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Nov. 6, 1899: A frightful cemetery in northeast Minneapolis

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • October 31, 2013 - 6:12 PM
 
Here a nameless Tribune reporter spins a ghost story worthy of any campfire. The scene is set near an abandoned graveyard in northeast Minneapolis, most likely Maple Hill Cemetery, the city’s first, established in 1857. Over the next 30 years, about 5,000 bodies were buried there.
 
 
  In April 1907, the Tribune reported that Maple Hill Cemetery was in "deplorable condition." Rain had washed away sand at the western edge of the cemetery, exposing caskets to view. And children playing baseball had broken grave markers to pieces for use as bases.
The cemetery fell into disrepair in the 1880s. Plots were cheap—just $8 or $9 according to an 1889 Tribune story—and recordkeeping was shoddy at best. Some remains were buried no more than two feet deep. Neighbors feared that the poorly maintained burial ground was a health threat and began a campaign to have the remains moved and the cemetery closed. By the time the story below was published in 1899, the removals had already begun and burials ceased. But with no source of funding, most of the remains and markers remained there untended for years. The grounds were “loaded with rubbish and so neglected that many of the caskets are exposed to view,” the Tribune reported.

The city’s Park Board took possession of the land in 1908 with the idea of restoring a portion of the cemetery and reserving 10 acres for a children’s park. A playground was established there in the summer of 1916, but the adjoining cemetery was still largely a mess. By that fall, the neighbors had had enough of the eyesore: under cover of darkness, about thirty men hitched up three teams of horses and cleared the land of debris and headstones, dumping the markers in a ravine on the west side of the property. Eight men were implicated in the “Maple Hill Raid,” but only two faced vandalism charges and they won acquittal at trial.

Soon after the raid, the Park Board removed most of the remaining markers, and Maple Hill became firmly established as a park. A skating rink, a warming house, horseshoe pits and other amenities were added. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gathered there for activities. The park’s hockey teams enjoyed success in citywide competition. In 1948, it was renamed Beltrami Park, after the Italian-American explorer of the 19th century. But signs of the park’s past are still visible to this day. At least two small gravestones can be found amid the grass and trees on the park’s northwest side, not far from a monument to 46 Civil War veterans who were buried there.

Ghosts

Weird Adventure of a Young Woman While Walking Near a Cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.

"Help! Help! The ghost will get me!" shrieked Ida Olson, last evening, as she rushed up to a pedestrian who was walking in Central avenue, near the abandoned cemetery in Northeast Minneapolis.

The girl, who is a domestic, was frightened so badly that it was impossible for her to talk in a coherent manner, and for time it was feared she had been driven insane by fright. She declared that while walking past the old cemetery with Ole Johnson, her sweetheart, a white object had arisen from one of the neglected graves, and, with an unearthly yell, had pursued them.

 
  Reminders of Beltrami Park’s past as a cemetery remain to this day.

Ole, she said, had deserted her at the first sign of danger, and had left her to her fate. She was sure the object she had seen was a ghost, and she declared with equal firmness that it was the ghost of a man with horns, for she had seen the horns on his head, and had noted further that he wore a long white beard. Several times while telling her story she became hysterical, and it was with difficulty that she could be induced to continue.

John Adams, employed in the Columbia Heights mills, was the man whom she accosted on the street, and he at once took the girl into a drug store, where her story was related. At first it was thought Ida had been drinking, but there was not the slightest smell of liquor on her breath, and she was evidently badly frightened. While she was talking her sweetheart entered the place, and cried with joy at seeing the girl safe and sound.

Johnson, who is a laboring man, and a fairly intelligent appearing young fellow, told a story quite similar to that related by the girl, except that he said he had, instead of running away from the ghost, run towards it, in an endeavor to find out what it was.

Searching Party Formed.

Several persons were in the drug store at the time, and they at once formed a party and paid a visit to the old cemetery. As the abiding place of the dead was approached the courage of John disappeared, and he lagged behind. The girl, on the contrary, was fairly brave, now that there were other persons near by, and she led the party to the place where she said the ghost had appeared.

The spot from which the figure had arisen proved to be a slight depression on a mound, and the crushed down leaves and dead grass showed that a body of some sort had lain there. The adventure was becoming serious, and two or three members of the party did not venture as far away from their companions as they had done before the depression was found.

An extended search of the locality was made, but not trace of a ghost or anything looking like one could be found. Just as the party was about to give up and return to Central avenue a gasp of horror burst from the lips of Johnson, and he sank to the ground in a heap. A short distance away, only just visible in the dim light, was a white figure, with horns and a long white beard, just as Miss Olson had said.

Strange Sounds Heard.

As the little party looked a sound that cannot be described came from the object, followed by a silence that was painful in its intensity. For a moment no one moved or spoke; then one of the more adventuresome members of the party started in the direction of the ghost, carrying a revolver in his hand.

“Speak or I’ll shoot,” he called, as he scared the object.

There was no response, and again he repeated his command. This time the object moved a trifle and seemed to advance toward the party. As the man with the gun was about to fire there broke upon the silent night a plaintive:

“Ba-a-a-h!”

Then a large white goat, with a beautiful pair of horns and a magnificent bunch of gray whiskers, walked up to the men and began nosing around as if expecting to be fed. The reaction was too much for the party, and the various persons laughed until they cried. Meantime Johnson had disappeared, and Miss Olson was sent to her home in University avenue northeast.

The goat, it was learned later, has been pastured in the old cemetery and the surrounding locality during the last summer, and he has been in the habit of sleeping around in any old place, and of going up to passers-by and asking in his dumb way for something to eat. Who the owner of the goat is could not be learned.

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