|The Berry family plot beckons visitors in Afton's Mt. Hope Cemetery.|
By Karl Bremer
Above the sleepy
We knew the old graveyard simply as the
|William J. Owen died October 28, 1866.|
Oddly enough, ghosts were never part of the lore of the
Several Civil War veterans are buried among the 40 marked graves here; more are likely buried in the estimated 60 unmarked graves scattered throughout the woods, says Ken Martens, vice president with the Afton Historical Society who has extensively researched Mt. Hope Cemetery and its occupants. Martens led a tour of the graveyard on a brisk October afternoon recently for about 85 of the cemetery-curious.
The first grave in
The cemetery was officially dedicated in 1855 on 5 acres donated by the Haskell and Getchell families, two of
earliest settlers. Charles Getchell had a sawmill and a grocery in Afton
and later was a Quartermaster for the Union in the Civil
War. Charles’ wife, Electa, is credited with naming Afton
after a Robert Burns poem, “Afton Water.” Both Charles and Electa are buried in
. Mt. Hope
Sam Paterson built
hotel. It burned down and in 1861, he also joined the Quartermaster Corps. When
he returned from the war, he started a general store in Afton
with his only surviving son. Another son, a daughter and his wife preceded him
in death. They’re buried in a small plot Martens called “ Paterson
Isaac Van Vleck, a
lawyer, lost a grandson in 1861 and the following year, joined the 8th
Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the age of 50. He went west with the
Regiment to fight the Indians at the Sioux frontier, including the Battle of
Killdeer Mountain in North Dakota in 1864. He was also at the surrender of the Confederate
Armies in 1865. Van Vleck died in 1880 and is buried at Stillwater , along with his seven-year-old
grandson, Willy Van Vleck. Mt.
|Rev. Simon Putnam, one of at least four|
Civil War veterans buried in Mt. Hope.
Rev. Simon Putnam lived in what is known as
“Little Red House” when he organized the village’s first congregational church.
He was a chaplain with the 3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment
and helped recruit many of its volunteers, according to Mertens. His son, Myron,
also signed up. He and his son fought the Indians at the Wood Lake Battle in Yellow Medicine County,
when they returned from the war but both died shortly after they were
discharged and are buried at Minnesota, in 1862 . Mt. Hope
|The Guernsey family--and possibly more--are buried inside the cedar grove.|
The Cushing family plot is marked by an unusual monument made of “
Cushing arrived here in the 1850s and volunteered with the 7th
Minnesota Infantry Regiment in 1864 when they offered him a $100 bounty. They made him a musician and after serving in
New Jersey , he returned to open Alabama Afton’s
second hotel, The Cushing House, which today is the Afton House Inn. Up to six
Cushings could be buried in this plot, according to records posted at the
|The three Stouffer children buried here died within three weeks of each other.|
Martens demonstrated the fascinating technique he uses to search for unmarked graves in the “burial grounds” part of the cemetery. Tramping through thickets of buckthorn, he paused at a small spot that was free of the invasive brush. Buckthorn doesn’t grow in areas where the soil has been disturbed, Martens said, hinting that a grave might be below.
|Ken Martens uses a small rake to locate|
unmarked graves in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
By 1870, cemeteries were required to keep paper records of their burials. But because no cemetery association for
had ever formed, this was
never done for the little graveyard on the hill. Now, laments Martens, “We’re
losing our history because all we have are the stones.”
Edith O. McDonald’s grave was particularly nettlesome for Martens to decipher. It was marked by a simple stone in the woods away from the other gravesites. The year of death chiseled in it was “185?” with the fourth numeral illegibly chipped. Martens deduced that a “3” or an “8” were the most likely numerals to have chipped off.
After researching census, newspaper and Civil War records for years in his quest to identify every possible grave in
, Martens eventually came
across an item in an area newspaper about a local couple named “McDonald” who had
died in a ferry accident on the Mt.
Hope Mississippi River at
in January 1858. They had a child who had died earlier, so with all the other pieces in place, Martens determined
that child was Edith and that she had died in 1853. Hastings
“It only took me 40 years,” Martens laughed.
|Here lies C.A. Wemple (no date).|
|The old observatory platform is barely standing.|
Patrick Tierney, who was involved with the Afton Historical Society for many years and had a special interest in the preservation of
Hope Cemetery, was buried here at the age of 52 in 2004 after the Afton City
Council granted special permission to his wish.
“Patrick Tierney thought that if he were buried here, somebody would always take care of this place,” says Martens.
Other than Tierney, the cemetery has seen no burials since David Berry was put to rest here in 1892. What little maintenance that gets performed on this hidden gem sequestered in the hills above
is done by volunteers like Martens. It's an ongoing task because with every new generation comes a new round of vandalism, he sighs.
I still get up to the
at least once a year. It usually calls in the fall when the ghosts of lives
past stir old dreams from their cobwebs. No matter how many times I return, I
always know it won’t be my last. That visit will be when my roasted bones are
scattered beneath the cedar trees of Old
Afton Cemetery to mingle with the rest,
waiting to send shivers up the spines of future generations of youthful
That’s one trip up the hill to the Old Afton Cemetery I’m in no hurry to make.
Click here for directions to Mt. Hope Cemetery.