The remains of seven early burials during the 1870s in a long-forgotten cemetery were unearthed in December 1944 and January 1945 at the Northern Pacific Railway Shops. The skeletons were re-interred at Evergreen in separate graves in the same lot and jointly marked with the gravestone shown in the photo.
Authorities Check Skeleton
Found on Railroad Property
Crow Wing county authorities today were pondering the case of a skeleton found in excavations being made in the Northern Pacific railroad shop yards here late yesterday in preliminary grading preparatory to the construction of the railroad's new $1,500,000 shops here.
The skeleton was found near a fence on the railroad property within about 60 feet of the grave of a railroad worker who has been buried on the property and whose gave has been cared for by the railroad since 1872.
A pair of heavy moccasins with leather soles, was found in the excavation.
Dr. John Thabes, Jr., Crow Wing county coroner, said today that a court order would be sought permitting the reburial of the skeleton in Evergreen cemetery.
In the meantime, railroad officials are checking to learn if at any time in the past this property might have been occupied as a cemetery.
John Vanni, superintendent of the shops, said that in 1872 a man named Bennett, employed by the railroad, had been fatally injured in the shops. Because of the lack of a cemetery here at that time. Bennett was buried on the railroad property. A picket fence was built around the grave which has been cared for since by the company.
Finding a skeleton near the Bennett grave is the problem facing authorities. Dr. Thabes said that he had asked that the Bennett plot be excavated to learn if the skeleton found might be that of Bennett or if it is the skeleton of another man. The coroner said he did not believe the skeleton to be that of an Indian. (Brainerd Dispatch, 29 December 1944, p. 1, c.'s 5 & 6)
Mystery Surrounds Skeleton
Found in N. P. Railroad Yards
A new note of mystery today surrounded the finding of a skeleton on Northern Pacific railroad property, which was brought to light through excavations being made in construction work late Thursday.
The finding of the skeleton took on a new version today when workmen at the order of Dr. John Thabes, Jr., Crow Wing county coroner, opened the grave of John Bennep [sic] [Bennett], a railroad worker who had been buried on the railroad property since 1872, and found the Bennep [sic] [Bennett] remains intact and in the grave where he was laid to rest. His grave had been guarded and cared for by the railroad company through the years.
With the finding of the skeleton Thursday night about 60 feet from the Bennep [sic] [Bennett] grave, a pair of moccasins with heavy soles was unearthed. Dr. Thabes, who made a study of the skeleton, said that he did not believe that the first skeleton found was that of an Indian. How the body came to be buried on the railroad property will never be known. It might be that of an early pioneer or it might be the victim of an unsolved murder.
Two New Graves
Dr. Thabes said that both remains would be reburied in Evergreen cemetery by the railroad company and that preparations for the burials were underway.
Bennep [sic] [Bennett], whose grave has been protected and cared for by the railroad company, was employed in the shops here in 1872. He died Feb. 10, 1872, of injuries received in the railroad yards, and it is said that he was buried on railroad property at his own request to "be near the place of his work."
While through the years the Bennep [sic] [Bennett] grave has been cared for in the yards, with the excavations underway for the new $1,500,000 railroad shops construction, it has been deemed advisable, a railroad spokesman said, to remove the remains to the Evergreen cemetery.
As to the identity of the skeleton found near the Bennep [sic] [Bennett] grave--that will always remain a mystery, Dr. Thabes said. He added that the skeleton "was considerably older than Bennep's [sic] [Bennett]. (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 30 December 1944, p. 1, c.'s 5-7)
FIND ANOTHER SKELETON
IN N. P. PROPERTY
A second unknown skeleton was removed from Northern Pacific grounds yesterday where excavations are being made for the construction of a new shop.
Finding of the second skeleton near where the first was found a week ago, is believed by authorities to be that of a pioneer resident who occupied a grave on the property which was then the city's public cemetery.
The skeleton was reinterred in Evergreen cemetery.
Remains being unearthed now while construction operations are underway are believed to be those of bodies overlooked when the old cemetery was removed to the present Evergreen plots. (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 05 January 1945, p. 1, c. 1)
FIND TWO MORE SKELETONS
ON N. P. PROPERTY
The remains of two additional unknown bodies were excavated by workmen Friday at the Northern Pacific shops bringing the total to four which have been discovered since work as been started on the construction of a new shop.
Findings of the remains yesterday, located near where the first two were found are believed by authorities to be those of pioneer residents which were interred in graves on the property which was then a cemetery. One of the skeletons was wrapped in a blanket which was almost completely deteriorated. The remains were removed to Evergreen cemetery. (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 06 January 1945, p. 1, c. 4)
NOTE: There were no additional news items about any other skeletons beyond the six noted above.
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"... Should anyone wonder where they had been burying people up to that time, we need only say that most of them had been interred among the trees in the northeast corner of the Railroad company's shop grounds. Most of these were transferred later to Evergreen Cemetery; also in 1944 when earth was borrowed at this earlier burial place to fill in low ground east of the shop buildings, the excavators uncovered a dozen or so skeletons. In all likelihood more could be found." (Brainerd 1871-1946, Carl Zapffe, Colwell Press, Incorporated, Minneapolis, Minnesota: 1946, p. 13)
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"... The third oldest cemetery was one in East Brainerd which existed from 1870 to 1878. Afterwards, it ceased to be used, was forgotten, and only discovered again in 1944 when some workmen unearthed it while excavating on Northern Pacific Railroad property. The remains thus exposed where reinterred in Evergreen Cemetery of Brainerd" (Cemetery Records of Crow Wing County, Minnesota, by Earl C. and Laura L. Leslie, 1982, Preface)
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Cemetery Mystery Solved
by Renee Richardson
The pioneers' headstone presented a mystery.
Julie Jo Larson first saw it 10 years ago when visiting relatives in Brainerd. The unusual stone in the oldest part of Evergreen Cemetery on the city's northeast side stuck with her. When she told her family about the headstone they weren't sure she read it correctly.
The headstone is dedicated to seven unknown people who were found on the shop grounds at the Northern Pacific Railway in December 1944.
That spring 66 years ago to the day--on May 15, 1945--the remains were reinterred by the railroad in Evergreen Cemetery.
Their names, their lives, their history were unknown.
Larson went back to her home in Moose Lake, but the image of the headstone remained. Four years ago, she moved with her family to Brainerd. She tried to find the stone again, but after five or six attempts in the sprawling, hilly cemetery, which covers 80 acres, she wasn't successful. With roughly 18,000 people interred at the cemetery, it was a bit like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
She asked other residents in the area if they knew anything about the headstone. None of the people she talked to had ever seen it or heard of it. She began to wonder if the others were right about her imagination, but she stuck to it.
"I don't know what it was," Larson said of the mystery and why it stuck with her. "It was just a piece of Brainerd history and no one seemed to know about it."
A non-traditional student at Central Lakes College, Larson took a break from a research project about a month ago to go back to the cemetery to find the headstone. And this time she had help. The cemetery caretaker, Rusty Billman, knew exactly where the headstone was, but he didn't know any of the history behind it.
Armed with a photo of the headstone, Larson began researching its origins.
Several avenues turned out to be blind alleys. But then her neighbor, Mary Stephenson, directed her to two books on Brainerd history. One the notable historical record "Brainerd" written by Carl Zapffe. The other, behind the counter at the Brainerd Public Library, proved to be even more useful. It was written by Earl Leslie and titled "Cemeteries of Crow Wing County."
Larson found a cemetery called Pioneer Cemetery was believed to be the third oldest cemetery in the county. It was close to the railroad shops in east Brainerd and used from 1870 to 1878 when Evergreen Cemetery was incorporated. Many of those buried at Pioneer Cemetery were transferred to Evergreen. But Larson found the pioneers buried there were in graves marked by wooden crosses that had deteriorated over time and others were in graves never marked at all.
Pioneer Cemetery was no longer used.
"Through the years people kind of forgot about it," Larson said. Six decades passed. And then, in December of 1944, during World War II, the memories were unearthed. Workmen at the Northern Pacific Railway were digging to get soil to fill in low ground. In the process, they unearthed a dozen skeletons.
"I would have loved to have known the driver of the Bobcat or whatever they had back then to find the skeletons," Larson said, trying to imagine the faces of the workers when the skeletal remains were discovered.
In her research, Larson noted Zapffe stated that "in all likelihood more could be found" regarding buried remains.
The names of seven of the early pioneers had been lost to time. So they were buried under a single headstone in Evergreen Cemetery.
"They are surrounded by some of the first people interred in Evergreen," Larson reported. "Who knows, maybe in life they were neighbors or friends."
Larson is a student in the Honors AA Program at CLC and is looking to pursue her education at the College of St. Scholastica for social work. For Larson, solving the mystery of the headstone was a way to stay in touch with Brainerd's history.
"I think it was just a relief to know somebody knew something about it," Larson said. "I just thought it was a great piece of Brainerd history and I wanted to pass it on. I didn't want that piece to be lost.
We've got a lot of great stories in the cemetery you just have to figure out how to find them." (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 15 May 2011, p. 8A, c.'s 1 & 2)
DEDICATED TO THE SEVEN UNKNOWN
PERSONS FOUND ON THE SHOP
GROUNDS OF THE NORTHERN PACIFIC
RAILWAY IN DEC.1944. REINTERRED
IN THIS SPOT MAY 15,1945,
BY THE RAILWAY COMPANY.
Crow Wing County
Plot: Block 12 Lot 86
GPS (lat/lon): 46.3669, -94.1896
Created by: John Van Essen
Record added: May 15, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 69877857