May 25, 2024

Cemetery Facebook page digs up sketches of many local historical figures

Lakeside Cemetery, on the north shore of Graham Lake, is one of the more picturesque cemeteries in Grant County.

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Jodi Sperr’s love of history came from her dad, Dean Sheets, who especially loved Civil War history, western history, and the history of Native Americans. 

“Once on a trip out west, he stopped at the Little Bighorn battlefield, walked out in the middle and, because of his vast knowledge, was able to reconstruct the entire battle in his mind,” said Sperr.

When she was a little girl, her family was often host to local character Harvey Marth, on Sunday nights, and Sperr found it interesting, listening to him talk about the history of the Herman area.

It is her love of history, and her husband, Doyle Sperr’s association with the Lakeside Cemetery Board, that led Jodi to create the Lakeside Cemetery, Herman, MN Facebook page, which since April of 2017 has been posting biographies of the fascinating and forgotten people buried there.

Working at UMM has given her easy access to State Historical Society records and microfiche files of newspapers over 100 years old. Sometimes these sources lead to rare photos of her subjects. She also extensively uses <Ancestry.com> and Family Search records. “The Minnesota History Center is my ‘happy place’.”

A good example is her last posting, sparked by a touching angelic grave maker of the little girl:

“The little marker is intriguing.  Maybe 20 inches high and about 16 inches wide. It’s made of white limestone which had taken on lichens and a green cast from having grass clippings blown into it’s recesses for over 100 years. On one side, there is a small, child-like reclining      figure on a curtained bed and beneath the figure, the name “Daisy.” On the east-facing side, “Daisy Viola only daut. of Mrs. Grace Forker, Died Dec. 2. 1884 aged 5 Yrs. 10M’s 21D’s” And this verse:

“Rest in peace, beneath the roses. Pain and cares forever cease. Lonely are the hearts that love thee. While the long grass grows above thee, soft winds whisper Rest in peace.”

Using the research tools available to her, Sperr found out Daisy died of diphtheria in December of 1884 at the Sheltering Arms Orphan’s Asylum in Minneapolis.

That led to the obvious question: why was an orphan from Minneapolis buried in a rural cemetery in western Minnesota? The answer is an intriguing story of heartbreak and tragedy, concerning a single mom named Grace, and the mores of the time, so common during Minnesota’s pioneer past.

“I find the connections between people, buried in the cemetery, and still living, particularly exciting,” said Sperr “And the contributions of those early local residents to the rich history of Minnesota are incredible. The “Six Degrees of Herman” game (fashioned after the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game) is a fun practice I use to connect Lakeside ‘residents’ to the movers and shakers in Minnesota history.”

For instance, while everybody in Herman knows where the Pullman House is located, few know who namesake Charles Pullman was (the first cousin of the creator of the famed Pullman railroad car), or anything about his life in Herman.

Sperr is touched by the many markers for the dozens of very young people killed during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The parallels to today and the COVID-19 pandemic are obvious and remind us to be thankful for the advances of modern medicine.

“They died so young, and so quickly,” Sperr said.

There is the story of the hard life of Civil War veteran John Smith, the first person buried at Lakeside Cemetery. He passed away June 1, 1884 at the age of 42. Descendants of his still live in the White Bear Lake and Stillwater area.

A stroll through the pages of the Lakeside Cemetery, Herman, MN Facebook page is a stroll through the history of Grant County. You will learn why it is named Grant County, and why several neighboring counties got their names, the same with many Grant County townships and villages. Who were the people, deemed important enough to have a township named after them?

Sperr is planning to write a biography about Charles Cater (the man Grace Forker married in the most recent story). 

“He was instrumental in bringing Dan Blue, the only man in Grant County to be convicted for murder, to justice for the killing of Mr. Prosser,” she said.

The murder happened on the strip of land between Nelson and Graham Lakes, very close to Lakeside. 

“I am hoping to get something together by this coming fall near the anniversary of the murder. There is a booklet about the murder, written by Herman Review owner/editor Dean Brenner called Two Lives Lost. 

The Facebook site also promotes clean-up days at the cemetery,  and special observances such as Memorial Day, with photos, and stories, about local veterans interned there.

There are also photos of the colorful changing of the seasons, and “This Day in History” posts, not associated with the cemetery, such as an observation of the Northfield Bank Robbery in a Sept. 7, 2017 post and a possible visit by Jesse James to Herman.

The page also covers important people of the area, who are not buried at Lakeside, such as politician and author Ignatius Donnelly, who made a name for himself nationally with his offbeat political theories.

“Everyone has a story,” said Sperr, whose Facebook project sparked the Herman-Norcross History teacher to assign students a project in which they researched and wrote stories of residents of Lakeside Cemetery.

“My goal is to finish two or three biographies each year,” Sperr said, “but I have a real life in the present day and a paying job that needs my attention, so the biographies are something that take a back seat to the here and now. But pursuing the stories is terribly addicting.”

Lakeside Cemetery was created in 1884 on land donated by General Theodore Barrett. The cemetery lies on the north shore of Graham Lake in Macsville Township of Grant County, Minnesota. The Lakeside Cemetery Association oversees the care and maintenance of the cemetery.

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