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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.


  1. Beautiful photos of a fascinating place - I love that iron arch!

  2. Thanks Alexandra - I've been curious about the cemetery since we moved here because it feels so out of place. To have such historical details, and be surrounded by a grocery store, the subdivisions, and the highway - it seems to exist out of time. Thanks for reading the post!