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Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, Minneapolis

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Color image of a roken headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.

Broken headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.

It began as Minneapolis (or Layman’s) Cemetery, a privately owned burial ground, in 1858. By 1919 it was full, with more than 27,000 bodies, and was closed by the City of Minneapolis. Only a handful of burials have taken place there since. It is the oldest cemetery in Minneapolis.

Farmers Martin and Elizabeth Layman came to Minneapolis in 1853. Like many early Minnesotans, they were born in New York and made their way west in stages—in their case, by way of Peoria County, Illinois. They bought land at what later became the corner of Cedar Avenue and Lake Street in South Minneapolis. The Laymans seem to have gotten into the cemetery business by happenstance when, soon after they arrived, a Baptist pastor asked to bury his infant son, Carlton Cressey (or Cressy), on their land.

They opened Minneapolis Cemetery in 1858 and expanded it to ten acres in 1860. The Laymans, their farm, and the cemetery prospered, and the family built a stately house across from the cemetery gates on Cedar Street. Often known as Layman’s Cemetery, it grew to twenty-seven acres and eventually held around 27,000 remains.

Both Laymans died in 1886, and their house burned down soon after that. The burials continued, but maintenance declined. By 1919, the cemetery had reached capacity; that year, the city closed it to new burials. Over the next several years, some 7,000 remains were dug up and taken elsewhere. In 1928, the City of Minneapolis condemned the burial ground, took over ownership, and changed the name to The Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

The “Pioneers” part of the name is more apt than “Soldiers.” There are only about 190 identified veterans in the cemetery: one from World War I, two from the War of 1812, twenty-one from the Spanish-American War, the rest from the Civil War. About twenty-five are clustered in a small military plot, the rest scattered. Civil War veteran Oscar Vaughn (16th United States Colored Infantry) is one of many, perhaps hundreds, of African Americans buried at Pioneers and Soldiers.

Almost all the cemetery’s remains belong to early residents of Minneapolis (some would call them pioneers), many of them immigrants of humble means. Some headstones are carved in Swedish and German. No one famous is buried there, and a striking feature of the cemetery is the absence of large monuments; only a relative handful stand as high as five feet. Many headstones are tilted, missing, or broken, and some have been crudely patched together.

The headstones of old cemeteries often hint at sad stories—epidemics, industrial accidents, child mortality. Such stories are hard to find at Pioneers and Soldiers because so few markers can be read; most are marble, effaced long ago by time and the elements.

Fortunately, in 2003 Susan Weir published a history of the cemetery, in Hennepin History magazine, based in part on its paper records. She uncovered many touching stories: August Smith and Ole Shay, workers killed in the Washburn A Mill explosion of 1878; Harry Hayward, hanged for the 1894 murder-for-hire of Kitty Ging; Anna Clark, a widowed mother of eight (and another eight dead in childhood) who took her own life on her husband’s grave in1909; twenty-five infants from the Cody Hospital, a so-called “baby farm,” who died there in 1908 and 1909.

Weir also compiled some compelling statistics. Over half of the graves belong to children under the age of ten. A majority of all the burials resulted from communicable diseases that rarely kill people in the 2000s. Some 800 died from accidents (more than a hundred in railroad accidents) or homicide, and another 150 by their own hands. The cemetery silently testifies: Life in Minneapolis was shorter, harder, and more uncertain a century and more ago.

The last known burial at Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery took place in 1999. Though the cemetery is located in the middle of a busy, heavily trafficked neighborhood, the grounds are quiet. The low headstones, many unmarked graves, and tall trees give the place an open and park-like feel. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The Friends of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery maintains a searchable online database of burials.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.
http://www.friendsofthecemetery.org/

Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Protective Cemetery Association, 1936.

Weir, Susan Hunter. “Layman’s Cemetery, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.” Hennepin History 62, no. 3 (Summer 2003): 5–21.

Zalusky, Joseph W. “The Historic Layman’s Cemetery.” Hennepin History 28, no. 4 (Spring 1969): 4–11.

Related Images

Color image of a roken headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a roken headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Black and white photograph of Elizabeth Layman, one of the founders of Layman’s (later Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, ca. 1870.
Black and white photograph of Elizabeth Layman, one of the founders of Layman’s (later Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, ca. 1870.
Black and white photograph of Martin Layman, one of the founders of Layman’s (later Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, ca. 1875.
Black and white photograph of Martin Layman, one of the founders of Layman’s (later Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, ca. 1875.
Black and white photograph of Philander Prescott’s grave marker, ca. 1920.
Black and white photograph of Philander Prescott’s grave marker, ca. 1920.
Black and white photograph of a cleanup at Layman’s (later renamed Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, 1925.
Black and white photograph of a cleanup at Layman’s (later renamed Pioneers and Soldiers) Cemetery, 1925.
Color image of a repaired headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a repaired headstone at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Civil War soldier V. F. Tyler at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Civil War soldier V. F. Tyler at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Spanish American War soldier Olaf A. Anderson at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Spanish American War soldier Olaf A. Anderson at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a German-language headstone in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a German-language headstone in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a headstone set into the base of a tree at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a headstone set into the base of a tree at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the military plot at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the military plot at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the southeast corner of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery, at the corner of East Lake Street and Twenty-first Avenue South in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the southeast corner of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery, at the corner of East Lake Street and Twenty-first Avenue South in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the Swedish-language headstone of Swan Swanson in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the Swedish-language headstone of Swan Swanson in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a tilted headstone in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of a tilted headstone in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Walter P. Carpenter, in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.
Color image of the headstone of Walter P. Carpenter, in Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery in Minneapolis, 2016. Photographed by Paul Nelson.

Turning Point

In 1919, with Layman’s Cemetery full and uncared for, the City of Minneapolis closes it to further burials.

Chronology

1853

Martin Layman (1811–1886) and Elizabeth Layman move to Minneapolis from Peoria County, Illinois.

1853

In September, the Laymans allow a baby boy named Carlton Cressey, son of Baptist pastor W. E. Cressey, to be buried on their property.

1858

The Laymans open a portion of their farmland to the public as a burial ground, formally Minneapolis Cemetery but commonly known as Layman’s Cemetery.

1862

Philander Prescott, a prominent figure in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, is buried in the cemetery.

1876

The Laymans build a stately, Queen Anne-style house across the street from the cemetery gates.

1886

Both Martin and Elizabeth Layman die, leaving their land and cemetery to their children. Their house burns down soon after that.

1919

Layman’s Cemetery is closed for burials.

1928

The City of Minneapolis condemns and acquires the cemetery. Soon after, its name is changed to Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.

1999

The last known burial occurs at the cemetery.

2002

The cemetery is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.