Column: There's no shortage of history in our cemeteries
WORTHINGTON — James Rogers was at the Nobles County Historical Society museum last month talking with a dozen local residents about his book, “Northern Orchards, Places Near the Dead.” The book — six essays and several poems — is inspired by cemeteries of Minnesota. The name derives from “a hard-drinking railroad man” who spoke of cemeteries as “marble orchards.”
Rogers was at Worthington in part because one his essays is about the Amish Cemetery that has come to be in the north ditch of County Road 25 east of Wilmont. The Amish cemetery was neglected and was largely lost for decades until, in recent times, it has come to be carefully tended and marked by a metal history plaque.
Rogers’ book set me to thinking about the cemeteries of Nobles County. I believe there are 28 of them but I won’t list them because someone surely will say, “You forgot the Oogle Cemetery,” or “You forgot the Boogle Cemetery.” Besides the larger, public cemeteries there is a scattering of family cemeteries that date to homestead days. I once visited one of these near Round Lake.
Twenty-eight cemeteries, 16 communities. It appears that in Nobles County people are more separated in death than in life. This is not wholly accurate. For example, on two sites east of Ellsworth and on one site just west of Lismore, are three Norwegian Lutheran cemeteries near sites where early-day churches have been removed. Sunrise Prairie County Park, also east of Ellsworth along 330th Street, has a pioneer cemetery from a time when there still were no churches in that region.
Brewster seems to have Nobles County’s record with three cemeteries, Sacred Heart Catholic, Trinity Lutheran and Hersey Township — everyone else.
Each of us remembers a burial ground for kin and friends buried there. The public remembers several cemeteries for only one or two prominent individuals. Sacred Heart Cemetery — one example — is remembered by some as the burial place of Nobles County Sheriff Terry McCall, who was shot dead by a fugitive on the depot platform at Miloma.
Worthington Cemetery is remembered by some for the grave of Minnesota’s fourth governor, Stephen Miller. A smaller number remember Worthington Cemetery for the grave of Julius Town, a pioneer and notable Civil War veteran who was so esteemed by his contemporaries that he became the only person whose body once lay in state in the rotunda of the Nobles County courthouse. Worthington Cemetery has the graves of 120 (or more) Civil War veterans.
In Adrian Cemetery some may point to the grave of Capt. William Wigham, Adrian’s first resident, who led a Union infantry company at the fall of Vicksburg and the fall of Little Rock. Capt. Wigham may have wondered that his town came to have street names honoring Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Nobles County’s first resident, Steven Muck, is buried at the cemetery at Kinbrae. The Dundee cemetery has three brothers who died together in a house fire. Ellsworth cemetery has the grave of a U.S. Marine killed in the Dominican Republic in a time when this nation was not officially at war. Calvary Cemetery at Wilmont has graves of several of the eight victims of a two-car crash. St. Anthony’s Lismore, the crucifixion sculpture group. Ransom Township cemetery, which is the Bigelow cemetery, is remembered by some for the asparagus that thrives there.
Garden of Memories Cemetery at Worthington has the city’s oldest church structure, St. John’s Episcopal (1881), which was built with the help of five New York residents and four residents of Missouri who spent their summers at cool Worthington.
The most revered grave at Worthington’s St. Mary’s cemetery probably is that of the Rev. J. Stanley Hale, who officiated at many gravesides there. A bishop wanted Father Hale to leave Worthington and move on, but he noted he was midway in the effort to build a school. A bishop wanted Father Hale to move once again, but he noted he was in the midst of building a new church. Third effort at a move; Father Hale pointed out he was leading a rectory building campaign.
Winona Diocese adopted a new rule requiring all priests to move on at intervals. “I call that the Hale Rule,” Father Hale laughed.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.