Monday, October 6, 2014

No Green Graves in the Heart of Minneapolis -- YET!

Entrance of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery
Minneapolis is not selling any empty plots. No chance of a green burial so close to home!

That's what I learned when my friend Ann Risch and I visited the oldest surviving burial ground in the city, a 15-minute bike ride from my home. Thousands of bodies have been removed from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, leaving 7,000 empty plots owned by Minneapolis.

Pioneers and Soldiers opened in 1853 at Lake St. and Cedar Ave., the only Minnesota cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.  Founded by an abolitionist, it was one of the few unsegregated cemeteries of its time, the final resting place of African American businessmen, fire fighters, and Civil War veterans. For 25 years, it was the only Minneapolis cemetery that accepted bodies of those who died without money or family to bury them. Plots cost $1 dollar.

See all the green space
As the city's population boomed and its boundaries expanded, most of the burial plots were sold. In the early 20th century, with dwindling income from grave sales, the owners sent letters to descendants of people buried on the 20-acre site asking them to remove their relatives. Thousands of bodies were soon disinterred.

A civic campaign to save the cemetery from being turned into a public playground or sold to business interests for development succeeded. In 1927, the Minneapolis City Council voted to purchase the cemetery and implement improvements, including the current limestone and iron fence.

Could Minneapolis start offering those 7,000 empty plots for natural burial? What would be the requirements? No embalming, biodegradable caskets or shrouds, no concrete grave liners, and environmentally-friendly grave markers. Being a pioneer for green burials right in the city would be fitting for a cemetery that pioneered a desegregated burial ground over a century ago!

Tattered flag at Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery October 2014
Before calling to inquire about a plot, however, you might catch a summer open air concert or enjoy Cinema in the Cemetery. The final movie of 2014, "Thing from Another World," will be screened October 8 at dusk. Gates open at 5:30. Tickets are $8; kids under 12 free. Proceeds support the restoration of the stone and iron fence. You can Adopt-A-Picket for $30, contribute any amount toward a badly-needed new flag (I gave the caretaker $20), or take a historical tour of Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery through Continuing Education.

For more information, visit or contact the City of Minneapolis’ Division of Public Works at (612) 729-8484