Jack Ferman is where he wanted to be.
At rest in the family plot in the Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery. The first new burial in the old graveyard off Lake Street in decades, thanks to the combined efforts of family, friends and the Minneapolis City Council.
For years, Ferman volunteered with the Friends of the Cemetery, tending the graves, preserving the grounds and sharing the ordinary extraordinary stories of the 22,000 people buried there.
His wish, before he died in 2021 at age 92, was to be buried beside his Norwegian immigrant grandparents, near the main gates, just past the graves of the Civil War soldiers.
"We had to make this happen for him," said Friends of the Cemetery Chair Susan Hunter Weir.
The cemetery closed to new burials in 1919. The only exceptions were those who had family plots with unused spaces and the city's permission. Every few years, space would be made for a widow of a Civil War veteran, or so a grieving parent could lie beside a child they had buried decades earlier.
"He lived in south Minneapolis most of his life," and the old graveyard was always an important part of the community, said his wife, Nancy Benson, who has ancestors of her own at Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial. "He asked me where would I most like to visit him, and I said, 'Well, Pioneer Cemetery.' That's part of our life."
The old cemetery that was such a big part of Ferman's life remains a big part of community life.
When weather and COVID permit, there are walking tours and concerts and poetry readings and movie nights at the cemetery. Families spread blankets on the grass and watch old silent movies flicker across the screen, with a soundtrack provided by a live orchestra. If you handed your ticket to a smiling older gentleman in a blinking light-up ballcap — that was Jack Ferman.
The people buried here, for the most part, weren't as wealthy or well-known as those in the gorgeous Lakewood Cemetery on the other side of town.
These are the graves of laborers, office workers, journalists and rogues. The unclaimed Civil War dead rest here, along with men who died when the flour mill exploded and newly arrived immigrants buried without a name. Spirit of the Moon, a Dakota woman, is buried with her fur trader husband. Soldiers, shopkeepers, newborn babies. All the people who made Minneapolis Minneapolis.
"They're the great-grandparents of many of the people who live in the city still. They matter," Hunter Weir said. "We just want to make sure they don't get lost."
For years, Hunter Weir has researched the lives of the dead. Her column, "Tales from the Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery," runs in the Phillips neighborhood newspaper, the Alley.
Every month, she shares a new story.
Martin and Elizabeth Layman, who founded the cemetery and ensured that burials there were never segregated by race.
Betsy Putnam, born during the American Revolution, who ended her long life in Minnesota, 83 years later, on the eve of the Civil War. "I am not afraid to go into the woods," she once said.
Charles Collins, a Black man working as a chef at a downtown hotel in 1902 when he was shot and killed by a white man whose wife had joked about running off with Collins. To the killer's indignation, an all-white jury in Minneapolis convicted him of murder and sent him away to a life sentence of hard labor in prison.
Lester Day, one of 17 self-described clairvoyants listed in the city directory on the day he died of illuminating gas poisoning in 1907. Three women — two of whom claimed to be his wife — tried to claim his body.
Chloe Aidens, born enslaved, died free in 1863. Four generations of her family would be buried beside her, including her great-grandson Lafayette Mason, one of the first Black firefighters in Minneapolis.
Charles Christmas, the surveyor who plotted the street grid of downtown Minneapolis in 1851 and ignored the critics who said this town would never have a population large enough to justify the broad avenues and 80-foot-wide streets he drew up for us.
And now they're joined by John W. "Jack" Ferman, a kind, smart, outgoing man who loved his family, his garden, the North Shore and his dogs. A Navy veteran with a doctorate in metallurgy, Ferman worked as a researcher for General Motors and Westinghouse and later for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"Jack is part of the story now," Hunter Weir said. "Jack is going to be on our tour. How cool is that? We're going to stop and see him whenever we do tours."
The Friends of the Cemetery will celebrate Ferman's life on Memorial Day. Until then, you can read more stories at friendsofthecemetery.org.