For a few years in the late 2000s, I lived in Louisiana. There are innumerable aspects of Southern, Cajun, and Louisiana culture that were remarkable to my Yankee mind, including the prevalence of the above-ground burial plot. In theory, this practice is a result of the high water table in the region; in reality, it simply follows the tradition of the French and Spanish who originally settled the area. In the Twin Cities, we have no such extravagant burial traditions, though we do have several notable, historic and beautiful cemeteries.
Oakland Cemetery, St. Paul
The website Forgotten Minnesota recounts why, in 1855, Oakland Cemetery came into being:
Under the cover of darkness, the living and the dead would come together to Jackson Woods. Here, the living would offer their final goodbyes to their loved ones before burying them in an unmarked grave under a canopy of old oak trees. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Jackson, his wooded paradise on the northern edge of St. Paul had become a popular burial site for those who couldn’t afford a proper burial or lacked ties to a local church. By 1853 Mr. Jackson had petitioned the city to allocate funds to purchase property that could be used for non-sectarian burials.
The cemetery, originally “a 40-acre parcel of oak savannah with gentle rolling hills,” is located just west of I-35W, between Maryland and Pennsylvania Avenues. It was believed that this area was so remote that there was little chance that “the hum of industry would ever disturb its rural quiet.”
During the next 20 years, the cemetery acquired more land and, in 1873, hired Chicago-based landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland. For his part, Cleveland implemented a plan that, rather than attempting to change the nature of the topography, instead created a garden design that accentuated its natural features. In addition to Oakland Cemetery, Cleveland was instrumental in designing the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, revising the park systems of the Twin Cities, and landscaping for the campus at the University of Minnesota in 1892. Though he died in Hinsdale, Illinois in 1900, Cleveland’s body was returned to Minneapolis and is buried, not in the cemetery he’d designed, but across the river, in Lakewood Cemetery.
Clockwise, from top: Lakewood Cemetery Memorial Chapel ceiling detail, Lakewood Cemetery statues (images courtesy of website), historical photo of Oakland Cemetery gates (image courtesy of Forgotten Minnesota website), sign on chapel wall at Roselawn Cemetery (image courtesy of the Cass Gilbert Society).
Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis
Nestled between Lakes Calhoun and Harriet, the residents of Lakewood Cemetery are only periodically disturbed by the rumbling of the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line as it lumbers along the tracks. Founded in 1871, Lakewood was conceived of by several New England-born business men and women who arrived in, and helped build the city in the late 1800s.
A treasure trove of visual beauty (a bronze elk commissioned in 1900 by the Brotherhood of Paternal Order of Elks, and a pagoda sculpture honoring the Chinese Community), and the final resting place for many Minnesota notables (Tiny Tim, Paul Wellstone, Hubert H. Humphrey, and many more), these 250-plus acres—and Jo Pond—are carefully maintained.
Of note, and worth a visit (simply ask the administrative staff during business hours to view it), is the Memorial Chapel, which comes into view shortly after passing through the cemetery’s impressive gates. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building was designed by prominent Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones and was modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. The chapel interior was created by New York designer Charles Lamb and is considered by many to be the most perfect example of Byzantine mosaic art in the United States.
Roselawn Cemetery, Roseville
In 1902, celebrated architect and designer of the Minnesota State Capitol and numerous other buildings, hotels, residences, and churches, Cass Gilbert, along with employee Thomas Holyoke, began laying out the site plan and buildings for this cemetery. The buildings, in a style derived from Medieval English country church architecture, included a chapel, office, barn, and grand entrance gates on Larpenteur Avenue. Still recognized by a plaque reading, “Cass Gilbert, Thomas G. Holyoke, Architects & Engineers, 1902,” the cemetery was officially dedicated on September 27, 1904. Today, the cemetery remains as beautiful as ever, and largely unchanged from Cass and Holyoke’s original vision.
A newer feature of the cemetery is the Garden of Remembrance and the Ossuary, created by sculptor Nicholas Legeros. An ossuary is traditionally a receptacle that serves as the final resting place of human skeletal remains; at Roselawn Cemetery, the Ossuary holds the remains of many people co-mingled in one well.
The Ossuary at Roselawn is a fifty-six foot circular garden with a spiraling pathway lined by blocks of granite that hold the names of the deceased. In the center of the garden is a twenty-six inch polished bronze ball atop a bronze cylinder. The top of the ball shows the impressions of many hands encouragingvisitors to touch the ball.
The ball is unlocked when in order to place cremains into the ossuary. As the ball is rotated, it raises five inches, revealing the opening to the ossuary. As the cremains are poured into the ossuary, they strike a cymbal, creating a final sound for every entrant.
While graveyards and cemeteries take on a spooky connotation this time of year, they are designed with much thought and care, for both the living and the dead. Regardless of having relatives buried in these cemeteries, plan a visit on a crisp Autumn day to experience a bit of the history they hold within their gated acres.
Licensed Associate Working with Sharlene Hensrud of RE/MAX Results, and HomesMSP--Sharlene, John, Angela