on the web. To see why, click here to read the blog.