Cemeteries. Every city has one. They are mysterious, historic, haunting and, to me, fascinating. I developed a fondness for cemeteries as a boy.
Now whenever I’m out of town, I always make it a point to visit a cemetery. To me, they are better than any mountain range, skyline or other popular tourist attraction. They are hidden treasures containing a wealth of information about communities and the people who lived there.
Chances are you have visited a cemetery at some time in your life to pay your respects to a family member or friend, and perhaps you too appreciate the stories represented among the tombstones and monuments.
My travels take me to all over the South and Midwest – and sometimes further North – so I have decided to start documenting my cemetery visits with a series of photos in a Sunday feature.
This week’s cemetery is Maplewood Cemetery in Luverne, MN. This small town (pop. 4,667) in the southwest corner of the state near South Dakota and Iowa is the hometown of my Aunt Sharyl, who’s married to my mother’s brother Larry. It’s where she lived until she was 11, at which time her father packed up the family and moved to California.
Over the years my aunt has spoken fondly of Luverne, named after Luverne Hawes, the daughter of a settler, so I decided to make the two-hour drive from Mankato to see for myself and hopefully visit the graves of her grandparents Anton and Bertha Ringen, who came over on a boat from Norway.
Before my visit, I spoke to my aunt on the telephone. (Yes, some people still communicate by phone!) Here are some snippets from our conversation:
We thought we were the big city. It had one main street and quite a few bars. It was the town seat of Rock County and a whole 3,000 people lived there! All of the neighboring towns had populations of 300 or 400 people. Every Saturday night, all the farmers would dress up. That was the night to come into Luverne. They also came in for groceries. In our town, even as small as it was, we had two movie theaters — the Pix and the Palace. Every weekend, we would go to the movies because they ran serials. A movie may show a car driving off a cliff and you had to wait until the next week to find out what happened. My dad worked at the creamery. Every Saturday he would put us in the car and took us to have a cheerio (ice cream bar with chocolate on a stick). In town, we had a swimming pool and in winter an ice skating rink.
My dad was a good ice skater. He would take and put me in his arms in skate around. During the winter, there wasn’t a lot to do so we’d take pieces of cardboard and use them as makeshift sleds and go down Mayflower Hill. On the edge of town was Blue Mound Park. They also had a big river on the edge of town. Periodically the river would flood and fill up the park. There was also a dam, Rock River Dam. If you go, make sure you visit the great big courthouse on Cedar Street. It’s a beautiful building made from quarry rock in the area.
We lived right next door to my paternal grandparents growing up. My dad was one of eight children. My mother’s family was from Lismore, MN. Their last name was Didier. She was one of 16 children. My paternal grandmother taught me how to crochet. A big tradition in town was what was known as a coffee klatch. What they would do… women would make the rounds and they would visit each other’s homes. At each stop, they had to have a cup of coffee. Whenever I went with my grandmother, they would give me a little coffee and mostly milk. Coffee is a big thing in Scandinavia. We were also on a party line on the telephone, so we had to listen for a certain number of rings to know the call was for us. But you could listen to anyone’s conversations! Several years ago, I remember PBS doing a series on small towns in different locations and how World War II affected them. Luverne was one of those cities. My Uncle Alvin is mentioned on the program. He was actually mayor of Luverne for a very short period. This guy named Tom Pey was running and no one liked him, so my uncle won by write-in votes!
The last time I visited Luverne was in the 80s. It’s a neat little town with lots of picture perfect houses. There are no tract homes or anything like that. They built a VA Hospital there but it’s mostly farms. I think you’ll enjoy it.
My aunt was unsure of the name of the cemetery where her grandparents were buried. So my first stop in town was the good ol’ reliable Post Office. If anyone were to know where the main cemetery was located, it would be the Postmaster. As luck may have it, I met a very nice postal customer named Sue. I explained my interest in genealogy and asked whether there was a main cemetery in town. She turned out to be a wealth of information. We ended up speaking for at least 15 minutes if not longer. She gave me excellent directions. As it turned out, the cemetery was a mere 5 minutes from the Post Office.
When I reached Maplewood Cemetery, I decided to make a couple of loops to scope out the best spots for photographs. While driving around, I noticed a car parked near the small chapel and a woman standing outside of her vehicle. It looked as though she was waiting for someone. I eventually parked my rental and made my way to the chapel for some photos. As I was snapping away, I heard a voice say, “Do you need some help?” Startled, I quickly turned around to find the woman I saw waiting outside of her car. Before I could say anything, she said, “Sue said you were looking for a grave. Perhaps I can help.”
The woman’s name was Joann. As it turns out, she was a friend and a golf partner of the woman I spoke to at the Post Office. Joann also happens to be a volunteer at the cemetery. Imagine that. Word obviously travels fast in this town! With Joann’s help, I was able to find the grave of my Aunt Sharyl’s grandparents making my trip to Luverne a success!
Until next time….