Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared May 26, 2007.
WORTHINGTON - Graves are not as popular as they used to be. I remember - you remember - when everyone wanted a grave. Now many people are being scattered about.
It is that time once again when we have graves on our minds. In the beginning - oh, 1868 - May 30 was Decoration Day, a day for remembering war dead. Now it is Memorial Day, a holiday legally set for the last Monday in May. Americans by millions are driving this weekend to cemeteries with flowers, many of them natural but most of them artificial. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring all our dead.
I was talking of what has become a popular alternative to graves. I had a friend. His ashes and his parents’ ashes all were poured from urns on a promontory where the wind never ceases, high above the Pacific Ocean on the California coast. I was told - I believe this to be true - ashes of three Worthington men have been sprinkled into Lake Okabena.
There is no wrong in mixing humor with a grim topic. We often hear, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” intoned at graveside rites. Many people guess this phrase is from the Holy Bible. It is not. I knew a woman - she was walking back to her car at a cemetery. She said, “I am so glad they don’t say, ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, chicken feed to chicken feed. I just know…’”
One of the most touching gravesites for our region is the Aleridge plot at Summit Lake Cemetery. The Rev. M.C. Aleridge was 55 when he died, Feb. 25, 1914. I don’t know; Mr. Aleridge may have been serving Reading’s Bethel Presbyterian congregation. His grave is marked by modest but typical polished granite stone.
The grave at the pastor’s right is marked by a steel fence stake with a board mounted on it. The board is painted white and there is hand-lettering in black:
“Mother Aleridge b Oct. 5, 1864 d April 19 1959.” Her age at death was 95. A part of the board has broken off and fallen to the ground. Painted on that fallen piece are the words, “in Illinois.”
It appears the monthly income was meager for Mrs. Aleridge after her pastor/husband died. When the time came for her own burial there would have been nothing to mark her grave, save that a friend came with a fence stake and a painted board.
The cemeteries and the cemetery populations of our region might suggest every grave is marked. This is not so.
By 1864, Minnesota required every county to support a poor farm. These farms were where elderly Minnesotans, in particular, went when they no longer had money to support themselves.
It was left to the counties to bury their poor but not to provide markers for their graves. Poor farm records largely are lost. Nobles County had a poor farm thata bordered Worthington on the north and, later, a poor house on Burlington Avenue. How many residents of the farm and house were buried through passing decades - and where - is not known.
It also was left to counties to bury transients - bums and hobos and tinkers. Newspapers sometimes tell sensational stories of the deaths of transients. A man was sliced in half by a train one night in the Worthington railyards. Very often, of course, there was no way to identify these people. In any event, no stones were bought for them.
Babies commonly were buried in unmarked graves. There were many graves marked as Mother Aleridge’s is marked. Boards and wooden crosses have disappeared through passing years. There were also many family plots, sometimes only a grave or two, on homesteads and tree claims.
There is a pioneer cemetery on Nobles County’s Sunrise Park in Little Rock Township, and there are broken markers still on two graves. One day a great long time ago - oh, probably more than 100 years ago - someone planted lilacs on two other graves. Those lilac bushes now are sprawling tangles but they came into profuse bloom once again this month, still marking the sites of two ancient graves.
Who is buried here we do not know, but the graves are beautifully marked.
Have you seen Ray Mork’s and Thelma Mork’s stones at Worthington Cemetery? Carved at the bottom of each stone is (Norwegian), Takk For Alt. “Thanks for Everything.”