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Highland Cemetery, Dakota County, MN

Dear Diary,

You learn a lot about a culture (or in this case, an era of time here in my county) when you read about how they treated their dead.

Nestled on one of the busiest corners in a tri-city area stands the historic Highland Cemetery. In the 1800s, it was associated with a church that was located across the street, but was eventually destroyed  in a tornado.

The new church was rebuilt in a neighboring city, leaving this cemetery to get lost to time.

This spot feels out of place, as it's next to my grocery store, affluent subdivisions and a 6-lane, high-traffic road. It's not the calm and peaceful setting to lay people down for their eternal rest. But, because of the effort and expense required to relocate, the cemetery remains as is.

People were interred here through 1886. At the time, religion was a cornerstone of people's lives, and it imposed a rather strict set of "guidelines" to follow to ensure a place in heaven. People also didn't understand the complexities of mental illnesses, so suicide was considered a sin.

Behind the rows of well-maintained graves is a dirt path that cuts its way into the woods. Where the ornate headstones were bathed in sunlight, this section felt depressing and gloomy.

Then suddenly, in a small leaf-and-moss-covered patch, stood the headstones marking the burials of souls once considered to be "in limbo," and "morally problematic."

Y'all. I was deeply saddened to discover these were the graves of babies, who passed away before they could be baptized, and therefore, were deemed "unworthy" of a plot on the consecrated ground.

Those poor, sweet, innocent babies ... who failed to meet the "guidelines" set by men of the cloth, because of something beyond anyone's control, were therefore disrespected in this manner.

Among the babies' headstones was one belonging to a man believed to have committed suicide, and also deemed "unworthy."


Over 130 years have passed since that time period, and thankfully, so too has that belief system. The church now recognizes the seriousness of mental illness, but I still feel continued improvements are necessary for the church to better serve as a place of comfort and sanctuary. The graves of those babies break my heart, their burials reflecting more so on the cruelty of a system aimed at control rather than acceptance.

The church once associated with this cemetery has tried to make amends with the people it disrespected. Knowing what they now know, church officials made a pilgrimage to Highland to conduct a healing prayer ceremony, where they asked the souls for forgiveness. While I appreciate the effort, it doesn't change the fact that this was a society that abandoned its most vulnerable members for their own conveniences, rather than offer any sort of assistance or alliance.

(The headstone of an infant, who was fortunate enough to have been baptized prior to her death, because she was buried among those "deserving" of the consecrated grounds.) 

(You can see the roof tops of the homes in the neighboring subdivisions.) 

(The busy intersection that disrupts the cemetery's peace.)

Today, Highland Cemetery is regarded as a historic landmark, offering a testament to the fact that as human beings, we can do better. What was once acceptable, is no longer.

Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery - Farmington, MN

Dear Diary,
Today, an untold story will be told.

The forgotten, long departed souls will be remembered.

And I will document a cemetery classified by the State of Minnesota as "unrecorded."

In the middle of a public park located in the middle of a subdivision in the town we once lived in lies the Farmington Middle Creek Historic Cemetery.

A natural footpath winds its way up a small hill.

The combination of melting snow, fallen leaves from a season ago and mud created a very slippery walking surface. It's easy to navigate though, since the leaves have not yet grown back and I can clearly see where I'm going. However, plenty of large trees had been uprooted and fallen.

And then, the path leads here.

I pause at the decaying sign with the names of the two dozen people buried at this site. Many are children. Young, young children whose innocent lives were cut short due to disease. I wondered how long it had been since their names were last spoken.

The cemetery, once associated with a church, interred people from 1859-1906. Record-keeping from that time wasn't thorough so I wasn't able to pinpoint what happened to the church, or why the cemetery was left to be reclaimed by nature.

It's been abandoned for over 60 years. Nothing can be built here, as its hallowed ground. The site just sort of exists, in between the realms of time as modern families raise their children with this cemetery in their peripheral.

Without headstones, it was hard to determine where the graves were. As I walked, I repeated, "sorry, sorry everybody." I did find this one, topped over and bearing the names of two young children. One passed away at age 2, the other at the age of 28 days. I thought of the anguish felt by their parents, and what a struggle life must have been in the mid-1800s when Minnesota was still considered an untamed, wild frontier.

It is my hope that this post memorializes the souls of these people, as I believe the best way to honor the departed is to speak their name in remembrance. They were important to someone back then, and now over a century later, they have left their mark on me.